by Miriam Arghandiwal, USC MISC Scholar
As socially conscious filmmakers we often ask ourselves what is the most effective way to make the audience care about a subject? How do I get them to them believe me? How do I inspire them to take action? Code Debugging the Gender Gap, a documentary exploring the the gender and minority hiring gap among software engineers, recently screened at USC offers a fresh perspective.
While the frequent formula for films for social change spotlights an issue in order to create social pressure on specific individuals or organizations to enforce change, Robin Hauser’s “Code: Debugging the Gender Gap” documentary aims to optimize a maximum level of change in the tech field by making a scientific case about why change is needed and providing a roadmap about how to go about it.
“Our documentary team was very careful not to make a whiney female film," Hauser said when asked about how the film dealt with bypassing feelings of animosity against the idea of having women in an already male dominated workplace, "recruiting male allies in a male dominated industry was key and very important for us.”
Hauser’s approach worked. Her film has screened everywhere from small manufacturing companies to the White House, and the team continues to work with start up tech companies to inspire change within companies from the early stages of their development.
So, what did Hauser do right?
Simply put, Hauser identified her audience (engineers in a computer science field) and then spoke in a language they understood: science.
In fact the entire film can be broken down using the scientific method. Let’s have a look:
Observation: Data from the Bureau of national statistics show that between 2010 and 2020, universities will only graduate 400,000 computer scientists while 1.4 computing jobs will open in the U.S. alone, leaving a gap of about one million computing jobs. Meanwhile while women make about 58% of all college graduates they only account for 18% of all earned computer science degrees.
Hypothesis: Hauser argues that in addition to preparing our youth for these jobs, we can fill this gap of computing jobs by training and employing the half of our population who are largely absent from this field; women.
Data: Why it is that women are not common in the tech field? Hauser considers the common explanation that men dominate science fields because there are innate differences between men and women. She cites the a controversy in Harvard in 2005 when the then president of the university used that very claim to defend why women were underrepresented as scientists in elite university.
She then counters the argument by featuring scientists who have done studies and concluded that human brains are not developed by genetics but rather through experiences. The difference in women’s experiences in their social conditioning and upbringing are what causes them to be underrepresented in these fields - this includes everything from the toys girls are meant to play with, to the way women are portrayed in the media.
Most girls stop taking interest in creativity and innovation by the age of 8. They stop raising their hands in class by the time they reach the 6th grade. Only 10% of public schools offer computer science classes. A report on women in the tech field by the "Harvard Business Review" entitled "The Athena Factor" showed, that even for women who do make it through the pipeline and dare to play ball in the boys only club, 41% of them will usually will leave by their 10 year mark vs 17% for men because they feel their growth is stalling, whilst men feel they’re career is accelerating. The struggle seems never ending.
Experiments and Conclusions:
What are the benefits of having women on your tech staff?
Studies prove the intelligence level of tech businesses has proven to double when just one female is included in the staff.
Can women be prepared fast enough to meet the increasing job demands in the tech field?
Etsy took action by sponsoring a code course and providing grants for women to attend these is a great recruitment tool and managed increase the number of women in their engineering team from 3% to over 30% in less than 3 years.
“Real substantial change in the industry has to come from there being women in leadership. You have to be impatient, this has to happen now we have to do what we can now, whatever it takes to move the number, we have to do that now.” Marc — Etsy
Many groups are training women from low socio economic backgrounds, who cannot afford college educations, to code and help them seek employment after. Women have been able to move their whole family out of poverty. -- Coding is so accessible to all women, it can be the ultimate gender balancing industry.
What are the downsides to not having a woman involved in tech companies:
“The airbag was invented to protect the average man.” As a result many women and children died because there were no female engineers involved in the making and testing of airbags-height, frame and weight differences weren’t considered. -- Not having women involved in product development has detrimental effects.
When voice recognition came out the system didn’t recognize a woman’s voice and as a result, on teleconferencing couldn’t pick up the image of a woman when she spoke and was useless to half of it’s consumers. -- Producers create better quality products for all consumers when women are included in their creating process.