Changing the Gender Imbalance in Tech: Alaina Percival, CEO of Women Who Code

Building a system to empower women in the tech industry

The campaigners behind International Women’s Day 2022 have decided to promote the use of the hashtag #BreaktheBias to raise consciousness and prompt measures against the biases that obstruct women from reaching their professional and personal aspirations entirely.

Alaina Percival, who is the CEO of Women Who Code, a charitable organization with a global presence that promotes women to pursue tech careers, is one of several key figures in this area. To commemorate the International Women’s Day, Works’ Director of Talent Experience was fortunate to have a conversation with Alaina about her journey and the positive influence that Women Who Code has had on women’s participation in the technology industry.

Alaina became aware of the challenges that confront women in the technology industry when she relocated to San Francisco to pursue her dream of working in such an innovative environment. She had previously worked at Puma in Germany in a more conventional corporate setup, making it challenging for her to adjust to an environment in the tech industry. Alaina taught herself how to code and started to engage more deeply with the tech community, which made her realise that only around 5% of CTOs and VPs of Engineering were women. She recognised an opportunity to create an impact and seized it.

Women Who Code was founded by a dedicated team of individuals seeking to provide support for women in the IT industry. Initially, we established a local presence by seeking guidance from women who had achieved success in the field. Our initial goal was to meet the needs of women in the industry, which is why we focused on international-level accessibility and a professional demeanor. Although our origin began in the US, we have now expanded to cover 134 countries, and our resources are available to anyone who may require them, including those qualifying for financial assistance.

The prevalence of bias is an everyday fact.

She further explained that this is a clear example of the sexism that women face frequently in the workplace. There is an unspoken bias or assumption that a company’s Chief Executive Officer will not be female, resulting in hurdles even in mundane activities such as opening a business bank account. It’s unlikely that a typical 22-year-old entrepreneur would face such queries.

She emphasises that these biases are not always explicit. It can be challenging to discern minor problems as part of a broader cultural problem that necessitates resolution rather than the consequence of personal inadequacies.

It is heartening to witness the growth of female professionals in the IT industry. Nonetheless, it is critical to recognise that numerous talented and accomplished women have carved out their unique paths to leadership, and have significantly contributed to the sector. It is imperative that their accomplishments are acknowledged and revered.

Percival proposed that women should be more self-assured when discussing their achievements and proficiency. It has been observed that, during evaluations, recruiters tend to describe a programming language as “extremely simple” when assessing male candidates, while women tend to be more humble about their abilities. This suggests that gender biases can still exist in the recruitment process, even if both genders possess equal competence.

Recognise and appreciate every accomplishment.

To elaborate her argument, she emphasised that celebrating our accomplishments is a vital step towards finding a solution. Commenting on Women Who Code’s mission statement, she highlighted that “If we don’t take pride in our successes, the world won’t do it for us”. A member of the group agreed with her, stating “You’re absolutely right.” Regrettably, she admitted feeling too self-conscious to update her LinkedIn profile to reflect her new role as Senior Director of Engineering. It was discussed that if women do not express the value they bring to the workplace and their role in a company’s achievements, the pattern will persist.

She proposes that this approach should be more widespread, but she has seen some of her male colleagues make an attempt to recognise their own biases. While reviewing previous performance evaluations, she observed that her male manager “would go back and scrutinise to see if there were any words or phrases he used to describe women that he wasn’t using to describe men in a comparable situation.” Examining even a seemingly trivial aspect like this could potentially aid in mitigating such preconceptions.

As per Percival, there are multiple approaches that women could utilise to challenge entrenched biases.

  • Awake and Raise Your Voice:

    To progress in your career and secure promotions, it is essential to notify the relevant individuals of your aspirations. Women may sometimes encounter disadvantages when compared to their male colleagues, and if nobody is informed of your goals, you may miss out on opportunities. To ensure that you are evaluated for promotions or projects, it is crucial to articulate your desired outcomes and provide reasons for why they should be supported.
  • Anticipate What Will Occur:

    It is crucial to reflect on the broader path of your professional journey rather than solely focusing on the next promotion. Building relationships and networks that will assist you in advancing in the future should be a primary concern in your current position. Connect with individuals who have attained the positions you aspire to and gain an understanding of what they find rewarding in their roles. Furthermore, receiving advice from colleagues who are slightly further along in their careers may offer valuable insights.
  • Intuitively Identify Your Own Style:

    It is regrettable that women who express themselves are often unfairly characterised as aggressive, which can be attributed to how they convey their opinions. However, there are also individuals who find the competitive culture of the industry unappealing and prefer to concentrate on achieving their objectives rather than engaging in conflicts with colleagues. Unfortunately, such women are likely to encounter consequences that their male colleagues would not. Hence, it is crucial to locate people who recognise your value and do not anticipate you to become confrontational due to discrimination.

The ongoing conversation about bias in the aftermath of International Women’s Day reflects a change in mindset, giving women greater chances to assume leadership positions in the IT sector and be acknowledged as accomplished businesspeople.

My recent professional involvement involves serving as a scout for People’s Capital, a German investment company committed to reviewing proposals from women from marginalised backgrounds. This aligns with my personal goal of discovering fresh avenues to empower women in obtaining access to capital, and I have witnessed the beneficial effects of these women’s groups in the situations in which I have been involved.

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