Did you know that, historically, women were pioneers in the tech field? As we are addressing the question of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, in the current tech industry, we thought it’d be useful to learn more about tech communities from within - their current role, origins, and dynamics. So, we sat down with Kini Engelmo Moriche, Staff Developer Relations Engineer at Criteo, who took us behind the scenes of tech communities, and here’s what we learned!
When people ask me what I find to be special about tech communities, one thing pops into my mind right away: Knowledge! Yes, communities in tech are an infinite source of knowledge. It's true! As a software engineer, you constantly need to nurture your expertise and keep yourself updated on the latest market trends. How do you do it? Well, for starters, you do it a lot by learning from others. Enter the essential role of communities!
Software engineering is one of the fastest-evolving industries, so you must find ways to upgrade your skills if you want to keep up. When starting my career as a software engineer, it was clear to me right away that this path would lead me to new encounters, learnings, and experiences daily! You use others' knowledge all the time - Googling an issue you have, checking books and articles, or watching videos from conferences. That realization triggered my will to make real connections and keep learning from new people. And that's how I got into tech communities in the first place. It's been such an amazing journey since then!
Trust me, once you've tasted how good it feels to share your thoughts and interests with people who are as eager to learn new things as you are, you never want to let go. Communities also create privileged opportunities to network with people facing similar challenges, problems, or situations. I started to attend local meetups, make friends for life, share tips and insights, and, eventually, share my knowledge at conferences. Whether it is for gaining knowledge or networking purposes, you grow either way. We all give and take a lot from the community.
A dynamic hub for constant knowledge
So, we have grasped the knowledge-sharing role of tech communities, but what about the diversity of this knowledge? Questioning thought diversity leads quite logically to questioning gender equity. I believe by questioning why there are so few women in tech, we're already taking a step in the right direction. To me, two important points need to be acknowledged when addressing this gender gap.
First, the role of society and cultural standards. The clothes we've been told to wear, the colors we've been taught to like, the feelings we consider adequate, even the professions we believe suit us best; They all go down to gender construction. Because of these general beliefs, many of us have been dispossessed or, at least, disconnected from our inner aspirations. It is often so deeply interiorized, that we don't decrypt it most of the time. Because we grew up in this social and cultural context, we can argue that women are less exposed to tech careers than most men, and, therefore, less inclined to consider it as a possible path.
But society isn't a fixed entity, and here comes my second point. We all compose society. So, it is up to us to set the right conditions for a more equal and inclusive one. I believe, as an individual, we have the power to make things move in the right direction. So, let's! A structural change needs to happen. We need to understand that the current spaces that welcome women in tech have been created for men by men. We need to rethink and reshape them so that everyone feels welcomed and represented. Empathy is a big trigger for such a change!
Women were pioneers in the tech field
Did you know that, historically, women were pioneers in the tech field? Imagine how different it was back in the 50s – 60s, compared to the trends we see today... The pioneering role of women in tech is widely documented. If you're interested, I suggest you watch the movie “Hidden Figures”. Based on a true story, it shows three African American women, who all began their journey working at NASA as a part of the West Computers, a segregated group of women hired to process aeronautic data in the Space Race era. Another illustration would be the story of Ada Lovelace - an English mathematician, considered the first computer programmer. There are plenty of female role models in the tech industry, but we have failed to give them the visibility they deserve.
I think it was around the 80s that the tech industry started to get some attention, becoming a male-dominated area. What's interesting is that it seems to be a worldwide phenomenon... The business world has been a male-dominated area historically and computer science was no exception to the rule. Once software became a business - and a very profitable one with that - men stepped up and women were cast aside. Today, we've realized we need more thought diversity, and bridging this structural gender gap is a start. So yes, things are starting to change but perhaps not as fast as we'd like.
As women are reclaiming the position they deserve in today's world, there is no logical explanation for why we should keep them on the side. It's not like they've earned it today; They were here at the beginning! Society is evolving at its own pace, and we, as individuals, can show empathy and create safer spaces that include everyone. I am a man, but I want to picture myself as an ally who can use his privileged position to try and educate others. By doing so, I believe we can help promote the changes we need to create a real inclusive environment.
Challenging existing positions?
As the topic gains visibility, we can see event organizers starting to take the hint and reinvent the experience so that more people can feel welcome and comfortable. Besides leading us to build a more equitable environment, bringing in more women is a way to promote a greater diversity of thinking and challenge how we do things. Values of diversity, equity, and inclusion need to be taught in the early stage of education.
We need to make male and female role models visible to young people when they are shaping their vision of the world. Let's turn occasions like The International Day of Women and Girls in Science where women working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) go to schools and talk about their jobs, into real opportunities to spread the word and expose those young minds to what diversity means.