What’s the Current State of Diversity Efforts in Software Development, and What’s the Way Forward?

Over the last decade, software development culture has taken a significant turn. The infamous ‘brogrammer’ culture that was once prevalent is now deemed undesirable and is a cause of concern. Recent accusations of sexual harassment and abuse at major video game software development companies, namely Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft, have brought this issue into the forefront.

For businesses that aim to be profitable, it is crucial to acknowledge the significance of diversity. When making investments, investors and stakeholders are increasingly taking into account an organisation’s Corporate Social Responsibility Index (CSRI). Diversity plays a crucial role in a company’s social impact within its local community, and for larger enterprises, on a worldwide level as well. This is evident in some of the industry leaders, such as Microsoft.

To truly make an impact in diversity, it is crucial to go beyond a passive understanding and implement practical actions. While sharing symbols of LGBTIQA+ acceptance on social media and delivering speeches about the advantages of having a culturally diverse team are praiseworthy, progress can only be achieved through active measures to guarantee diversity in the workplace.

Considering the remarkable progress that has been achieved so far, it would be incorrect to present an excessively negative outlook. Nonetheless, there is still a significant amount of work still to be done in terms of promoting diversity in our society. Diversification is not a black-and-white concept, as it entails much more than merely being diverse or not. It is a continuous effort that necessitates us to challenge some of our most basic beliefs.

What is the Current State of Diversity?

Based on Zippia’s statistics, 79% of self-identified software engineers in the United States in 2023 were male, while 21% were female. There is no information available regarding nonbinary developers. Over the past decade, the percentage of women working as software developers has dropped from much higher levels in 2023 down to 19% in 2023.

Studies indicate that the mean annual salary for male software developers is $92,520, while the average yearly pay for female software developers is $86,511. There is a suggestion that women may be less inclined to work additional hours or take prolonged leave due to obligations related to pregnancy and family.

It is possible that innate traits may account for the differences observed. Nonetheless, as Neil deGrasse Tyson stressed, our first priority should be to tackle and eliminate any social injustices, prejudices, and entrenched societal problems that are obstructing progress. Only after addressing these issues can we delve into the inherent biological distinctions between people.

Studies have shown that women are more likely to encounter harassment at work and assaults in public places, which can generate a feeling of insecurity and deter them from pursuing professions that require them to work alone or during odd hours. While not all women may share this perspective, there is a clear trend of variances in work schedules and available leisure time.

Looking at race, the situation has shown significant improvement. As per estimates, roughly 56% of software engineers in the US are White, 29% are Asian, 7% are Hispanic, 5% are Black, and the rest belong to different ethnic groups. However, we are noticing a different trend where more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) developers are being hired, causing the percentage breakdowns to alter over time.

It deserves mentioning that the majority of programming jobs in the United States are occupied by Caucasians. This is unsurprising given that over 60% of the population is white or predominantly white. However, there is a fascinating contrast when examining the racial and ethnic breakdown of the IT sector. Although about 6% of Americans are of Asian heritage, 19% are Hispanic, and 13% are Black, Asians represent the second-largest group in the IT industry. This implies that additional factors are at play that transcend the typical population distribution.

What Mistakes are We Making?

Diversification as a Proactive Measure

It is evident that imposing strict racial quotas or sending a team to a sensitivity workshop over the weekend will not address the diversity problem. Instead, it is crucial for individuals from diverse backgrounds to halt attending workshops on bigotry and collaborate to form a more all-encompassing setting.

Harmful gender stereotypes are still prevalent in our society. Companies are increasingly working towards establishing a fair working environment and society where men and women are regarded as equals in terms of their skills. Educational institutions are amending their curriculum to be more comprehensive and respectful of other cultures, although it may take some time to evaluate the effects of this in reducing bias.

We must persist in our efforts to establish a more comprehensive society that accommodates people from different backgrounds. As previously mentioned, outsourcing work to foreign locations can be advantageous in terms of forming a multicultural team with diverse viewpoints and concepts.

We can go beyond simply raising the count of underrepresented groups employed in software development. We can support initiatives, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and private companies such as Django Girls to encourage wider involvement from underrepresented communities in the field. The objective of this effort is to make computing and technology more accessible to the public by providing a thorough introduction to the field.

Studies have revealed that individuals from lower middle-class backgrounds are less inclined to explore the possibilities in computing and informatics due to the lack of exposure to emerging technologies and analytical reasoning that their parents are expected to provide. This may ultimately result in a situation where individuals with the potential to become engineers and developers are not granted the chance to explore such opportunities from an early age.

A useful analogy on privilege was once given to me by a colleague: Envisage a 100-metre race being held on a flat surface, with identical gear and preparation provided to all participants. However, some runners were given a head start of 50 metres, having begun the race at the midway point. Winning the race from the 100-metre mark is challenging, even with this benefit.

The concept of privilege has been acknowledged, and companies are striving to reduce the opportunity gap by providing better support for underprivileged groups. It is vital for us to continue working towards greater cultural awareness in the workplace. Using a metaphor, this is similar to tilling the land before planting the seeds. The more we endeavour to establish an all-encompassing environment, the more others will be drawn to our organization.

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