Addressing the tech industry's diversity problem

Pubished 28th February 2019

"We need to rethink our language"

Floor Drees works at Microsoft. If that wasn’t impressive enough, she’s also a coach at Rails Girls and linked to Winc Academy (a remote-first, 30 weeks coding school that only starts charging you once you found a job in tech). With so much to juggle, we were incredibly fortunate she managed to fit in time for this interview. She allowed us to gain insight into her world and touched on diversity within her field.

Did you miss? Women in tech - Lisa Lang's story

Her interest in tech bloomed in her teenage years. “I would play around with blogging engines like WordPress, deleting a couple of lines of PHP to see what would happen. That was mostly using the built-in editor, but when I figured out FTP uploads, I would also mess around with custom themes and CSS.”

Floor has also spent time in Austria. It was here she found herself a support network and started learning to code. “I had heard of the Rails Girls workshops and was determined to host one myself. In order to do so, or so I thought, I’d need to know at least the basics of Ruby and Rails.”

“I fell in love with the Ruby community and would often coach at Rails Girls workshops (aimed to spark an interest for web development in folks that identify as women).

Floor has organised a fair few developer events “like ROSS conf, and this year’s EuRuKo in Rotterdam. I’ve just joined a brand new team of developer relations people at Microsoft (specifically for Azure), which is a massively different platform than the startups I’ve worked with up until this point.”

She has mixed opinions on the topic of diversity. “I feel like in most communities a code of conduct for projects and events is something you can reasonably expect.” She highlights wonderful initiatives like (an initiative of the Travis Foundation) which helps conferences reach a more diverse audience. But there’s another side to it...

“#Metoo hit the tech world hard like with the $90 million payout to Andy Rubin in the wake of his sexual harassment of a subordinate (causing Google employees to walk out en masse.)” Floor lists more examples:

"Susan Fowler’s appalling recollection of her time at Uber."

"The Linux community’s outcry about having to adhere to the Contributor Convenant (most widely adopted code of conduct)."

She explains further “every second, week when someone makes a sexist remark at an event and apologises if he hurt our precious feels. Or it can just be your pull request that’s just sitting there unmerged because some ‘dudebro’ doesn’t believe a woman could possibly write quality code.”

“And I’m just touching on gender diversity here. People from the LGBTQ+ community, folks of color, folks with disabilities and older people are by no means in a better position.”

Her solution to this problem is this, “We need more visible role models. And we need to rethink language. Every time we refer to 'the developer' as 'he', and 'developers' as 'guys', a kitten dies.” She explains that “women are predominately the ones doing the emotional labour at home, often next to a full-time job.”

Floor also argues that “it’s harder for women to switch to a career in tech later in life, when they’re also the ones arranging play dates for the kids, responsible for the household, buying the birthday presents, making dentist appointments, taking care of personal finances…”

“Bootcamps and employers that accommodate for working mums invest in the diversity and in turn, the quality of their teams.”

She stresses the importance of forging connections with other women (looking to break into the industry), at a local Rails Girls chapter, or a meetup that targets or prioritises women. “Search for study groups online. Depending on what specifically you’re interested in, join a coding bootcamp or a MOOC, if the thought of being the only woman in a physical classroom scares you.”

“I’m coupled with Winc Academy, a remote-first, 30 weeks coding school that only starts charging you once you found a job in tech. With Winc you won’t just learn to code, but you’ll learn to become an engineer, greatly improving your changes to land a job after you’ve completed the curriculum.”

Her parting comment was her thought on the misconception found in tech. “It could be that 'the guys' aren't aware of the lack of diversity, or would want to maintain the status quo. There are a lot of allies out there who deliberately make space for women and people from marginalised groups.”