Technology careers can come with significant benefits such as high salaries, wide availability of positions, remote-friendly work and intellectual stimulation as a fast-paced industry with evolving challenges. The underrepresentation of women in tech, compounded with the gender wage gap, means that women are missing out on a large portion of the pie.
The deficiency of women in tech can be attributed to two buckets of issues: recruitment and retention. How do we increase the number of women pursuing and attaining jobs in tech? How do we ensure that women advance in their careers and do not exit the industry early?
I founded Fleurix, Charlotte’s first technology conference for women and non-binary folks, in 2019 to celebrate those in the industry and encourage others to enter. Our inaugural two-day event brought in over four hundred local technologists with diverse backgrounds and experience levels. Many of the attendees had recently graduated from coding boot camps — full-time, accelerated programs that teach people how to code within 6 weeks to 6 months — or were employed in other lines of work and considering a career change.
These aspiring technologists of all ages and circumstances that one could imagine had a unifying characteristic: they were struggling to get hired.
Demand for technical talent in Charlotte is booming and continues to increase as local companies expand and others open offices in Charlotte; Centene, LendingTree, Lowe’s, Allstate, Ally, and Honeywell account for thousands of new local tech positions. Charlotte ranked 6th in the nation for top tech cities based on demand for tech workers, open positions, cost of living, and projected job growth.
Companies large and small are starting to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives which often begin with hiring. In front of me was a large population of local female and minority technical job seekers. Combined with the deficit of people to fill open positions (I’ve repeatedly heard that the tech unemployment rate in Charlotte is incredibly low, around 1%), I was curious why this eager cohort of job seekers was being disregarded.
Consider a university graduate from a reputable liberal arts school that studied Environmental Science and worked miscellaneous part-time jobs as a receptionist and in research labs. They spend their free time pursuing various hobbies like disc golf, photography and art, but they also learned how to code from a few college programming classes. Although they have limited coding experience, they have excelled in their pursuits and have a genuine interest in your company. This candidate is applying for an entry-level software engineering position. Would you hire them?
Many companies will not, and I can say that with certainty because the candidate is me.
As much as those rejections stung years ago, I am proud of my diverse experiences and view them as an advantage rather than a blemish. As a receptionist at a historic center, I sharpened my care for customers and professionalism toward clients. While performing delicate tasks and procedures in scientific labs, I learned to appreciate focus and attention to detail. While composing literary essays and writing research articles, I developed the ability to translate jargon for broader audiences. My wide-ranging hobbies fed my ability to be resourceful and teach myself new skills.
What are the characteristics of coworkers that you admire and are widely regarded as successful? My list is topped by humility, empathy, quick comprehension, creativity, accountability and passion — not necessarily those with the deepest knowledge of frameworks, languages and tools.
Many of the highest performing individuals, the most collaborative and supportive team members, and the most creative problem solvers that I’ve worked with have non-traditional backgrounds for their technical careers. I have also met people with the “suitable” credentials that are incompetent or detract from team productivity.
In the past five years, I’ve been a consistent top performer building enterprise software using several technology stacks. I have served in management roles, in technical lead positions, and I achieved a record-fast promotion two years in from being a complete newbie. I speak publicly and teach often, and I invest time into advancing Charlotte’s tech community.
How many stories like mine are cut short too early by overly specific job application requirements or mandatory years of experience?
My call-to-action, for recruiters and hiring managers in Charlotte and beyond, is to broaden the definition of what makes a candidate qualified and desirable. Consider removing restrictive verbiage from job postings such as degree requirements, especially from early-career opportunities. Internships are a good way to evaluate candidates with significantly lower risk — why not offer internships for career changers and other non-traditional applicants?
Another important step is to invest in the development of new technologists. Hiring diverse talent is not sufficient if they are unable to thrive and advance. Without proper guidance, a recruit will struggle to picture a long-term future at a company, or worse — within the tech industry as a whole. One of the main reasons that I was able to get to where I am today is a long string of senior colleagues and mentors that took the time to pull me up.
I applaud companies that hire a significant number of entry-level and non-traditional candidates, and it’s equally as important to ensure that women and minorities, who often do not have the same level of exposure and resources as other candidates, have adequate support systems in place.
Women, non-binary folks, and minorities; biologists, teachers, and actors — we need you in tech. Let’s build a more diverse and equitable industry and enjoy the pie that we deserve.
About the Author
Jocelyn Keung is a full-stack developer with a focus on web technologies. She is the founder of Fleurix, Charlotte’s first conference for women in tech, and she is passionate about helping women and minorities thrive in tech-related careers. Jocelyn has a degree in Statistics and Environmental Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a graduate of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. In her free time, she enjoys disc golf, ultimate frisbee, photography, creating illustrations, and spoiling her cats.
Code Ninjas and the Dottie Rose Foundation are working together to move the pendulum and provide quality programming, support, and a pathway for girls to find their path in technology. Our missions are changing the conversation of what it means to be a woman in tech and establishing a framework for future generations to come.
About Dottie Rose Foundation
Dottie Rose Foundation serves to connect the dots within the technology and computer science sphere to educate, support, and inspire the next generation. Our vision is to create a supportive algorithm to close the gender gap for females in the field of technology and computer sciences. We provide real world applications of computer science through our workshops, camps, and community opportunities. For more information, visit dottierosefoundation.org.
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