Speaking out against sexism in Silicon Valley is certainly not easy, but the outspoken CEO of Women Who Code, Alaina Percival, is no stranger when it comes to calling out the raging inequality in the tech industry.
Having moved from Atlanta to the Bay Area in San Francisco, Percival was quick to realize the dichotomies between men and men trying to pave their way in tech. She joined non- profit Women Who Code in order to learn more about the intricacies of coding and how to navigate the workings of the valley.
After gaining notoriety within the organization, Percival rose to the top with her mission to help women excel in tech careers. Now, she is a very vocal advocate for women in Silicon Valley and has spoken out on numerous occasions on behalf of the struggles women endure trying to break through the heavily male-dominated industry. Below we spoke with Percival about these struggles, and how organizations like Women Who Code can help to advocate for and encourage women to grow within STEM fields, rather than be discouraged by the statistics that face women entering the trade.
1. What are some of the disadvantages women face in the technology industry?
There are so many incredibly talented women working in technology right now. Despite the fact that they face problems with unconscious bias, a lack of role models, being dramatically underrepresented, and being viewed as more junior than they are; they still manage to do amazing things and are an integral part of our innovation economy. Women Who Code works to support those women and highlight their accomplishments in order to shift the incorrect perceptions that pervade the tech industry.
"Despite the fact that they face problems with unconscious bias, a lack of role models, being dramatically underrepresented, and being viewed as more junior than they are; they still manage to do amazing things and are an integral part of our innovation economy."
2. How did you find connections in the tech community?
I found the tech community to be a very welcoming place, especially since everyone is online and easy to connect to. I was able to build my professional network by making an effort to go out and meet people, attend events, and get involved wherever I could. That's how I encountered Women Who Code which was really incredible because it gave me an opportunity to spend time with smart women who were interested in tech.
3. Can anyone be apart of Women Who Code?
Yes, anyone can be a member, all you have to do is go to WomenWhoCode.com and sign up for a free membership.
4. What challenges did you face starting this business?
As a nonprofit, it's important to stay focused on your core mission. There are so many issues that you want to tackle, but there just aren't enough resources to effectively handle them all. When I first started I was more idealistic about how much people were willing to support nonprofits. However we have to work really hard to get the funding that we need, and that ends up being a constraint on accomplishing everything that we want to. For example, right now Women Who Code has 50 new waitlisted cities that we could launch Networks in immediately if we had the appropriate funding or resources.
5. What are some challenges of starting a non-profit?
People think that running a nonprofit is different than running a business, and that it doesn't deserve to make money. However the truth is that it is just like running any other company; you have the same costs and concerns, the only difference is that nobody has equity.
6. What has been the most rewarding part of this company?
The most rewarding part of Women Who Code is the impact that we have on the careers of our members and leaders that we serve.
7. How does having tech skills give women an advantage?
Software engineer is rated as one of the highest satisfaction jobs, with a median salary that is 42% higher than in other positions. It's also very in demand with the market currently 600,000 engineers shy of their needs, which provides great job security. As every industry becomes a technology industry this is a trend that will only continue, and in the future we are going to see more leaders that have a technical background.
Photo courtesy of Women Who Code
8. Why do you think this field is so male-dominant?
There is a cultural perception that tech is a male dominated profession. However, that is not always the case and the numbers historically and globally don't always tell the same story. In the United States, some of the disparity comes from a movement that started in the 80's where computers and video games were largely marketed towards boys. In fact we hear a lot of stories from Women Who Code members who report being overtly discouraged from pursuing STEM careers just because of their gender.
9. How did you think of starting this non-profit?
Women Who Code was an amazing community, and I saw that in order for it to grow and effectively achieve a greater mission it had to be formalized as a nonprofit business entity.
10. Other than coding, is there anything this Women Who Code helps women learn?
In addition to technical workshops, Women Who Code also has leadership development programs that provide women with support, mentorship, and training to help them achieve the next level in their careers.
11. Why do you think it is so important for women to be included in this industry?
Diverse teams perform better, and organizations that have women in leadership positions have a 34% higher ROI than those without. That's important for the industry and the future of innovation. However there is also an individual and local impact that has to be considered. When women earn more, they reinvest 90% of their income back into their communities and families, and software engineering jobs are some of the highest compensated positions in any industry. That means that this is an issue that affects the world at every level.
12. What careers will these skills apply in?
Technical skills are going to be desirable if not necessary in every field and career. This is particularly true in leadership roles, as companies will be increasingly in need of people with technical backgrounds operating in positions of power.
13. Would you consider expanding this non-profit to younger generations so they can get started earlier?
It's important to support women in their tech journey at every stage of the pipeline, and there are a lot of incredible organizations out there that are already doing that. Rather than duplicating those efforts, Women Who Code instead focuses on building a better tech industry today, so that the next generation will have a great place to work when they are ready. We do that by highlighting the achievements of the women who are currently working in tech, and supporting them in their leadership and career goals.
14. What would you say to aspiring female tech entrepreneurs?
Technology is an exciting industry that is constantly changing and evolving. There's a lot of opportunity for success there, as well as the ability to make a real impact on the world and the future. Make sure that you join Women Who Code so that you can take advantage of our resources and connections to help you achieve your career dreams.
15. What is your favorite part of being a CEO for such an empowering non-profit?
It's amazing hearing the stories of how Women Who Code has had an impact on the careers of our leaders and members. Our mission is to help them achieve their career goals, and every time I meet someone who has found a job, received a promotion, or even started a company because of our efforts it makes me really proud to be a part of this organization.
WRITTEN BYAmy Corcoran