In one of my previous positions, my co-worker let it slip that my team called me the “diversity hire” during a team meeting. It was the first time I had heard someone refer to me like this. As a woman in technology, I always wonder whether I’m being hired because I’m the best candidate, or because the company has to meet a quota. So, when I heard the comment about being the ‘diversity hire’, I immediately thought that I was an inadequate engineer. It made me doubt myself. It made me think that I wasn’t good enough, or that I didn’t have what it takes to be a software engineer. To be honest, it made me want to leave engineering.

As time passed, I continued to be called the diversity hire; whether it was by co-workers, people I knew who were purposely trying to get me down, or friends who were making jokes. Over this time, I became desensitized to it, and I now embrace it – even if I was only hired to add diversity to the team, I’m being given the opportunity to grow and learn. If I hadn’t loved software engineering so much, I probably would have left to do something more “suited” to females after the first time I was called the diversity hire. Being the diversity hire has awful connotations, but company diversity is incredibly important.

Why is Diversity Important?

Studies outlined in NCWIT’s research summary on gender diversity on technology business performance show that diverse teams are more productive, have better team dynamics, and are more creative than homogeneous teams. Additionally, companies that are lead by females or have females in top management positions consistently do better financially. Unfortunately, the numbers in both industry and academia are nowhere near equal.

Statistics About Industry and Academia:

  • 14% of technical roles in Canada are held by females
  • 20% of technical roles at Hootsuite are held by females (Ryan Holmes as of October 27, 2015)
  • 15% of CS/Engineering graduates are female
  • 30% of students in the UBC BCS (second degree) program are female (Faculty of Science, UBC, as of October 2015)

Menuela Veloso shared a beautiful analogy about why diversity is important, using robots. As a professor in artificial intelligence and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, she understood that a single robot cannot do everything. Veloso built a robot that relied on the people around to help when it asked. If the robot needed to use the elevator, it would park nearby and ask for help. Then, a human would escort it on the elevator and select the floor it wanted to go to. When at the correct floor, the human would hold the elevator door for the robot to exit, and it would thank the human for their help. Just like this robot, no one person can do everything. There needs to be diversity in a team so that when one person doesn’t know how to do something, or can’t do something, another person can help. This doesn’t just speak to technical ability, but also to team dynamics and overall happiness. If diverse teams can work together and rely on one another, together, they can accomplish amazing things.

Some of the women in Hootsuite's Engineering Department (photo by Greg Williams)
Some (not all!) of the women in Hootsuite’s Engineering Department (photo by Greg Williams)

Grace Hopper Conference

On October 13, I flew to Houston to attend the Grace Hopper Conference (GHC). Grace Hopper was a Navy Admiral and the inventor of what is known as the first language based programming language: COBOL. The Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Technology is a conference meant to bring women from all over the USA and the world together to educate and support one another. There were workshops, student development labs, information sessions, and amazing keynotes and plenaries from all sorts of women and allies in academia the tech industry. Many women who have attended GHC previously told me that it’s an inspirational experience.

I got exactly what I wanted out of attending: I was inspired. I met other women like me; women who were also called the diversity hire and were first discouraged but then decided to make the best out of a bad situation and use the experiences given to them as a result to learn and be better. I met women of all sorts of ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds. People with various sexual orientations who were dismissed or blatantly ignored for positions they were proficient enough to hold. I also met amazing male allies: men who wanted women to succeed because they saw the benefits and improvements women made on their teams and within their companies. All of these people filled me with hope and supported me, without ever having met me before. Selflessly, they wanted the best for me and I wanted the best for them; there was no competition.

GHC made me believe I can create change by helping others in a way I wish I was helped. So, that is what I am setting out to do. I want to show girls and women that computer science is fun and satisfying in order to address, and maybe contribute to the resolution of the pipeline issue that plagues diversity in the tech industry.

#payitforward

In order to do this, I’m working with Noel Pullen and Kimli Welsh to bring the Hour of Code to high school students on Tuesday, December 8th. The Hour of Code is an initiative started by Code.org‘s co-founder, Hadi Partovi, who gave a great presentation at GHC. With the Hour of Code, we can begin to address the pipeline issue (the problem that there aren’t enough women in the field to begin to equalize the male to female ratio in the industry) by showing girls what coding entails with an introduction to algorithms using a visual language like Scratch.

If you would like to be part of the Hour of Code, please write a comment below and we can work together to bring diversity to the industry.

dorothy

About the Author

Dorothy is a Software Development Co-op on the Publishing Team at Hootsuite. She likes knitting all year round, and hiking on beautiful days. Follow her on Twitter @dordogh for bad and punny tech jokes.