Just last year, I attended a coding boot-camp for nine months. It was a regimented program that involved getting up at 6 AM, commuting for two hours, and then arriving at 48 Wall Street so that I and other wide-eyed students could code from 9AM till 8PM.
The boot-camp, with it’s ergonomic chairs and standing desks, looked like the stereotypical startup. It even had wall art. Up till this point, I wasn’t really schooled in the diversity issues associated with tech startups, though I was faintly aware of the statistics. At the start, my cohort was diverse across ages, gender, and race.Gender-wise, the ratio of men to women was nearly 1:1.
As time went on, the number of women in my cohort dwindled. This was a result of the assessment tests that had to be taken every three months. There were two major tests before the final project. If you passed, you got to move on to the next leg of the journey. If you failed, you were left behind. Another failure resulted in extermination. By the time I entered the finals, there were six others with me.
We were all guys.
It didn’t take long for us to call ourselves the Seven Samurai after watching Kurosawa’s legendary film together over the period of several lunch breaks. Kevin, the artist of the group, eventually drew a mural of anthropomorphic otters wielding katanas on a whiteboard. Looking back on my time there, I never truly paused to consider how much of a statistic we were. The lack of females aside, I was the only African American in the group. There were three Asians and three whites. My cohort was a snapshot of Silicon Valley.
The question of how to solve diversity in tech is often propagated to the lack of programs in the educational field. Though this sentiment may appear like a deflection of responsibility on the part of tech companies, there is a point in creating programs that teach engineering skills to minorities and women at a young age. Research conducted by Sapna Cheryan, Lily Jiang and Sianna Ziegler reveals that masculine stereotypes associated with engineering deters young girls from partaking in optional engineering courses or programs.
One solution may be to repackage these courses in a way that encourages inclusivity. The Girl Scouts are taking on this challenge by including 30 new STEM-related badges.
Here are some of the many Stem-related badges.
You can search a full list of badges here
Girls from the age of five to eighteen will be able to earn badges in robotics, cybersecurity, computer science, mechanical engineering, and many other fields.
A few badges won’t solve the problem of diversity. But it is a small step, and every step counts.