Beginning this February, nonprofit organization Pink Programming launched their very first educational course for women wanting to learn web developing and Java Script. The course sponsored by a number of companies including RefinedWiki is known as PinkWebDev, and gives students the opportunity to understand if programming is a career path they want to follow. In its first year, and first location in Malmö, Sweden, the course had an overwhelming response with 137 applicants for only 17 spots. With such demand from women to take their interest in developing to the next level we can't help but wonder how there remains today such a shortage of female developers in educational programs and in the workforce.
The issue: A shortage of women in programming.
To paint the picture, in the US, a mere 18% of bachelor degrees in Computer Science were completed by females (when last recorded in 2014) according to the National Science Foundation. This is the lowest of all STEM fields (Science, Technology. Engineering, Maths). At Stanford University, considered to offer one of the best computer science courses in the world and an important source for Silicon Valley companies, 30% of all students majoring in computer science were female (data from 2015). This was an improvement on 2012 where only 21% of computer science majors were women. Compare that to the overall undergraduate student body gender ratio at Stanford of 52.8% male and 47.2% female. In Sweden, women made up only a quarter of those applying for programming education programs compared to just over 50% who applied for law programs according to Universitets och Högskolerådet (UHR).
In the workplace if we look at the data for major Silicon Valley tech companies the gender imbalance is worse. A 2016 Google diversity report revealed 19% of the tech employees are women (up 1% on 2015). Similarly Facebook revealed 17% of the tech employees were women (up from 16% in 2015). At RefinedWiki the number of female tech employees is about to rise from 17% women to 38%. These disparities highlight two things, first, that there is still a notable gender imbalance in computer science education. Second, the number of women completing computer science education may not (yet) be reflective of the proportion of women in the workforce.
The good news is that awareness of the gender imbalance is growing and movements to close the gender gap in computer science such as PinkWebDev and Pink Programming are surfacing across the globe. As sponsors of the course, PinkWebDev welcomed us to their class last week where we sought to find out just how they are combatting the shortage of female developers.
The inside scoop
It was week 4 of a 12 week course when we stepped foot into the PinkWebDev classroom. True to developer style, the women were busy at their computers problem solving before the evening class had even begun. The project group organizing PinkWebDev consists of five women and four mentors who come each week to support, all on a completely voluntary basis. Stina who is the ideas woman, teacher and driver of PinkWebDev said when choosing the students the aim was to select a dynamic and diverse group who work well together. It's clear the group diversity was achieved considering I spoke to a Nurse on parental leave, a student who just started studying Computer Science, a former teacher and an artist, all looking to transfer their skills, creativity and experience to programming.
I'm not working at the moment as I'm home with my little girl, but otherwise I work as a Nurse. But I want to change and work with computers instead of with people so much. I start here (at PinkWebDev) and see how it goes. I have always liked to sit at the computer, I've always like to play a lot of computer games. I've been thinking about it for many years. - PinkWebDev student
While the women worked away, we derived some answers on just how PinkWebDeb removes some of the barriers to get women to code.can
Key barriers and how PinkWebDev overcome them
A barrier and common theme among expressed among the Pink Programming community is the lack of female role models.
In the PinkWebDev and Pink Programming community this barrier has been removed and the positive effects are shining through. Each month, Pink Programming hosts an event in Sweden's major cities in which women can gain a taste for coding or develop their skills in a fun, friendly, supportive environment. Each event includes a female guest speaker who works professionally as a developer. Similarly, in the PinkWebDev course four women working as developers come along to the class to mentor the students. The course has also partnered with key sponsors including RefinedWiki who provide opportunities for the women to network in the industry.
The mentors at PinkWebDev highlighted the fact that most women don't know what programmers do, let alone what programming is. They say this may stem from the few role models in the industry, women falling into design instead, or before 10 years move into another more 'sociable' role such as a product manager.
Many people fall more into design if they like computers because they can't picture themselves as a programmer(...)It has to do with if you hang out with other "more typical" girls you tend to not come across other girl programmers. - Louise, PinkWebDev project leader and mentor
Certainly a common thread among students for how they developed an interest in programming was an influencer such as a software programming husband, father, or brother. Some said they simply grew interest through computers and gaming. Others discovered programming either at senior high school or on a bachelor level. All students agreed that PinkWebDev was a brilliant means of fostering an interest in programming.
It's a good trend that so many partners can engage (mostly girls) to start programming. - PinkWebDev student
A second barrier is a focus on straight programming rather than creative problem solving.
One of the driving forces behind PinkWebDev is Stina's passion for educating women about programming. The idea for PinkWebDev came about while she was in Denmark speaking at a developers conference for women known as Code Her. At the event Stina described how she felt inspired by the positive reaction of a girl when Stina helped her to solve a coding problem. "She thought it was so cool when I helped her solve a problem". She then brought her idea for an educational coding course to the founders of Pink Programming and they made it happen.
