RIQ talks to Women Who Code CEO Alaina Percival on the role women play in the technology space and how to keep them in the industry. Women Who Code is a global non-profit dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers. The organization works to support this generation in being and becoming leaders and role models in the tech industry.
RIQ: Could you tell us a little about your background and how you came to be the CEO at Women Who Code?
Alaina: Prior to Women Who Code I worked at PUMA's headquarters in Germany, as well as at Riviera Partners and a startup, Snip.it, which was acquired by Yahoo. I am also a CodePath Advisor. When I found Women Who Code I was learning how to program myself, and I was immediately drawn to this community of smart, tech savvy engineers that were all working to make one another better.
The more I attended events the more involved I got with running the organization. It wasn’t until I was doing the budget one day that I realized that I was essentially running a massive rapidly growing multinational company in the evenings after my day job. I knew the organization and our mission was too important to be a part time job, and so I decided to take a risk and leave my day job to grow Women Who Code.
I had to overcome a sense of imposter syndrome in doing this. I wasn’t sure of my own technical skills in an organization that was so focused on supporting software engineers. However, I believed in the work we were doing and knew that if I truly wanted to help move the organization to the next level that I had to be willing to step up and focus on our mission.
RIQ: What is your opinion on the role of women in the technology space?
Alaina: Women helped to create computer science, and they continue to play a vital role in this industry which is having such a profound impact on the world. It is an amazing industry for women and many are succeeding in it because of their talent. Women are underrepresented in the industry, so there is a huge opportunity for this under-resourced field to garner new talent. Diversity increases quality and ROI, so as more succeed in tech it will become even better.
RIQ: Why do you think there are so few women in hard core tech areas or STEM education?
Alaina: The problem comes down to perception, and it's a systemic issue that runs through every facet of society. However, this is an issue that can be confronted and reversed, as long as we are willing to open our eyes to the truth that there are already women out there doing world-changing work in technology. They are entrepreneurs, managers, executives, dreamers, and CEOs, and they can be the role models of the future. Our work with Women Who Code is to ensure that they are seen, heard, and respected for their contributions, so that they can pave the way for a more diverse and equitable future.
RIQ: What are some of the challenges that women who want to pursue a career in technology face?
Alaina: One of the most important pieces of advice I can give to a woman pursuing a career in tech is to have fun while you do it. Come to WWCode events and make friends with other great people interested in software engineering, build products that are interesting to you, and always keep learning.
RIQ: How can progressive enterprises ensure that they attract and retain women to be part of their workforce?
Alaina: Intentionally build a diverse pipeline and hire the best person for the job. Women Who Code can help build that pipeline now with womenwhocode.com/jobs
Conducting gender-blind interviews and promotion systems, implementation of equal pay audits, and an examination of your company's ongoing policies towards the most diverse members of the workplace are all admirable actions that can help to promote and improve diversity. Ongoing policies that support women such as work at home, and return to work programs for mothers can also be important factors in long-term retention.
RIQ: How is your organization helping bring about a balance in ensuring that more and more women take to a career in software?
Alaina: Women Who Code works to support career-aged women engineers in their career goals. Through education and training we help them to achieve the skills and experience they need to level up to positions of leadership and authority. We then highlight their accomplishments in order to build them into mentors for the next generation, while also encouraging a culture of mentorship and community.
RIQ: What is the one thing about women who code that you would like IT leaders reading this interview to know right now?
Alaina: Diversity has been shown to help build stronger, more effective teams, that are able to more readily achieve goals and accomplish tasks. It is in the best interest of IT leaders and tech companies to embrace policies that encourage a more diverse workforce, and Women Who Code wants to work with you to achieve that goal. Together our efforts can make an industry that is not only stronger and more profitable, but also fair and equitable to everyone involved.
RIQ: What are the 3 top technologies the IT leaders (women and men) need to watch out for?
Technology touches on every industry, and there are so many emerging innovations that it is hard to predict what the next big thing will be. Certainly, areas like mobile and big data are coming of age and revolutionizing the way we interact with information and the world around us. However by definition it’s impossible to predict the next big innovation, and that is what’s so great about tech right now. Anything is possible.