Code: Debugging the Gender Gap

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The title of the movie Code: Debugging the Gender Gap with lines of programming code in the background

Code: Debugging the Gender Gap Screening

On January 31st, Slover Library, RevolutionVA, and Grow presented a screening of the award-winning documentary Code. The screening was open to the public. Slover’s Girls Who Code group was in attendance.  The overall focus of the film is the scarcity of women and minorities in software engineering. The film also explores the reasons behind the gender gap. The film makers provide an insightful, multi-disciplinary perspective on the gender gap across STEM fields. Code highlights many aspects of women in tech, including the history of women in computer science, gender bias, and inclusivity in the workplace, and universal design. Alex Proaps shares some thoughts about the film.

History

Megan Smith, White House Chief Technology Officer, describes concerns with women’s accomplishments being written out of history. The film traces the history of women in computer science – like Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and the many women who pioneered the computer programming industry during and after WWII. As Gloria Steinem noted, “Women have always been an equal part of the past. We just haven’t been a part of history.”

Gender bias

The film highlights the diverse range of industries that rely on software engineering – such as Pixar animation studios, as well as many successful women working in those industries. A series of experts provided statistics about the lack of diversity in STEM fields and discussed problems of gender bias. I appreciated how much time the film makers spent interviewing neuroscientists and social psychologists. They provided evidence to debunk and clarify myths about women and STEM. The screening of the film happened to take place just a few days before a study, published in Science, shed light on some of the earliest shifts in gender perceptions among children.

Inclusive workplaces

Women’s participation in STEM fields peaked in the 1980s, but has steadily declined. In 2014, only 18% of computer science majors were women. Harvard Business Review estimates that 41% of women working in tech eventually end up leaving the field (compared to just 17% of men). Women in the film discuss how we can create a more inclusive tech culture – by changing the culture in the classroom and in the workplace. It is critical that we all reflect on how we can increase diversity in our own workplaces and hiring practices. I am also a strong advocate for bringing women into computer science through various paths. There are many entry points into computer science that don’t necessarily require a traditional model or pipeline. For example, my field (Human Factors Psychology) bridges multiple disciplines – like psychology, sociology, physics, biology, and engineering.

Universal design

Universal design is good design. Non-inclusive design is an unfortunate extension or consequence of the lack of diversity in tech. The film makers summarize two examples of how crucial it is to design for all. First, designers ignored women’s feedback when developing Clippy. Clippy was perceived as “leering” and masculine and was not well-received. But non-inclusive design can have more tragic repercussions. Airbags were designed using test dummies with male dimensions for many years, which made airbags unsafe (and lethal) for women.

Check it out

Learn more about the film at codedoc.co and check it out on Netflix.

You can also learn more about She’s Coding – shescoding.org. It is an open-source project that provides education, resources and actionable guidelines for anyone who wants to learn to code or help bridge the gender gap in the field of computer science.

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