TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Parul Gupta, co-founder of Springboard, and Alaina Percival, CEO of Women Who Code, about equality in the tech industry. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
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Karen Roby: Alaina, let’s talk first about just how underrepresented women actually are in tech. I think it may surprise some people.
Alaina Percival: Women are not a minority, so we’re half of the population. In the tech industry, in engineering, only representing about a quarter. So, there’s a huge opportunity to increase the representation of women in the tech industry.
Karen Roby: Talk a little bit about Women Who Code, what is your mission, and how do you reach women to get more of them involved in the industry?
Alaina Percival: Women Who Code is the largest and most active community of technical women in the world. We serve 250,000 members with approximately 2,000 events per year. That’s about six per day on average. We’re language-agnostic. We represent a lot of different technologies.
Karen Roby: Parul, let’s talk to you about this partnership between Springboard and Women Who Code, how did it happen, and what is your goal together?
Parul Gupta: I’ll take a step back and talk about what we do at Springboard, and that will set the context for why this partnership was important for us. Springboard is a San Francisco Bay Area based workforce development platform. We help people break into in-demand tech careers like data science, machine learning, software engineering, and also design, with the help of one-on-one mentorship from industry practitioners and a job guarantee. For us as an organization, diversity has been a goal that we’ve been committed to both amongst our students, as well as within the organization, how we built up our team. As Alaina mentioned earlier, women are really underrepresented in tech and they can bring their ideas and their talents to this industry so much more. So, that is why it was really important to us to partner with organizations like Women Who Code, and we also work with several other nonprofits to promote the cause of diversity in STEM careers.
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Karen Roby: Alaina, what does it mean to have a group like Springboard along with you to move into the future together?
Alaina Percival: Women Who Code’s target are people who are in the industry. Our vision is to really see them excel in their careers, remain engaged and make it to more senior positions, really see women at the leadership level is our long-term vision. And so partnering with organizations to bring more women into the tech industry helps to provide a funnel for Women Who Code and it helps to serve a really important community within the market of people who are transitioning careers or learning to code in a way that is deeply transformative. These scholarships that enable people to become software engineers really can mean a tremendous amount to the family, to the industry. Having these partnerships has been an important part of Women Who Code strategy for about six years now.
Karen Roby: Alaina, how significant of an impact has COVID-19 had on women and in this industry? There are some who have had to leave their jobs, whether it’s just a temporary thing, because they’re trying to help their kids at home that are home-based for learning or whatever the situation may be, are you seeing an impact?
Alaina Percival: We’re definitely seeing an impact and the data shows that even the people who haven’t left their jobs yet, about a quarter of them are thinking about it, which is really, really hard numbers to hear, especially for a professional organization. So, it’s going to be more important now for communities like Women Who Code to find ways to help to support people who are in their careers and to guide companies and how to really help them to develop strategies that are going to be mindful of the extra pressure that we are all going through right now. Also, we know we are going to lose some people. So having the strategies in place to bring them back once that capability is there and bring them back in a way that isn’t resetting their career, but really continuing to push it forward because you take a small break whether it’s six months or six years from your career, that person might still have 15 more years in their career. And that’s so important for the industry, especially an industry like the tech industry, which needs so many more people right now to be in it.
Karen Roby: We can’t afford to lose them, especially the women who have been coming up through it. You hate to see them take a step out for too long or feel like they can’t go back. Talk a little bit about, from your end, the demand. Is there a certain facet within tech, I know you mentioned artificial intelligence (AI), where there is a bigger demand or is it just in general in tech the supply is not there right now?
Parul Gupta: Yeah. The demand in tech is actually the shortages across the board in a variety of careers. And the most acute is in software engineering, data analytics, data science, and machine learning, but even in other emerging industries like cybersecurity, that is becoming a larger and larger need. And similarly, user interface and user experience design. That’s something that we’ve seen. All of these are areas where there’s a big skills gap and employers are struggling to find good talent.
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Karen Roby: We certainly are hearing more and more every day for the need for cybersecurity experts, especially, and obviously, that need is just going to continue to grow. Parul, what do you hope as you look down the road, say a year from now even, with a partnership like this? And for women in general, what do you hope to see?
Parul Gupta: For me, there are two things. One is, definitely, supporting women who are impacted systematically because of the lack of diversity, lack of role models. And even it’s so relevant right now because of COVID as they’ve had to step back either because they are financially impacted or because the disproportionate burden of childcare falls on women. Helping that community of talented women to come back, learn new skills which help them continue their careers in tech. The second one is fostering—it’s more a longer term goal—just fostering a really strong community of amazing women in tech, where just helping them feel that they belong and there are others like them out there, so they can achieve leadership roles and they can grow in their careers, too.
Alaina Percival: I look forward to the people who are participating, the diverse women who are participating in this program and to be in a position where they have so much potential in their careers, they’re able to engage with the Women Who Code community and help support people who are following in a similar path.