While an increasing number of industries are diversifying their boardrooms, the computer science industry continues to struggle with a growing gender gap.
According to a 2014 study from the National Science Foundation, about 75 percent of employees in computer and mathematical science jobs are male. And more than half of all women in technology jobs leave the industry halfway through their careers, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.
In fact, since 1990, the percentage of female computing professionals in the United States workforce has dropped from 35 percent to 24 percent, according to a 2016 report from Accenture and Girls Who Code. Unfortunately, if that trend continues, the share of women in the nation’s computing workforce will decline to 22 percent by 2025.
Pamela Browne, however, is on a mission to change those numbers.
Browne is the founder and director of Greenville’s chapter of Women Who Code, a nonprofit “dedicated to inspiring women to succeed in technology careers.”
Founded in 2011, the San Francisco-based organization has established a presence in 20 countries, garnered about 100,000 members, and held more than 5,000 networking and education events around the world, according to Browne.
“Women Who Code focuses on mid-career women already in the tech industry and those looking to switch careers into tech. Both are vital parts of the equation because we need more women in tech roles to be role models, and we need the women who are already there to stay,” Browne said. “Many are leaving, and it is not surprising because the challenges — from small to large — accumulate over time.”
Browne added that many women throughout the tech industry hesitate to pursue professional development and leadership roles within their companies because they’re often held to unfair standards that are rooted in cultural stereotypes.
That’s why Brown is working to close the tech industry’s gender gap by “creating a welcoming space for women to improve their skills and support each other.”
Women Who Code Greenville meets once a month for networking and education at OpenWorks, a co-working space on the third floor of the Bank of America building.
The sessions, known as “Hack Nights,” are coordinated online through the Meetup community platform and include study groups, discussions, lightning talks, and keynote presentations by industry experts and investors, according to Browne.
“Women are often just happy to be able to talk about programming and not be the only woman in the room,” Browne said.
Browne added that her chapter has grown from 20 members to 423 members since launching in 2015 and represents a wide range of ages and professions, including software engineers, developers, data scientists, and others. That includes Kara Mansel, a quality assurance technician at Greenville-based software development company Fusion Web Clinic, and Emily Wivell, a junior software engineer at Simply Binary.
Mansel and Wivell said they’re both happy with their current companies, but they’ve experienced the negative side of tech culture in the past.
For instance, Mansel, who is the only woman on her engineering team, said she’s often hesitant to ask technical questions in front of her male colleagues in fear of perpetuating gender stereotypes. And Wivell said she’s been one of only two women at the four software development companies she’s worked for since graduating from The Iron Yard’s coding school in 2015.
Women Who Code Greenville, however, has “been a consistent source for various resources, support, and inspiration,” Wivell said.
“Becoming part of this international network of successful and driven women in tech has provided me with priceless insight, advice, and opportunity,” she added.
Browne said she hopes Women Who Code will continue to help women working in computer programming and other technology sectors overcome gender bias and become more confident in breaking into male-dominated spaces. She also plans to help more women learn software development skills.
In addition to Women Who Code, Browne is the director of SC Codes, a 12-week program designed by the Greenville County Library System and S.C. Department of Commerce to teach skills such as website development and the development of software and apps for mobile devices.
Students work independently on their own schedule and meet one day each week for two hours at the Hughes Main Library to review their progress. Students are required to complete at least 10 hours of training each week with various software development projects that expand their portfolios for potential employers.
Prospective students that are 18 years or older and qualify for a library card from the Greenville County Library System are required to submit an application and complete about 35 hours of pre-work to participate in SC Codes, according to Browne.
“Our free, part-time program removes some of the barriers keeping women from pursuing software development skills. Even more exciting is that — like many things that help women — this program benefits all adults facing those barriers,” Browne said. “In the process of improving tech career pathways for women, we are improving workplace cultures, educational opportunities, and family incomes.”
SC Codes has graduated more than 40 students since launching in 2016, according to Browne. About two-thirds of the program’s first 20 students were women. One of those students was Greenville resident Bethany Winston.
“I had wanted to learn how to program for years, but as a mom with two small children [and] going back to school, it was not possible,” Winston said.
“When I heard about SC Codes and their free 12-week course, I knew that this class was my chance to study programming with the help of an instructor. Having a class and deadlines motivated me to learn faster and more consistently than I was able to accomplish through self-study. The SC Codes mentors provided help and encouragement when I encountered problems that I couldn’t solve on my own,” she added.
Other South Carolina cities could soon enjoy those benefits. The SC Codes program is “being developed with the idea of being scalable to other communities,” according to a news release from the Department of Commerce.
Want to go? Women Who Code Greenville plans to hold a meeting at OpenWorks (101 N. Main St., Suite 302) on Thursday, May 3, at 6 p.m.
Did you know? WWC Greenville officially launched on Oct. 11, 2015, to coincide with Ada Lovelace Day, an annual event named for a British mathematician that celebrates women in science, technology, engineering, and math.