Story at a glance
- Just 25.8 percent of U.S. computer and mathematics jobs in 2019 were held by women.
- The nonprofit Women Who Code is trying to change that.
- Technology products are improved by more diverse teams developing them, experts say.
Increasing the number of women in the technology field, and keeping them there, is the goal of support groups popping up worldwide.
One example of this is the international nonprofit organization Women Who Code (WWCode), which has networks across the globe — from New York to London to China.
Changing America attended a meeting with the Richmond, Va., group of WWCode held at a Capital One office building in Glen Allen, Va. Capital One is a corporate partner that supports the WWCode Richmond (RVA) group. Here’s why:
“Research shows that diverse teams are more effective teams. Tech and products designed with diverse perspectives better serve everyone,” says Julie Elberfeld, senior vice president, card and small business technology and executive sponsor for diversity and inclusion (D&I) for technology at Capital One.
“As a tech leader who has immersed myself deeply in D&I for five years now, I care deeply about D&I in tech for so many reasons, but first and foremost, because it is the right thing to do,” she says.
Elberfeld cites numbers that show more needs to be done globally. “We are in the midst of a digital revolution. We are living in a profound time when tech is impacting every aspect of our lives in big ways. Yet, the tech industry fails to reflect the diversity of the world around us,” she says, citing recent reports. “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that women represented just 25.8 percent of U.S. computer and mathematics jobs in 2019,” states Elberfeld.
Groups such as WWCode aim to change that.
Viji Natarajan, one of the directors of the Richmond chapter of WWCode. She’s also an enterprise architect/technical director at Veracity Consulting Group, a Richmond-based startup, says, “Organizations like Women Who Code are very important to address the imbalance that exists in the technology industry. Our approach is twofold — support women who are interested in entering, and — almost more importantly, focus on the reasons behind why women are leaving technology careers.”
Natarajan says, “Women who enter the male-dominated technology profession leave IT at a rate higher than we see in the male population. Women Who Code believes this is based on unconscious and/or conscious bias against women in the technology workforce. Organizations like Women Who Code are crucial for educating companies and giving women an opportunity to lean in and support/coach each other.”
Cara Ziegel is a member of the WWCode RVA group and appreciates the positive encouragement. “I have been coming to the Python practice nights because I am trying to keep up my Python skills,” she says. Python is a programming language.
“I believe that women really need the support of other women to feel like they belong in tech — having this support, this space to be with other technically inclined women— is huge,” says Ziegel.
In addition to supporting WWCode RVA, Elberfeld says Capital One has created a Women in Tech initiative “because women wanted a community. They wanted to be able to connect on things they have in common and be able to influence the broader industry dialogue to get more women and girls not only to start in tech, but also stay in tech. We provide tech training, challenging and purpose-driven assignments, and professional development opportunities to keep our women growing and thriving in tech careers,” says Elberfeld.
"Factors such as the environment and support structures are extremely pivotal in promoting more women in tech and can change the experience of women in our industry," she says.
WWCode RVA’s Natarajan, who is a mom of two in addition to working as a full-time professional, explains why she is happy to also devote her free time to the Women Who Code group: “I enjoy going out and being a positive role model to other women entering their career. I enjoy learning from all the female engineers and leaders I get to meet through Women Who Code. Women bring a unique perspective to the table when it comes to problem solving. I am a firm believer of the Women Who Code mission and vision.”