To teach the women in the course, Stina uses a flipped classroom, whereby she shares video tutorials she has created in her home studio (on the ironing board!) before the class, and the students spend the class time to put the theory learnt from the videos into practice. Stina believes straight programming method used at her university course to learn coding isn't the best method. She strives for a method that is "open to everyone".
My driving force is always the educational side of it. I spend hours and hours thinking about the best order to do things in, I think about how I learnt programming and reflect on that. I know that there shouldn't have to be tears and anguish and you shouldn't feel stupid. It's not magical, it's just like everything else. When I went to School the lecturer droned on and on and I just thought, there has to be a better way to learn this than the way I learnt it. - Stina, PinkWebDev project leader and teacher
The feedback from the students about this style of teaching was overwhelmingly positive. The students we spoke to said they found the method engaging, rewarding and they felt they were making great progress.
This is better than my one month java script education that I studied (online) in November. I've already learnt more here from 3 evenings, than that entire one month course. - PinkWebDev Student
A few years ago I studied programming for half a year with Pascal. Most of it was just lessons and they just told you stuff on the whiteboard and then after that you had to figure out how to do it. I prefer this method where you have videos and can then ask questions and interact. - PinkWebDev Student
Another barrier is that many women have the wrong perception of programming.
The PinkWebDev group stressed that too many women don't have a clue what programming really is, and too many assume it is something only genius's and super geeks can do.
What's important to me is that (programming) isn't perceived as magic, it's not something that nobody can do. I get questions like, do you write in 1's and 0s? There are too many people who don't know anything at all about programming. - Stina, PinkWebDev project leader and teacher
I've been more into art - always drawn since I was little, but my brother has been programming since he was 12 and i was 6 so I've always been interested in programming. But I always thought you had to know a lot of maths and to be a genius to program so I never really tried it. Then I got the knowledge that was a program on the web to program games. I love games, so i started to program...Many girls think you can't program because you're a girl. - PinkWebDev Student
PinkWebDev and Pink Programming want to change this perception and share the message that programming isn't rocket science. You don't have to be a geek to be a programmer. You don't have to be a genius to be a programmer. In essence you don't have to fit any stereotype to be a programmer. They tackle this issue head on by providing a fun, welcoming environment for women to understand what programming is for themselves.
A fourth barrier identified was the lack of support for women aspiring to be or working as programmers.
One of the students is studying computer science at Malmö Hogskola and said in her class to begin with they were around 25% females in the beginning but this soon dropped to roughly 10%. She said it can be very intimidating when you begin and are comparing yourself to some people who have a lot of coding experience.
It's hard in the beginning as many guys have knowledge from before of things like what's CPU, what a computer looks like on the inside. Most girls don't know that, and they feel a bit overwhelmed and insecure...Sometimes it's hard you don't really want to speak out with all the other guys around. You want to make a point or argument but often they don't take it seriously. - PinkWebDev Student
One School in the US eradicated this issue by separating the students with experience to those with none. The PinkWebDev participant said that was one of the reasons she liked PinkWebDev as having all girls made it less intimidating and "more willing to speak up about certain things". Furthermore it is thought that male developers tend to work on personal projects outside of the workplace with fellow coders more often than female coders. It is harder for women to come by a companion outside of the office to team up with with. PinkWebDev eradicates this by providing a strong support network of women interested in coding.
Keep up the great work!
The students all saw a positive outlook following PinkWebDev. They said the course was a great way of building friendships and contacts both in the course and the industry. It was a great way of gaining an understanding of if and what programming pathway they want to take. Overall the feeling from PinkWebDev was overwhelmingly positive. It is clear that PinkWebDev is a rich and rewarding experience for all those involved and for women in tech and we couldn't be more proud to be a sponsor.
NSF specific statistics https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2017/nsf17310/data.cfm
NSF reports https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2017/nsf17310/
Article from Swedish newspaper in reference to UHR statistics http://www.dn.se/ekonomi/skenande-brist-pa-programmerare/
Article from online journal publication The Conversation http://theconversation.com/closing-the-computer-science-gender-gap-how-one-woman-is-making-a-difference-in-many-lives-41422\\
Stanford University gender gap study https://medium.com/@jcueto/race-and-gender-among-computer-science-majors-at-stanford-3824c4062e3a#.gj49e1xmo
Quora answer on gender gap in computer science https://www.quora.com/Why-arent-there-more-female-programmers
Google 2016 Diversity Report https://www.google.com/diversity/
Facebook 2016 Diversity Report http://newsroom.fb.com/news/2016/07/facebook-diversity-update-positive-hiring-trends-show-progress/
Pink Programming http://www.pinkprogramming.se/en
Code Her https://codeherconference.com/