Trade Talk Blog: CODE: Can Chicago Tech Crack the Code?

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Last week, TT co-sponsored an event for the documentary “CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap” at 1871. The film focuses on the dearth of female and minority software engineers in America, exploring issues from childhood STEM education to startup culture.

This topic, while certainly not new in conversation, is something we are passionate about at Trading Technologies. We ran a blog series about women in technology spotlighting women at TT on Trade Talk last summer. I started this conversation not to point fingers or place blame, but to highlight what the demographic disparity has meant in our industry and to our teams over the years, as well as to focus on and celebrate some of the progress being made.

Given our interest in the subject matter, when we heard about the CODE documentary, we were excited to get involved and bring it to Chicago for the first time. I personally was grateful for the opportunity to be on a post-screening panel discussion with the director, Robin Hauser Reynolds, and other tech leaders from Silicon Valley Bank, Talution Group and Women Tech Founders. The discussion raised many interesting points both in terms of where the gender gap comes from and what we can do to address it.

What can we learn?

The panelists shared some great advice in response to the film and the audience’s questions. We all know that diversity improves our ROI, but it is about more than just our statistics. It has to come from the culture you create and how inviting that culture is. How does someone feel when they walk into a meeting and they’re the only woman in the room, or the only person of that ethnicity? Who is on your interviewing teams and panels? Who is showcased on your company’s website and on college campuses?

Being transparent as leaders is important. We have to be willing to admit when we do things that haven’t worked as well as we wanted them to. It’s important to create forums and be participatory. The feel and culture in the workplace is something we need to work on all the time and not be complacent about. Mentorships can be extremely helpful in this scenario, not only to help new employees adapt to the culture, but also in getting more experienced employees to invest in a welcoming environment.

The panel also hit on another common disparity—not only is there a gender gap in terms of employee numbers, but there’s a compensation gap as well. Men tend to be more confident in bringing up compensation, and women tend to be more hesitant. That applies both when applying for jobs and when asking for raises, and as a result, the compensation gap tends to be even further exaggerated as employees get further into their careers.

Of course, the gap doesn’t begin at the job application process, and that was one of the main points of the panel: This is an issue that first takes hold in childhood. Unsurprisingly, there is a stereotype that only men are “coders,” and that can easily dissuade young girls from even giving coding a chance. This is a case where Hollywood could actually help by showing more women in STEM leadership roles and inspiring girls to pursue that path.

Changes certainly need to be made in schools as well, which is difficult because academia moves at a snail’s pace compared to tech. But getting in at the ground level and making software learning accessible for everyone at a young age will help our entire workforce, not just female students.

So why does this matter?

As industry leaders and managers of business, we know that diversity is good for our bottom line. We have seen the effects of diverse teams in action whether it be diversity in gender, race, identity, skillset, personality or otherwise. Diversity produces out-of-the-box thinking, creative problem solving and thoughtful discussion. But diversity doesn’t just show up. It doesn’t flourish with conversations on panels or in meeting rooms. It, like any other movement, happens when we put it into practice. Through collective representation.

Technology has the ability to change this disparity faster than any other industry or domain. The pace of technology, should it embrace inclusive meritocracy, will move us all forward and quickly. As the technology umbrella continues to open, so will the opportunities for women and minorities. Maybe even quicker than we think. And even more optimistic is the next generation of tech thought leaders—the millennials—with their dependence on and fluency and with technology.

The possibilities and opportunities are endless. We just need to keep participating in the conversation and moving forward, challenging the status quo in our everyday hiring practices and processes, the development of our teams and the creation of programs and in inspiring the next generation of inquisitive minds that technology is the place to be. And we need to be clear in our goal for the industry: There can—and must—be an equal playing field.

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