If it seems like there just aren’t that many women in web development, you’re not wrong! Depending on where you look, web developer teams are about 85-90% men, both in the workplace and among computer science majors. But I’d like to think the numbers are sliding on account of the rising number of fast-track career programs for web development.
Surprisingly, there are a TON of women-in-tech organizations out there! Every week I learn of a new one, and it’s very uplifting to know that SO many people are passionate about women succeeding in science/tech/engineering/math fields. Each organization is different and has their own focus – be it hard technical skills or simply empowerment – and I am pleased to have a list for you of local and online resources.
But first, the big question.
Why Aren’t There More Women in Web Development, and STEM in General?
This is one that I am constantly trying to keep on the pulse of. Here are a few reasons that I’ve come up with in my research of this (very complicated) issue:
Lack of Women Mentors, Rolemodels
Mentoring is a big deal in most if not all professions, even when it’s unintentional. How many of us can look back to our early years and reminisce on the projects and teams that we cut our teeth on? Pretty much everybody! There’s a reason we have entry level and senior level positions – and this goes for all industries – and when you are on the junior side of things it’s a sigh of relief to know that expertise is one desk away.
How many of those desks are women though? I’ll toss out that range of 10-15% again. Of course, every employer is different and the average tells a very small part of the picture. But I don’t think I have to tell you about the power of being able to look up to “someone like me”. Someone who proves that your dream is achievable, and can even (gasp) help you get there too.
Another thing that is just the way the dice rolled, and not anyone’s fault, is that TECHNICAL rolemodels who are women are somewhat harder to find. The most famous tech industry folks are invariably CEOs, who may or may not have actual programming experience, and are the ones who make the headlines.
Yes, Carly Fiorina is a household name, but as a CEO with a background in Marketing, Business, and Management. That is great for women in general, although not so much for women who code. Where is “someone like me”?
Limited Tech Exposure as a Child
This is a big one for both genders and socio-economics play a major role (you knew that was coming didn’t you?).
Think about it: if you did not have much access to a computer as a child, would you be interested and comfortable in diving deep into them as a career choice? Or would you rather continue the family business, or do something you’ve already found an aptitude for? You wouldn’t think twice about that choice!
I’ve heard before that many little girls dream of becoming a nurse, a teacher, or a hair stylist. Now everybody before age ten has been to school, been to the doctor, and had their hair cut. So they are familiar with these professions, and there is a comfort level there. All of these fields have a high percentage of women even – perhaps more women than men in some places. The “someone like me” factor is very high.
When kids grow up with technology and are comfortable with it, they’re a lot more likely to choose it as a vocation. I’m sure you met many people (of all industries) who were inspired by something in their childhood. Maybe they they were called to Biotech after a beloved family member fell ill and suffered from an incurable condition. Maybe they see a parent work from home on a laptop computer and CompSci plucked their strings. These things stick.
What about the kids who grew up in a poorer household though? Or even just a family that didn’t much care for computers or gadgets. They probably didn’t get a fascination for technology nor the familiarity that these devices are for YOU to do more. A lot of people who grow up like this (aka everyone for most of human history) are actually quite apprehensive about computers. They don’t want careers in web development.
So I guess at some level, I am indeed saying…. Get that child an ipad! Screen time! Sew some seeds for a lifelong love of technology, and maybe we will have a few more women in web development.
No One Told Them About the Magic of Code
Have you ever studied a foreign language? It’s really hard, right? Super hard. The fluent speakers always talk too fast and it feels basically like your mind hamster is redlining on its wheel, trying to parse the conversation and make sense of it all.
But there is a moment down the line when things start to click. You just know now what some of these words mean. You can hear them in conversations that used to be complete gibberish. “Who said library?!” you will think, “I know that word!”
Likewise with web development there is very much a phase of going through the motions, writing (or copy/pasting) things that you know will work but not yet why. Then after weeks or months or years of doing this, and getting good results, you start to really understand what it is you are writing. It’s like you stepped up into the giant mechanical transformer suit, and now finally you can wear it. At long last you are flying and shooting lasers out of your fists, because this stuff is in your brain and it HAS MEANING.
How do you teach this? The best answer I can give you is to show women and girls that you use web development to make things. We don’t write CSS because it’s good for our hair, nails, and teeth…. That’s ridiculous! We don’t write these things just because someone asked us to. We do it because we get to MAKE THINGS and those things are flipping awesome.
You won’t get more women in web development by keeping the techno-babble level above everyone’s head forever. They have to experience for themselves in a small and easy way, that it’s not Greek forever, and that the understanding will be wildly pleasant.
A Somewhat Abrasive Work or Team Environment
Truth be told I don’t want to dwell on this topic very long, nor am I one of the women in web development with a powerful story about discrimination. There are plenty who have real hope and experience to share. As a freelancer, I get to write my own ticket and get the heck out of dodge in any situation where folks drive me batty.
I also don’t want to write a long winded shpiel about how “terrible life is for women in the workplace”. I don’t want you to think about that right now. So I’ll just give you a list of things that are highly conducive to productive women web developers.
When these attributes are weak or entirely absent in the work environment, things can be tough to downright hostile:
- A sense of team, where everybody matters and gets a chance to speak.
- Contributions being evaluated on their own merit, regardless of who they came from.
- Credit given where credit is due.
- A sense of equality both in compensation and personnel treatment.
- Opportunities for advancement that favor achievement and expertise, not personalities or exteriors.
- Quantifiable feedback.
- Open communication about decision making.
Bam, I think you have a degree now in playing well with others (including women in web development jobs?). You probably knew all of those things already. I want to think that it is a really small group of folks who have the backwards and limited view on “a woman’s place”. They can go kick rocks.
But you are reading this page about lady developers, and thinking “geez Lauren I already knew all of that, it’s common sense” and so YOU are cool in my book.
Resources for Women in Web Development
We all want that “someone like me” experience from time to time. Here’s where you can go in Arizona and get a slice of it:
Scottsdale and Phoenix
- Phoenix Chapter: Women Who Code
- Phoenix Chapter: Girl Develop It
- Phoenix Chapter: Girls in Tech
- Phx Ladies of Tech Slack Channel
And anywhere in the world:
- Tech Ladies
- Code Like a Girl
- LadyDevs – a Subreddit for Women in Tech and Web Development
Lauren Grey is a slightly sassy purveyor of Scottsdale website design and development services. She builds websites (and you might know her from she-builds-websites.com) and custom webapps & tools for businesses who want to up-level their offering. Serving Arizona and beyond, tirelessly committed to being excellent and getting to know more women in tech.
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