The Silicon Valley is trying to solve one of its oldest bugs, diversity. For the past 20 years, the tech industry has been trying to integrate more minorities into the engineering field in order to prompt gender equality in the future.
“Code: Debugging The Gender Gap” is a documentary film, directed by Robin Hauser Reynolds that highlights the absence of American female and minorities entering engineering field.
The film was released in 2015 and was Tribeca Film Festival nominee when it premiered. In the film, Reynolds highlights the battle for gender equality, workplace, to computer science classes.
USN News reports that the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by the year 2020, 1.4 million jobs will be created, however minorities are only expected to get three percent.
The documentary points to the lack of computer science education taught in middle schools and high schools in the United States. In 2013, 9 out of 10 high schools didn’t support computer science classes. Additionally, in 33 of 50 states, computer science classes do not count towards high school math or science graduation. Because of this, many Silicon Valley companies have been male minded and driven. Apple, Twitter, Google, and Facebook 80 percent men, making the pipeline for women to rise in the field harder in the field.
After the film was over, a panel consisting of Gretchen Walker, Adrienne Harrell, Jim Brisimitzis, Hannah Lewbel, Toni Vanwinkle and Carlos Inda discussed the themes behind the film. Brisimitzis, general manager of U.S Startups at Microsoft, was happy about the improvement he has seen and wants to make a difference.
More Work Needs To Be Done
“50 percent of my team are females (11 members),” Brisimitzis said. “What I love about why they bring to the table is they’re versatile. They challenge the norms and they’re interested in how we, Microsoft, interact with our community, which we frankly fallen behind on. It’s enjoyable watching that interaction take a new direction.”
Vanwinkle, senior director of service management at Adobe, believes it’s a better workplace environment for minorities today, but there is still a lot more work ahead. She recalls a birthday party 20 years ago when she first got started in the industry that set the stage for her.
“It was a lovely birthday party for the president and we greeted him with food in his culture. Halfway through the party, a stripper arrives. This party was full of male and female employees in all different levels in the organization and everyone found in awkward, but sadly nobody said anything,“Vanwinkle said. “Nobody left the room. There were no complaints. And I thought to myself am I living in a cartoon? Is it just me? Am I the only one that finds this a problem?”
Workplace Environments Need To Improve
One of the hardest moments for Vanwinkle was dealing with racism in tech workplace.
“The first time I heard the N Word was at work. Racism still isn’t being active discussed, which still leads to the same issues,” Vanwinkle said.
Adrienne Harrell, Dir. of undergraduate of student affairs at UC Santa Cruz, is making it her agenda to put black African American women to increase the field. One of her concerns about students from lower income communities and don’t have parents or teachers that can provide the exposure to coding. It’s the main reason she continues to support non-profits like Project Awesome and Hack the hood, located in Oakland.
“ We’re already seeing an impact from our programs with every year more women in our majors. This year, 18 percent of our seniors of our CS majors are women, compared to our first year class, which is now 25 percent. So the trend is up,” Harrell said.
Dr. Byron Breland, president of San Jose City College, see an opportunity to get ahead of the issue regarding gender equality and allow individuals to be trained to compete for jobs.
“Many of the Code Academies out there right now cost 15 to 20 thousand to go through a fifteen-week course. We’re preparing at San Jose City College to create a training program that should open this fall that will allow folks to receive degree through a clear pipeline. How do we create pathways to success? By giving people the financial needs to access and the support to be successful,” Breland said.
Be An Example
One of Vanwinkle goals working at Adobe is to improve channels for minorities to rise in the field. Her focus is reaching out to Girls that code, a nonprofit organization that aims to increase the number of women in the field, and reaching out to industry partners that help with recruitment. But one of the biggest challenges she faces is retaining people and grow them to be an example for the next generation.
“ My role I believe is to hopefully put people in my seat at the executive level that are people of color and are women that provide us with diversity that we need,” Vanwinkle said.
“My son’s favorite color is pink and when he was in preschool he came home one day and he said, ‘Mommy pink is a girl color’. And I said do you like pink? And he said, ‘yeah’. And I said, ‘pink is just a color. People might tease you and people might not be okay with you” Lewbel said. “Today he still wears pink and he’s turning seven this month,’” said Lewbel.