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Celebrating Ada Lovelace and doubling the talent pool

626px-Ada_Lovelace_portraitDespite some recent progress, women are still woefully underrepresented in technical fields such as software development. There are many academic programs to bring girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) at various stages in their education, from grade school to high school to college. Corporations are trying hard.

It’s not enough. We all need to try harder.

On Oct. 11, 2016, we will celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, honoring the first computer programmer — male or female. Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, wrote the algorithms for Charles Babbage’s difference engine in the mid-1800s.

According to the website Finding Ada, this date doesn’t represent her birthday, which is of Dec. 10. Rather, they say, “The date is arbitrary, chosen in an attempt to make the day maximally convenient for the most number of people. We have tried to avoid major public holidays, school holidays, exam season, and times of the year when people might be hibernating.” I’d like to think that the scientifically minded Ada Lovelace would find this amusing.

There are great organizations focused on promoting women in technology, such as Women in Technology International (WITI) and the Anita Borg Institute. There are cool projects, like the Wiki Edit-a-Thon sponsored by Brown University, which seeks to correct the historic (and inaccurate) underrepresentation of female scientists in Wikipedia.

Those are good efforts. They still aren’t enough.

Are women good at STEM fields, including software development? Yes. But all too often, they are gender-stereotyped into non-coding parts of the field—when they are hired at all. And certainly the hyper-competitive environment in many tech teams, and the death-march culture, is not friendly to anyone (male or female) who wants to have a life outside the startup.

Let me share the Anita Borg Institute’s 10 best practices to foster retention of women in technical roles:

  • Collect, analyze and report retention data as it pertains to women in technical roles.
  • Formally train managers in best practices, and hold them accountable for retention.
  • Embed collaboration in the corporate culture to encourage diverse ideas.
  • Offer training programs that raise awareness of and counteract microinequities and unconscious biases.
  • Provide development and visibility opportunities to women that increase technical credibility.
  • Fund and support workshops and conferences that focus on career path experiences and challenges faced by women technologists.
  • Establish mentoring programs on technical and career development.
  • Sponsor employee resource groups for mutual support and networking.
  • Institute flexible work arrangements and tools that facilitate work/life integration.
  • Enact employee-leave policies, and provide services that support work/life integration.

Does your organization have a solid representation of women in technical jobs (not only in technical departments)? Are those women given equal pay for equal work? Are women provided with solid opportunities for professional growth and career advancement? Are you following any of the above best practices?

If so, that’s great news. I’d love to hear about it and help tell your story.

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