Director Robin Hauser Reynolds will be part of a panel discussion Aug. 6. at Sundance.
The film CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap premieres in Wisconsin Aug. 6 at Sundance Cinemas. The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce is hosting director Robin Hauser Reynolds for the exclusive 4:30 p.m. screening, followed by a reception and panel discussion on women in tech (cost: $25, register for the event here). This is the second feature-length documentary for Reynolds, who lives in California. The first was the award-winning Running for Jim.
Isthmus spoke with Reynolds about the dearth of female computer programmers, what can be done about it and why gender balance matters — all topics that are explored in her documentary.
When I worked at HotWired in 1995, the gender split was almost fifty-fifty. Have we gone backwards?
We have. The number of women in software in the mid-1980s was almost 40%, and now it’s 18%. This is troubling and puzzling, and we don’t know why. One strong hypothesis is that the notion of who a programmer is has really changed. The stereotypical programmer has evolved from a woman to a man in a computer lab in a white coat, then to geek genius, to the hacker in the ’80s, and now it’s going to the “brogrammer.” All are somewhat fictional, but all marginalize women. A young woman needs a role model — “you cannot be what you cannot see.”
What is up with the obnoxious rise of the brogrammer?
Now it’s so cool to be involved in tech. How is the fraternity boy going to get involved in this? It’s surprising to me — these start-ups in Silicon Valley have a sexist culture, but [these programmers] are young enough that you wouldn’t think their parents would be so bad. We do tend to hire people that are like us, so there’s a vicious cycle at work now. Startups don’t have the luxury of a diversity inclusion group, and they don’t understand that the company will benefit: Studies show adding a woman makes efficiency go up.
Is sexism so much a part of American society that it’s inevitable in tech, or can that sector strike a new balance?
I would love it if we could. It’s a new industry, and that’s why it’s so shocking that there is so much sexism. It’s not as blatant as it was in the Mad Men era, but women describe the “death of a thousand cuts.” In meetings no one reacts to a woman, and then a guy says the same thing and everyone nods. Women describe feeling like “blood in the water.” The whole culture — the bar, the booze, the pool tables — it’s confusing as to where work is and play is and where the boundaries overlap. Is it appropriate to hit on a woman in this space?
What are some practical steps parents can take to open up the possibility of programming for their daughters?
They need to engage in gender-neutral toys. Look at their own biases — we all have them — and make sure that we are not giving longer scientific explanations to our sons than to our daughters. At 18 months, girls and boys like the same toys. We as a society tell them what’s not for them. Kids might not even yet know how to read, but they can play games and get familiar with logic this way, so it’s not scary. The most important thing we can give to kids is confidence. If they want to run the next Google, they can do it.
And that confidence carries over to the workplace?
It’s sad that I have to say it, but you have to speak up when you think it’s necessary. Find a mentor or a sponsor, and find a male ally. There’s a lot that men can do, too. A true male ally is willing to speak on behalf of women when there are no women in the room. Sexism is not just a women’s issue, because males are missing out on the advantages of having a woman on the team.