Women Who Code helps female engineers level up in their careers

by Y Combinator6/2/2016

What it is Women Who Code is an international 501c3 non-profit organization that works to empower career-aged women to excel in their technology careers.

Their goal is to help female engineers achieve professional success, while inspiring them to be and become role models and heroes in the industry.

To date they have over 50,000 members in 20 countries around the world, which host over 3,000 free technical events each year.

The problem In 2014, 26% of computing jobs were held by women — and that’s down from 36% in 1991. These numbers reflect two problems: 1) the percentage of women who work in tech is low, and 2) women are leaving tech jobs in droves.

In that past few years, a number of developer schools and organizations have risen in an attempt to funnel more women into software engineering careers. But that only addresses one side of the issue.

The other issue is a leaky bucket problem. Women who are halfway into their careers in tech are leaving at a rate of 56%, which is more than double the quit rate of men. One reason for the high quit rate may be that women have a much lower chance of being promoted, even when they have the same amount of experience and tenure as their male peers, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

This not only directly affects the number of women in tech, it also means that female engineers just starting out have fewer and fewer role models. With a lack of support for the next wave of talent, the cycle continues to repeat itself. In 2012, only 19% of CIO positions at Fortune 250 companies were held by women.

How Women Who Code works Women Who Code connects female engineers to peers through local “Network locations” which host technical events, learning programs, and leadership opportunities. They also distribute a weekly publication called the CODE Review that highlights the success of women in tech and showcases them as role models.

One thing that particularly excited us about WWCode is that they now have proof points that show that what they’re doing is working.

Women Who Code’s leadership has been documenting their members’ successes, and many members attribute those successes to their involvement with WWCode. For example, one WWCode Director’s salary increased by 200% within one year at her job as a front-end engineer.

One member, Erica Stanley, had a Masters in Computer Science but felt held back because she wasn’t confident in her skills as a public speaker. WWCode presented her with the opportunity to step up and lead WWCode Atlanta’s programs, including technical events and hackathons. This got Erica comfortable speaking publicly and in just a year after taking on a WWCode leadership position, Stanley had given 3 technical talks at conferences to standing room only audiences.

Stanley is just one of the stories in the CODE Review. Along with these stories are weekly announcements for conference tickets and scholarships. In 2015, Women Who Code awarded over $276,000 in tech conference tickets and $249,000 in coding school scholarships.

Why now? In addition to the widely reported benefits of diversity in the workplace, the tech industry is missing out on millions of dollars in revenue and profit every year because of the female engineer attrition rate. With each female engineer that leaves, the industry takes a $300k loss.

Where it’s going? Women Who Code has built a robust, engaged, international community that hosts thousands of technical events every year. They are now working on technology that will allow their members to receive custom content, and connect with each other before the start of conferences and events. Their long term plan is to build internal groups at large companies in order to help those organizations identify, promote and retain talented female engineers.

What YC likes about Women Who Code

“We love Women Who Code’s focus on helping technical women stay in tech and advance in their careers. We were very impressed with both how quickly they’re growing (from 25k-50k members in a year) and the success stories they’ve had so far. We hope to help WWCode scale the most impactful parts of their program so they can create more female role models in tech and empower even more people around the world.” – Jessican Livingston, Founder, Y Combinator

About the founders: Women Who Code was established as a non-profit by Alaina Percival and Zassmin Montes de Oca.

Alaina Percival, 36, is the CEO of Women Who Code. Prior to WWCode, Alaina worked at PUMA’s headquarters in Germany, as well as Riviera Partners and Snip.it, which was acquired by Yahoo. Alaina is also an advisor at CodePath.

Zassmin Montes de Oca, 27, is the Chief Maker and Board Vice Chair of Women Who Code. She first joined WWCode to learn how to code and quickly built her skills and rose up in the organization. After landing her first internship, Zassmin worked at Lumos Labs as a software engineer.


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