AT&T, Intel, Apple push to bring more women into developing

By Caroline Lewko's estimate, less than 10 percent of developers are women -- and she's excited about that. Lewko, who is the CEO of Wireless Industry Partnership, a company that supports mobile developers, said the number of women working as developers is slowly growing.

Women developers

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"We typically get a 3 or 4 percent [female response] on surveys," Lewko said. "It varies a lot, but it is certainly under 10 percent."

Lewko's joy around a 10 percent figure underscores a serious lack of female participation in developing, and a serious optimism about changing that statistic. While exact numbers are almost impossible to nail down, industry women are pointing to an increase in the number of women in developing and the opportunities offered to them, thanks in large part to women-oriented programs at a growing list of major companies, including AT&T, Intel and Apple.

For a closer look at some of the most influential women in the wireless industry, check out FierceTelecom's Women in Wireline feature and keep an eye out for a forthcoming list on FierceWireless.

Difficulties in Developing

Despite slow and steady gains, female developers are still up against quite a few obstacles as they try to break into the industry. A 2014 Scientific American article found the number of women graduating with computer science degrees is decreasing and, according to Kelly Shuster, director of Women Who Code's Denver branch, many of the women participating in the group's meetups are non-programmers hoping to switch careers or bulk their marketable job skills.

"On my end, I'm seeing more women coming into programming from non-traditional paths," Shuster said of the roughly 1,500 women involved in the workshop-oriented organization. On the whole, CEO Alaina Percival estimated WWC's U.S. membership at 25,000 female developers.

As for the women who make it into developing, many are leaving in their mid to late thirties in a trend now known as "the pipeline problem." The hemorrhage, according to the Wall Street Journal, is due to factors including male-dominated workplace culture and gender-based isolation.

"I think if I walked into an office of people who all looked the same, I wouldn't be happy in my job," said Paola Maldonado, an iOS software engineer at BuzzFeed and founder of NYCTechLatinas meetup. Maldonado said that her BuzzFeed office is inclusive, but over the course of her career she's dealt with the same "subversive discrimination" that many women in tech have been working through for years.

According to the Journal, many of the women leaving tech careers also blamed factors like "the 'mystery' around career advancement," or a frustration with lack of promotions and recognition. Robin Hunicke, a video game designer and UC Santa Cruz professor, said most companies don't mean to bypass female employees.

"Unconscious bias is more likely to surface and contribute when there's so much to focus on," Hunicke said. "For larger companies to retain women, you have to make a conscious effort to hire from within and address that bias."

Battling the bias

Corporations and women-centric meetups alike are trying to combat the issue by creating a culture that's female-friendly. IOSDevCamp, a three-day independent iOS hackathon, has seen steady growth in the participation of women over its nine year tenure. By organizers Dominic Sagolla and Jennifer Holmes' estimation, the camp was 25 percent female in 2015, up from 20 percent the previous year and 15 percent in 2013. AT&T, whose Women in Tech program has drawn accolades from female developers, has seen participation spike since introducing female-focused events a few years ago. "In 2013, close to 100 developers attended AT&T Women in Tech events," AT&T's Lisa Mitchell-Kastner, VP of talent acquistion, told FierceDeveloper. "Last year in 2014, we saw more than 750 participants at events with a Women in Tech focus, and now, in 2015, we expect to see more than 1,500 attending."

Holmes was optimistic that growing involvement of young women and girls in tech will help to even out the playing field in the coming years. "There's a lot of action around diversity right now," she said. "In the younger generation, there's much less, 'You're a girl, math is hard' kind of education."

So how can dev teams draw in women right now? Part of the solution is simple recognition that a developer "doesn't have to look a certain way," according to Holmes. UCSC's Hunicke said smaller dev teams may not have as much to worry about -- it's larger corporations that often skimp on promoting women, offering them opportunities and recognizing their achievements. That's why Intel's She Will Connect and Apple's push to hire more women and minorities are so important, she added.

And focusing on female developers isn't just beneficial for the devs themselves -- iOSDevCamp's Holmes suggested that having women on a team is beneficial to everyone, as they're able to provide a different perspective on products. She cited FourSquare as an example, explaining that, for safety reasons, many women aren't interested in an app that publicly blasts their location move-by-move. Where men might see one potential use for an application, she explained, women might offer valuable alternatives. And if male-dominated teams don't want to include women, added Holmes, female devs will continue to take matters into their own hands.

"If you're not going to build it for us, we're going to build it for ourselves," she said.

Updated August 25 to more accurately attribute AT&T figures.

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