Gender disparity in the tech sector
Innovations and advancements in the tech industry are happening every day, making it one of the world’s fastest-growing and most dynamic industries. Yet, this sector has been widely criticized for its lack of diversity and inclusion, particularly concerning gender. With only 25% of the tech workforce being female, women are severely underrepresented according to recent statistics. Moreover, when talking about migrant women’s representation in technology there is a serious lack of data.
This underrepresentation of women in the sector has profound implications not only for the industry’s future but also for society. For instance, let’s think about the long-term implications that the lack of diversity in thinking can produce. Technology and technological products shape the future, but they are primarily designed by men, meaning that there is a lack of diversity in the solutions that these products can offer. The fact that a specific group of people, in this case, men, dominate the industry means that the products and services created will tend to reflect their biases and experiences, which may not adequately represent or serve the needs of the entire population nor be gender neutral. This can result in products that are less accessible or useful for women, people of color, or other marginalized groups.
Another big disadvantage of underrepresentation is that women often feel discouraged from pursuing careers in tech due to a lack of female role models and mentors, which reinforces in women the idea that they are not as capable as men in technical roles.
The fact that women hold only a small percentage of leadership positions and technical roles also creates a gender pay gap, a gap that exists across all levels of employment, from entry-level to executive positions.
All these factors contribute to making the tech sector a hostile field for women, especially for vulnerable groups like migrant women or women+.
The challenges for migrant women
Despite the increasing number of women entering the tech industry, there are still many challenges that women face, such as biases, stereotypes, and discrimination. On top of that, migrant women who are interested in entering the tech sector face other difficulties, related to language barriers, cultural differences, and systemic discrimination.
Language barriers are one of the most significant challenges for migrant women in the tech sector. English is the most used primary language in the tech industry, and migrant women who do not speak English fluently may struggle to communicate effectively with their colleagues, which can limit their opportunities for advancement. Migrant women also face cultural barriers and a lack of understanding of the work culture in the tech industry, which can impact their ability to integrate into the workplace.
Opportunities for women, in general, are growing everywhere but they are not accessible to everyone. Coding boot camps and schools only directed to women have sometimes prohibitive prices, are often taught in English, and can require a high level of commitment, often incompatible with other duties. Even when women get access to the sector, we must consider the problems that they encounter: high levels of harassment against women, which manifest in verbal abuse, derision, and disparagement.
For migrant women, whether they have already begun their journey in the tech sector or are interested in entering it, the ladder to success is harder and more complicated. For this reason, it becomes crucial to access a safe space for learning and knowledge exchange.
But what is a safe space?
The experience of CodeWomen in creating a safe space
CodeWomen is an empowering and supportive community for women+ (including trans and non-binary) interested in the tech field, active in Barcelona. This project was started in August 2020 as a spin-off of MigraCode Barcelona, a project launched by Open Cultural Center in 2019 to create the first coding school for migrants and refugees in the city. When first created, the main objective of CodeWomen was to offer extra support and encouragement to the female students of the Web Development BootCamp, who were in the difficult position of being female, migrant, and entering a male-dominated world.
Since mid-2021, CodeWomen has grown into a bigger community, as it has started to welcome tech women from outside of MigraCode, self-learners, and other women in tech to join. They are women+ interested in accessing the tech sector, undergoing a career change, or already working as developers, data analysts, or UX/UI designers.
CodeWomen is run by women, and its events are only directed to women.
If anybody of the participants has any question, doubt, request or something else they can always reach out to the CodeWomen team, which also consists of women only. By creating an easy way of communication and interaction, CodeWomen wants to create a feeling that you can share everything, like with friends. Nobody has to be ashamed of asking a ‘simple/dumb’ question or having doubts about things. Everybody is given a voice. CodeWomen is a community where women support each other.
The reason why CodeWomen has been able to reach other women outside of MigraCode is that women can find the kind of support they need elsewhere. The tech sector is dominated by men; thus, there is already a big community of men in the tech sector who can support each other and let them feel more secure in what they are doing. This security is especially important at the beginning of a new job position when you are still a little insecure and women can’t rely on that support.
So far, CodeWomen has grown into one of the largest OCC projects and created a community of around 600 women, mainly located in Barcelona. This community offers its members a safe environment to share their plans, ambitions, doubts, and questions. It is about learning, encouragement, and support. Moreover, CodeWomen provides an ideal opportunity for networking and meeting new people and getting career advice from experienced women developers. The community is for women, by women, and is a bottom-up and volunteer-driven project.
We have asked also members of the team and volunteer coaches to share their perspectives on how and why CodeWomen represents a safe space for them. Here is the experience of Imma, one of the volunteer coaches, and Capucine, from the CodeWomen’s team.
What I value the most is that it’s a diverse and inclusive community, and coaches from all ethnicities and backgrounds are welcome. I particularly like the introductions section in our sessions, where the facilitators usually insist on what are your skills instead of what you do. Since I’m not coding as much as I used to, I feel I won’t be a good coding coach, but this approach in the introductions makes me feel welcomed and valued.Imma
What I love about CodeWomen and what makes it such a powerful community is the opportunity it gives to women to meet and be inspired by other women+, in a space where they can speak up freely about their struggles, the challenges they face but also their hopes and their ambitions. This community allows us to feel welcome and understood, find support in each other, and act as role models, without the fear of being judged, ridiculed or even self-censoring ourselves, when most of the industry stereotypes and statistics could make us feel we don’t fit or belong to this world.Capucine