Code Like a Girl

Posted On August 24, 2015 by Bobbin Wages

Global Partners MBA alumna Alaina Percival wants more women to move into tech careers. It’s not all black t-shirts and dirty basements, she says.

Alaina Percival

Alaina Percival

The media often portrays software engineers as unkempt, socially awkward nerds who wear all black and hunch over their desks in windowless basements – and always as males. As CEO of Women Who Code, Robinson College of Business alumna Alaina Percival strives to break down those stereotypes, particularly that the technology industry is inaccessible to females. Based in San Francisco, the non-profit organization offers free training in a variety of programming languages in 18 countries, uniting its more than 25,000 members under the core belief that women both belong in and better the technology industry.

Although Percival’s vocation involves emboldening women to pursue technology careers, even she didn’t always feel like she fit in the field. She excelled most in math as a child but, like many young girls, wasn’t encouraged to pursue a subject that society historically has associated with boys. After completing Robinson’s Global Partners MBA program, which included an internship at Versace in New York City, Percival secured employment at an Atlanta-based women’s performance footwear company – but soon itched for a new challenge. “I decided to move to San Francisco and give the tech scene a try,” she recalls. “I fell in love with it.”

Percival got involved with Women Who Code just after its inception and quickly rose as a leader. In addition to cultivating women’s interest in technology in the first place, she also hopes to address the discipline’s staggering attrition rate; currently 56 percent of women leave their tech jobs once they reach mid-career. “The industry is missing out on these women when they are most valuable,” Percival says. “And that’s when they are best able to be role models for women who are entering their careers.”

More than just a lack of female leadership has caused women’s mass exodus from the tech profession. With the still-prevalent gender wage gap, the frequent promotion of men in lieu of their female counterparts, and the subconscious bias against new mothers who stay at home after having a child, women in tech feel their careers stagnate while their male colleagues continue to climb the corporate ladder. Further, women often report feeling out of place at industry conferences, because the men in attendance assume they aren’t engineers. “If you’re the only woman on a team of 15, you can come to a Women Who Code event and feel refreshed to think, ‘I do belong here,’” Percival says.

The average woman also struggles to publicize her achievements, at least partially because society perceives each gender’s self-promotion differently – women who praise themselves are obnoxious, while men who do the same are strategic. In response, Women Who Code has developed Applaud Her, a section of its weekly newsletter that announces community members’ accomplishments such as promotions, awards, or product launches. “I spoke with a woman who had risen to senior director of engineering at her company but was too embarrassed to put it on her LinkedIn profile,” Percival says. “Because of that, conference organizers don’t know to invite her as speaker, which would raise her profile. Then competitors don’t know to give her counteroffers to increase her salary. All of those things compound.”

While women certainly offer an invaluable perspective to the tech field, the variety of thought necessary for innovation expands beyond gender. “It’s people from other parts of the world, people from different backgrounds,” Percival notes. “The more diversity we have in the tech industry, the better it will be.”

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