Career Nav #66: Constant Coding – Empowering Individuals From Under-Represented Groups in Tech in South Korea
Josie Daw, Full Stack Developer at 셔틀딜리버리 (Shuttle) and Founder at Constant Coding shares her talk, “Constant Coding, Empowering Individuals from Underrepresented Groups in Tech in South Korea.” She talks about the ways that we can empower individuals from underrepresented groups, specifically within the context of South Korea. She uses her coding group as an example of a framework for individual empowerment, community building, and improving diversity from the ground up.
Alongside my day job, I also created a group in Korea called Constant Coding to help encourage people from non-tech backgrounds to feel empowered to go into coding or tech in general. My mission when I started Constant Coding was to help underrepresented groups in tech learn about coding in a free, supportive, and inclusive environment. I also wanted to create a more diverse tech industry here in Korea. Diversity, equity, and inclusion of individuals from all walks of life foster a creative environment where varied perspectives combine to drive innovation and problem-solving. By embracing these principles, organizations reflect the diverse society they serve and tend to be more adaptable, successful, and appealing to a broader talent pool.
The tech industry here, like many countries, is dominated by several companies, namely Naver, Kakao, Samsung, LG, and Coupang. In these companies and smaller organizations, the dominion of men is pronounced and pervasive. Though Korean women hold a more significant proportion in coding roles compared to many other countries, their participation is still a mere 13%, as reported by JetBrains earlier this year. Despite efforts from the previous Korean government to legislate women's presence in public-facing, managerial, and senior roles, just 4.8% of leadership roles in Korea were held by women in 2021. On top of that, the wage gap is between 30% and 60% lower for women in Korea across various roles and industries.
The situation for international representation is equally grim. An intense disparity exists wherein most Korean tech companies employ no foreign nationals, even against a backdrop of a domestic shortage of over 100,000 skilled tech workers and the introduction of new tech-focused visas. This gap only hints at the immense underlying resistance to global integration within the Korean tech workforce. Unfortunately, diversity and inclusiveness are not only undervalued but can be viewed negatively in many Korean contexts. The absence of protective measures against racial, gender, or sexual orientation discrimination creates a hostile environment for minorities.
Even companies like Hyundai and Kia, celebrated in the US for their progressive stance on LGBTQ rights appear to draw a veil over support in that area in their home country. They have never hosted a single pride event or allowed a public queer workers group in Korea. Similarly, many coding groups and other tech communities in Korea are often dominated by privileged male voices. Individuals from underrepresented or underprivileged backgrounds are often made to feel unwelcome or unwanted. This, combined with a language barrier, also makes the majority of tech resources out of reach for internationals residing in Korea and wishing to enter a new industry. The prevailing sentiment seems to be one of absolute disinterest in enhancing diversity or representation within the tech sector or even across the broader socio-economic spheres in Korea.
This stifles creativity and innovation, and fails to leverage the immense potential of a more diverse industry. Diversity fosters creativity by bringing together different perspectives, experiences and ideas, leading to more creative solutions and products that can stand out in the market. From an economic perspective, this is also often followed by higher profitability. By reflecting a broader customer base, a diverse workforce can drive business strategies that appeal to a wider audience, resulting in increased revenue.
Embracing diversity in tech is not simply a moral imperative, it's an advantage that fuels growth, encourages fresh thinking, and builds a culture that resonates within the increasingly interconnected global community. By investing in diversity, we are not only enriching our industry, but also contributing positively to the world around us. From the Korean perspective, embracing diversity is not only desirable, but also absolutely necessary to continue along a path of innovation and growth. The Korean government has been spending billions of dollars to desperately bolster innovation in the country in hopes of boosting economic growth without any real focus on why innovation in Korea may be stifled.
The current landscape, heavily dominated by a workforce composed of identical resumes and backgrounds, lacks the full spectrum of ideas and creativity that a diverse pool of talents can provide. By embracing diversity, the Korean tech industry can unlock a wellspring of innovation, developing solutions and designing products that cater to a broad range of needs both domestically and globally. From a societal standpoint, the positive impact of diversity could be transformative.
As Korean tech companies begin to reflect the diverse makeup of the world, they can build these more inclusive and accessible technologies. This could also lead to a reduction in societal biases, providing opportunities for marginalized communities and creating a more empathetic and connected society in Korea. Additionally, the visible embrace of diversity in tech in Korea could have significant ramifications on other industries, who often emulate the highly regarded Korean tech companies in terms of their recruiting strategies and internal structures, leading to even greater changes. In order to foster genuine diversity within the Korean tech industry, we must embrace new strategies.
