In Tech World, Women Look For Mentors

By Chelsea Keenan
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

IOWA CITY

In 2013, a tweet accusing two men of making a sexist joke during PyCon, a heavily attended programming conference in Santa Clara, Calif., caused waves in the tech industry and ultimately resulted in their firing from gaming ad company PlayHaven.

It also shone a spotlight on a major problem in the male-dominated field of technology.

And that wasn’t an isolated incident. Andrea Flemming, an organizer for Iowa Tech Chicks, told about a man who tweeted how the attractiveness of a female speaker at another tech conference was the reason her seminar was well attended.

“Someone thought that was OK to say,” she recalled. “… There’s definitely a lot of that (sexism).”

Part of the problem: While women held 57 percent of professional occupations in 2013, they only claimed 26 percent of computing jobs, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

And data released in August by some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names showed that women make up only about 30 percent of the work force at Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter.

That’s why it’s so important to improve the numbers and get more young girls interested in computer professions, Flemming said.
“In any field, seeing examples of someone like you makes it seem more possible for you,” she said.

Mentors also are able to help young girls get a better idea of everything the tech industry encompasses, from design work to jobs in finance and architecture, she said.

“It’s not all just coding in dark rooms,” she added.

SUPPLYING MENTORS

But providing those mentors sometimes can be a challenge.

Flemming also helps coordinate the Dev/Iowa Bootcamp — a nine-week web development course at the University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center.

She said that while about one-third of the program’s participants are female, the number of the program’s instructors and mentors skews heavily male. Only three of the 16 mentors were female, and the three instructors were all male.

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