Often the only people who ignore diversity issues in a career discussion are cishet white men. For everyone else, it colors every job, every interaction, every moment of self-doubt. Regardless of your political persuasion, you should recognize that tech objectively does a worse job at diversity than any other well paid white collar industry. This isn’t mere perception – it is greatly statistically significant by any measure.
Today only 17% of Computer Science majors are women. We do worse than medicine, law, and the hard sciences! This effect worsens once you get into the industry - industry surveys of programmers regularly come in around 8-12% non-male. This means there is 40% average attrition of non-male coders relative to male ones, which is indicative of problems in the industry and a problem in itself for diversity in senior ranks. You will see this happen in your own career journey.
It wasn’t always like this. You can see in the chart we used to have twice as many women in the college pipeline in the 1980’s. The first professional programmers in the 1940s were female. The first compiler was created by Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. Before Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine even existed, Ada Lovelace was programming for it.
Programming ability isn’t limited by gender or race or sexual orientation or age. It is far more likely to be human factors – the non-code parts of coding careers – that systematically alienate our fellow humans from this lucrative, powerful field.
If you are not part of the underrepresented minority in tech, have the compassion and empathy to recognize that this problem is an inescapable fact of life for those who are. First, do no harm: Recognize when you are contributing to the problem and stop. Then be an ally by calling it out in others and lending your privilege.
If you are part of the underrepresented minority, know that you are desperately needed and if your current company doesn’t value you, there are lots of other inclusive companies that would love to work with you. There are also extensive support networks by your peers, from dedicated industry groups like Women in Games International to language groups like PyLadies to framework groups like Front-End Foxes to more generalist networking and mentorship groups like BlacksInTechnology, Latina Geeks, and Lesbians Who Tech. You can even find others with the same background as you like MotherCoders and VetsinTech. These aren’t mere toothless social groups – before you join a company or collaborate with someone, it can be very helpful to do a quick reference check, or you might hear about a perfect job opportunity before anyone else because the hiring manager values reaching out to communities like yours, or you can just ask for help from people who’ve been in your exact shoes.
Tech’s diversity problem is the world’s diversity problem. Because so much of our world is now run and intermediated by software, it is increasingly important that the people who design and code that software have a visceral empathy with their users. It starts with making sure representative voices are heard.