Previous government attempts to legislate gender diversity through quotas and mandates have failed to resonate within any industry in Korea. Additionally, attempts to fund innovation and problem solving through government-led initiatives have only strengthened existing hierarchies and structures within tech. This top-down approach has proved largely ineffective and uninspiring. Similarly, in the Korean education system, the path to success often resembles a one-track railroad offering a singular route that doesn't accommodate different talents, abilities, or perspectives. My vision for Korean tech is the exact opposite of all that. It is rooted in a ground-up philosophy where community building and the creation of safe spaces takes precedence. What I mean by that is the creation of communities by individuals from within those communities, where people of every kind can feel comfortable and valued, regardless of their background or identity, while also recognizing and celebrating that there are many paths into this dynamic field.
By creating safe and inclusive environments to serve underrepresented groups in spaces such as my very own Constant Coding group and Free Code Camp Seoul, myself and like-minded community builders aim to shatter that one track mentality. We're offering an alternative avenue into tech. One that not only teaches coding skills, but also emphasizes the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. In Korea, these spaces become platforms for individuals from various backgrounds to embark on their tech journeys, supported by a community that acknowledges and celebrates their unique paths.
With this foundation of encouragement, my small group alone has already seen dozens of members from every possible background feel empowered to take their first steps into the tech industry in Korea. For myself and our members, Constant Coding isn't just a coding group, it's a community. It's a statement that the future of Korean tech can be more vibrant, inclusive, and compassionate. Korean tech should not be dominated by one particular type of person, voice, or educational background.
Through our commitment to community building and safe spaces, we're laying the foundation for a tech industry that reflects the rich diversity of our society and paves the way for a more inclusive tomorrow. The first step is to make a page or group on social media or meetup and create simple, free, easy to understand events for absolute beginners. These events should center around basic workshops with key skills for your particular area. In my case, I offer monthly workshops on things like how to make a web page and how to make an online resume. You can host these kinds of workshops online for free with a dozen different tools and services, including Discord or Gather Town or even live streaming on YouTube or Twitch. Broader reaching events, such as talks about how to get into tech or career paths in tech are also extremely important when paired with speakers of different backgrounds.
That representation is absolutely essential. I have had individuals come up and tell me that they only attended an event because it was being hosted by a woman, which is very unusual to see in Korea still today. What I have learned from hosting these events is that many people from underrepresented groups have had an interest in going into tech but felt it was beyond their reach because they have a false impression, like many, about what a tech person is supposed to look like and what sort of background the tech person is supposed to have. After seeing people like myself or like themselves giving these talks from a range of backgrounds, they then felt empowered and encouraged to reach the next steps into tech. In addition to that, my group, Constant Coding, was also created to fill in a gap in domestic tech communities in Korea. Those communities are often completely inaccessible to non-fluent Korean speakers or are dominated by traditional voices in tech and are not necessarily comfortable for individuals from all backgrounds and with all types of identities. By addressing this need for inclusivity and accessibility, especially for foreign nationals in Korea, we have been able to reach and support a wider range of people than the traditional Korean coding communities.
Community support is the key to fostering an inclusive environment. Beyond workshops and events, our supportive network serves as both a safety net and a catalyst for growth. Mentorship and peer support also play a crucial role in bridging gaps and nurturing professional and personal development. In a field filled with challenges, a community offering guidance, motivation, and emotional support in the domestic area is vital. By focusing on inclusivity, we also ensure that all individuals feel valued and empowered. Small localized groups like Constant Coding can create a nurturing space where aspiring tech professionals grow as coders and empathetic, inclusive leaders by intertwining technical skills with human connections. The result is a more compassionate tech landscape built from the ground up by a community committed to diversity, innovation, and success. The need for diversity and inclusion is pressing in Korea's tech landscape. In a professional space inside our own organizations here in Korea, we must cultivate a culture that values and respects diversity. Diverse teams spark innovation, but we need transparent hiring practices to ensure a level playing field. We also need to encourage diverse hiring practices that look beyond someone's university name or degree. We need to consider their practical skills and experience and how these could be transferable into the tech industry. Beyond the professional arena, building safe, inclusive communities for underrepresented groups to feel comfortable in tech must be at the forefront of our efforts.
This goes beyond companies. It's about fostering a supportive environment where people from different backgrounds can connect, learn and grow together. We must continue to build and develop local communities, encouraging community-driven initiatives that tackle under-representation and focus on the key challenges of the local on-the-ground problems. Each of us needs to continue to identify the gaps where it is easy for underrepresented groups to fall through the cracks and miss out on resources or opportunities that the more privileged among us take for granted. If we have the capacity to help pull up others from places we have experienced ourselves, we should always take that opportunity and do what small things we can to make the world a better and more equitable place.