How can we move the needle for women in tech?Jenny Darmodyon April 8, 2022 at 14:00 Silicon RepublicSilicon Republic

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When leaders talk about gender diversity in tech, they often speak about it in a very broad sense.

They talk about the fact that early intervention is needed at a primary and secondary school level to ensure young girls are encouraged to consider a career in tech.

They discuss the importance of mentorships and resource groups at an industry level to make sure that women working in the industry are supported.

These are all very important factors in ensuring there is more gender diversity within the space, but has there been much change for all those suggested solutions?

One thing that has changed according to Code Institute CEO Jim Cassidy, is the attitude towards women’s abilities.

“The misconception that gender and technical ability is linked is less prevalent. However, we are not seeing is that translating into more women in tech, tech careers or studying tech subjects in school or college,” he told SiliconRepublic.com

“There are long-standing barriers that need to be addressed. A predominantly gender-segregated education system gives girls and young women fewer opportunities to take technical subjects. This translates into the lack of progress in third level where the dial has not shifted in a decade.”

A practical, hands-on approach

In March, the Irish Government published a report on gender balance in STEM education, which included a list of recommendations to tackle the educational gap at primary and secondary level.

While this is a step in the right direction, Cassidy said it will take at least a decade for this to impact the workplace, creating “another generation of missed opportunities”.

“More immediate action is needed, particularly to create more opportunities for women who are already in the workforce or returning to the workforce,” he said.

“It’s not realistic to go back to college for three or four years to get these skills – the barriers remain the same.”

To that end, Code Institute uses its Coding Careers for Women initiative in the hopes of moving the needle faster and in a more practical way.

It’s a joint initiative between Code Institute, Limerick and Clare Education Board, the Mid-West Regional Skills Forum and Limerick 4 IT.

The initial cohort of 20 women were recruited from the Limerick and Clare region and onboarded onto the nine-month diploma in software development, which included a three-month work placement.

Code Institute aims to produce more than 40 graduates in one year through the programme which Cassidy said will significantly shift the dial on the number of women software development graduates.

Cassidy said the programme bypasses many of the barriers women face as it’s flexible and online.

“We teach full-stack software development in a one-year programme which is a hands on, learn-by-doing approach. The women have the practical coding skills to start their first role,” he said.

“Make no mistake, this is a tough programme, it requires dedication and resilience, but the rewards are great.”

Why an all-women cohort matters

The course is made up of an all-women cohort, which facilitator Kasia Bogucka said is important to create a safe, supportive environment.

“Women often feel intimidated by the competitiveness, sometimes aggressive approach of some males in this industry, hence they may feel inadequate,” she said.

“This feeling is not aligned with these women’s abilities, how they feel is not who they are. My first female cohort I worked with was a group of women who immediately came together and created a safe learning environment. One without arrogance and a so-called chest-thumping, which often may be observed in male groups.”

Bogucka added that in her experience of an all-female cohort, the members bonded more as teammates and their communication was more regular.

“Students became colleagues and almost friends as they were all working as a whole team – a team of women in coding.”

Siobhan Gorman is a graduate of the Coding Careers For Women initiative, having joined after she had taken a career break to raise her family.

“If the course hadn’t mentioned targeting women I would not have considered it – I liked the idea that the course would address the particular constraints facing women who want a career in tech,” she said.

“With an all-female cohort, we understood where we were all coming from with respect to the particular demands and constraints on women, especially after taking a career break or juggling looking after children and working. Women are very supportive and we formed a tight knit team who shared problems and found solutions together.”

Gorman is currently halfway through her placement with Jaguar Land Rover which she said is giving her a lot of new skills every day.

“My ambition is to work in a company like Jaguar Land Rover in a team as a junior developer with a view to becoming a scrum master possibly after some more experience in an Agile team.”

Helping underrepresented women

While all women face certain barriers in tech, there are even greater challenges for women in underrepresented communities such as asylum seekers.

To help these women, Code Institute offers 20 scholarships through its Level Up initiative with tech company Zartis.

Now in its fourth year, the conflict in Ukraine has made these scholarships even more timely.

While Code Institute provides the training, Zartis provides a career guarantee to the graduates helping them move to a position of financial independence and stability.

Xhuljana Shehu is one of the graduates from the Level Up scholarship programme, having come to Ireland as an asylum seeker in 2016.

“Although I have a law degree, I cannot use it in Ireland. So, I started looking for training opportunities to give me skills I can use.”

She was accepted onto the course in 2020 and, although she had never done any coding before, she found it really enjoyable.

“The programme is tough and I just had a new baby at the time so I really had to work hard,” she said.

“I qualified recently so I’m still working in my previous job but I’m looking forward to making the career change as soon as I have the opportunity. I can see a better future for myself with a coding career.”

Applications are currently open for the Level Up scholarship programme. The second Coding Careers for Women Cohort with Limerick and Clare ETB is due to launch later this month.

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