It happens in Ohio, too. We Can Code IT is helping women in tech overcome the challenges featured in this April 2017 Atlantic cover story.
“Women are hired in lower numbers than men and also leave tech at more than twice the rate men do. It’s not hard to see why.” It’s an ugly problem that’s not going away soon. Many women in tech say sexism in the industry is less overt but still prevalent. Even with companies like Intel, Apple and Google pouring millions of dollars into making their workforce more diverse, the number of women going into tech fields has actually decreased. Women often find they are not appreciated, not rewarded, not heard and not respected in the tech workplace.
We Can Code IT CEO & founder Mel McGee and Cleveland boot camp instructor Daniel Vivacqua share their honest and personal responses to the article – and tell what We Can Code IT is doing to change the face of tech. Tech companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve diversity and make life better for female employees. Some of it has worked, like tying bonuses to diversity outcomes and making diversity a priority early-on at tech start-ups. But as the Atlantic article points out, women hired in today’s tech industry are often not happy with what they find.
Women leave their jobs in tech at twice the rate men do, citing the main reasons as “workplace conditions, a lack of access to key creative roles, and a sense of feeling stalled” – along with “undermining behavior from managers.” For women who’ve invested time and money in college degrees or boot camp training – and who thrive on the thrill of software development – this is one of their greatest career challenges.
Mel: Been there. Done that.
Our own Mel McGee, the founder of We Can Code IT, knows this story all too well. She was a software engineer and architect for nearly 20 years. “It was a painful article for me to read because it brought back memories of having to prove myself over and over, trying to maintain qualities expected of me as a woman while dealing with jerks and fools,” says Mel. “Granted, there have been more friends than fools in my past, but handling them gracefully is a difficult task when you are trying to get work done well in a timely fashion.”
In the tech industry, Mel sees ego at play—and the mind-games that happen whenever you have to work with insecure people whose esteem is based on their intelligence. “If you look different, behave differently, or are different, you will most certainly find yourself being challenged as an outsider because it’s a power play, and yes, mental-bullying happens.”
Rather than being defeated by the challenges facing women in the tech industry, Mel threw her energy into resistance. She started teaching “different” people how to enter and succeed in tech. “This type of struggle is one of the reasons We Can Code IT exists,” she explains. “When we have more women in the industry and in power, the ‘outsider’ aspect will diminish.”
Daniel: Living and breathing the mission.
Daniel Vivacqua is a We Can Code IT graduate and happy to be part of the We Can Code IT team as an associate instructor in the Cleveland coding boot camp. Raised in Buffalo NY, Daniel studied Psychology and Studio Art and worked with people with developmental disabilities. When he decided to make a career change, he attended the We Can Code IT boot camp and grew to love coding. Now he hopes to inspire and empower new students to share his passion for software development.
“What struck me the most about the Atlantic story was how much I’ve heard the same stories here in Cleveland. Women at We Can Code IT talk about their experiences trying to get into computer science, only to be met with feelings of isolation at best and hostility at worst,” says Daniel.
The story also reminded Daniel of how far we have to go in our culture as a whole to recognize that women are vital contributors to our industry and to our society. “We have students who, as women, struggle in the boot camp due to the disproportionate pressure their loved ones put on them to be the caretakers for everyone. And while those loved ones say they’re invested in the success of our women students, they unknowingly make it harder for those students to do the work necessary in the boot camp because of the pressure that’s put on women to be everything for everyone.”
Daniel finds hope in seeing We Can Code IT support and encourage women who want to enter the tech field. “I can’t tell you the number of women who, when they start at We Can Code IT, cry tears of joy because they no longer feel isolated. We value their contributions and recognize their ambition and drive to succeed in a rigorous program and to develop their passion for coding.”
“We Can Code IT doesn’t just pay lip service to ‘increasing diversity and inclusion in tech.’ We walk the walk. All the We Can Code IT team members know what it feels like to be ostracized or discounted for who we are – whether as women, people of color, LGBTQ people, or people of diverse religious backgrounds,” says Daniel. “We share the lived experiences of our students, and our personal investment in the causes for which we advocate shines through in what we do. We have helped students find housing, find child care, receive emotional support, and we’ve hosted events specifically for women and other minority groups.”
“We live and breathe our mission. We Can Code IT is helping change the face of tech, and we’re going to keep doing it, no matter what obstacles are put in our way.”