Later today, Hightail is hosting a free screening of CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap at the Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco. This remarkable documentary takes a deep dive into the tech world’s lack of female and minority engineers and shows how this gap can be closed.
Throughout most of my career as a founder and manager of tech startups, I rarely took the time to think about the gender balance of my companies. Fostering an environment where women wouldn’t ever feel like they are treated differently is just something I’ve always done and at my second startup PunchTab, we employed an almost equal number of men and women.
I’m the same at home where I treat my son and daughter the same when it comes to their interests and pursuits. I introduced both to coding at a young age and though my son built his own Raspberry Pi computer for gaming, it’s my daughter who has really taken to tech. She likes patterns, has an incredible ability to focus and is a maker who always has a craft project on the go, so it’s now no surprise to see her creating amazing things with a 3D printer.
Her growing interest in coding has got me thinking a lot more about the tech world’s gender gap. I began to wonder if she will be denied the same opportunities I had just because she’s female. My new awareness coincided with the issue being reported and discussed more widely and I was shocked to see statistics showing a dramatic decline in women taking computer science classes from nearly 40% in the early 80s to less than 20% since 2005.
More recently, my return as CEO to Hightail – the company I co-founded in 2004 – has put me in a position of greater responsibility. I now run a much larger business than the 20-person PunchTab and, candidly, Hightail is light on female coders. Though the ratio of men to women is about average for a tech company our size and we do better when you include departments outside engineering and operations (three of our executive team are women) it’s still something we need to improve.
So what can we do about it? Creating an atmosphere where women are welcomed and valued is a critical starting point. At Hightail I’m most interested in building a sustainable company and diversity is a key part of that. We run a mature, grown-up business a world away from the dreaded tech bro culture and with a high ratio of women on the exec team, I hope that a female engineer wouldn’t need to think twice about sending us her resume. We’re also exploring ideas like tilting our employee referral program towards offering bigger rewards when someone refers a female candidate that we go on to hire.
Of course, it’s also critical to look to the future and get the number of women studying computer science heading back up towards the 50% mark. We’ve taken part in a number of Hour of Code classes to encourage students, especially girls, to try their hand at coding. Hightail is also looking to sponsor coding camps for under-privileged kids in our local community and we’ll ensure that girls are encouraged to attend as much as boys.
Our screening of CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap is another way we can keep this critical conversation going. As well as showing the documentary for free, we’ve arranged a panel discussion featuring the film’s director, Robin Reynolds, along with Danielle Feinberg, Director of Photography at Pixar and Adriana Gascoigne, the founder of Girls in Tech. The first allocation of tickets for the screening went quickly but we’ve just released a limited number of additional seats. If you’re interested in coming along to the Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco this evening, sign up now.
One of the typical traits of coders is a love for solving problems. I’m a problem solver and so is my daughter. Tech’s gender gap issue may often seem intractable, but it shouldn’t be beyond our combined abilities to fix it. Acknowledging, understanding and discussing the problem is the first step, which is why CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap is such an important film that everyone with an interest in tech should see.