With nearly 16 million programmers in the world, at 10 to 15 percent women, there are more than two million female programmers — but we never see them. Technical women remain largely invisible and behind the scenes despite important and often elite contributions.
In tech, we are standing on the shoulders of giants — men and women who have innovated and collaborated to bring us to where we are today. So many entrepreneurs, computer scientists, heroes, and creators have come before us — and yet we are critically challenged by the lack of visibility innovators of those days.
In the Hollywood film Jobs, all of the men on the core Macintosh team are introduced and have speaking roles, but we don’t meet Joanna Hoffman or Susan Kare, though both were a core part of the original Macintosh product development team, and their contributions literally changed the face of the Mac and our industry. In the Turing films, we rarely meet the many female code-breakers at Bletchley Park. The list goes on and on — in historic and contemporary movies about our industry, the women are typically written as love interests, with technical women rarely appearing as core contributors. Science fiction movies paint the same gender-imbalanced future, and few movies overall pass the Bechdel Test: having two named, female characters speak to each other about something other than a man.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDI), through studies done with the USC Annenberg School, found a three to one ratio of male to female characters in children’s TV, with 80 percent of the jobs held by characters in kids TV and films being held by male characters. We need to help Hollywood and other media creation hubs fix this damaging bug. Armed with GDI research and the need to shift, we and many others have begun helping with outreach work to top media partners.
We have a tremendous opportunity to help change the narrative and our actions — all of us, women and men working alongside one another, have an important role to play here.
As employers, we can attract, hire, and retain outstanding women. At Google, for example, our goal is to build technology that helps people change the world, and we’re more likely to succeed if Google reflects the diversity of our users. Like other companies, we have created internal support networks and communities; women learned from being part of the Women@Google global network of more than four thousand women Googlers across more than twenty-seven countries.
As leaders of teams, we can highlight ways to make working parents’ lives a little easier. Think about what benefit programs you advocate for, what flexible work environments you can create. One of our favorite programs is at Google’s Campus Tel Aviv and Campus London spaces for the start-up communities.
The team there has developed Campus for Moms, a spin on the traditional tech accelerator; new moms looking to launch products and build companies come through a formal program, but meet once a week and bring their babies with them. There are play areas and feeding rooms, and everyone builds together.
The result is astounding and proof that we can break through the traditional ceilings and walls that exist in our old models. As individuals, we can mix curiosity for learning with strong, sustained confidence in ourselves to know that we are capable of tremendous achievement. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, to know what you don’t know, to seek out mentorship and role models you respect. We have both been helped tremendously throughout our career by amazing mentors, both male and female (Mary cites Megan as one of the most influential mentors in her life). Seek them out. And when you’re in a position to be able to give back and do the same, pay it forward wholeheartedly.
We also need to be careful as an industry not to think the issue is fixing women — the issue is fixing our tech culture, upgrading our tech culture to be much more welcoming of underrepresented people, to be better.
Grove is Google’s director of global entrepreneurship outreach where she leads Google for Entrepreneurs, the company’s programs and partnerships to support start-ups and entrepreneurs in more than 100 countries around the world.
Smith is the newly named U.S. chief technology officer, a former Google executive with a background in entrepreneurship and engineering.
Excerpted and lightly edited from Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya. Copyright 2014 by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya. Excerpted by permission of Diversion Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.