Johanna Mikkola, CEO of coding bootcamp Wyncode, talked with TechRepublic's Dan Patterson about how to shrink the gender gap in tech jobs.
Watch the video, or read the full transcription of their conversation below.
Patterson: Johanna Mikkola, you are the CEO of the Wyncode Academy. How can we get educational institutions to encourage more women to go into the technology field?
Mikkola: Great, great question. I mean, with the #timesup and press for progress promotions right now, and this being really top of mind, I know from educators to technologists to tech companies to individuals, everyone's really talking about gender diversity. We're at a stage now where we're at the awareness stage, so everyone's kind of talking about the issue, so that we can plan for what are actual practical things we can do to get people in.
Something here at Wyncode that we've done is, we really believe that diversity will be a competitive advantage for a tech ecosystem, and for any tech team to begin with. To encourage more women to get this type of education, we committed 1.4 million over four years to get to 50% women across all of our programs. That's a small example of what we're doing here in south Florida, and hoping to partner with some companies to further enhance the grants we're giving to women coming into these programs.
Patterson: I'm glad that you said this is a competitive advantage. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Mikkola: Absolutely. You know, thinking about 47% of the workforce in the US is female. A recent study by Deloitte showed that 85% of buying decisions in households are made by women, and something that most people don't realize is, the highest segment and demographic for casual gaming, on mobile phones for example, they're all female from 18 to 30 years old. So it only makes sense that the people who are building and creating the products are more reflective of the end user.
SEE: Hiring kit: Chief diversity officer (Tech Pro Research)
There's lots of studies from Stanford to Harvard that have shown that when the builders are more reflective of end users, they're actually gonna be better products. Meaning, better products, more sales, and overall a huge benefit to business. Diversity is definitely gonna be a competitive advantage.
For emerging tech ecosystems like Miami, why it's a competitive advantage is because if we show that a diverse tech ecosystem is possible, we can be a leader, not just in the state but in the country, and attract even more talent here and really lead the charge for establishing this area in itself.
Patterson: There is a myth that exists that women are not interested in the STEM professions. How can we bust this myth, and what can we really do to emphasize the work women are doing in technology so that it is not marginalized?
Mikkola: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, role models and mentors are super important to this. But I think something that's interesting is, programming has its roots in female founders. The first programmer, Ada Lovelace, was female. Grace Hopper was the creator of COBOL, which is the induction of programming that used words instead of just numbers, and introduced us to modern programming. Programming was a woman's job, and there actually was an initiative back in the '70s and '80s to actually bring more gender parity for men into programming profession. We're at a stage now where we're just trying to tip the scales somewhere that's more balanced.
I think what ended up happening, is, marketing can be very effective. Looking back on those days, there was a lot of marketing towards men. This is an issue that we need to champion and market to women. We need to give access to training and education. It's not a problem. We're all talking about it now that's really important, but I think we all need to recognize that this is gonna take some time to change. It's not gonna happen overnight. Seeing that only 12% of engineers are women in the U.S. currently, it doesn't happen overnight. We need to have more women in the pipeline in order for there to be more programmers.
Patterson: There are a ton of great examples out there of women in programming and women in science, math, and technology, but what are some of your favorite role models, and what are the places that we can go to learn more about these role models?
SEE: The state of women in computer science: An investigative report (TechRepublic)
Mikkola: Great question. My most favorite role models are the women right now who are taking a leap of faith and jumping into technology. We've had stay-at-home moms transition to a whole new career as a developer. We've had individuals who are marketers, real estate agents, so for me it's really the everyday hero who's transitioning and taking that leap of faith, and then going on to encourage other women to be part of it.
But of course, right now, I've been doing a lot of talks for International Women's day, and just really looking at the history of women's effect on programming and the creation. For me, that's so inspiring, to remember that women are great programmers, that we started it. For me, it's more about championing the everyday person. 'Cause we have lots of great examples of women in technology, but you can almost think about them, whereas if you had to think about how many great men are there in technology, there's way too many to even list. So, we just want to build up that pool and make it more commonplace.
Patterson: What are some resources for individuals who want to get started in STEM and in technology?
Mikkola: There's a big myth that coding is all about math, and for sure there is an element of algorithms, and there's definitely a theoretical level for programming, but I think something that's important, is to do some research to find out how user friendly, especially modern-day programming languages, are. It's not so much about math, but more about problem solving, and if this, then that, statements. If you like a challenge, and you like puzzles, you're probably going to like coding and you should try it. The most important thing is exposure. I think a lot of people make assumptions about what a programmer is and what type of person will like it, and most people are surprised to find out how creative the process is, and how much fun it can be. We try as much as possible to encourage individuals to try out, from free online-resources to local tech events to expose yourself to the tech community, and also specifically to coding.
- IT leader's guide to achieving workplace diversity (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Solving Silicon Valley's diversity problem (ZDNet)
- StubHub hires activist entrepreneur as top leader (CNET)
- How much is diversity in tech worth? $400B says CompTIA CEO (TechRepublic)
- Want tech diversity? Think information systems majors over computer science (ZDNet)
- 6 ways to include more women of color in tech (TechRepublic)
- How to address the gender pay gap: 5 tips for business leaders (TechRepublic)
- Leading by example to close the gender pay gap (CBS News)
Dan Patterson has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.