A 2018 study commissioned by The Gandolf Group by Salesforce showed that females make up a third of entrepreneurs in Canada, with 59% of female entrepreneurs between the ages 18 and 44 compared to only 42% of men in the same age range. And the recent federal election in Canada saw the most women MPs elected ever. It’s safe to say that Canadian women are breaking down more gender barriers than ever before—while having to contend with mansplainers and manspreaders at every turn, of course. But one area where we are consistently underrepresented is technology—according to a 2017 report from McKinsey Global Institute, “women make up 47 per cent of the overall workforce in Canada, but only 23 per cent of the STEM workforce.” What’s more, a recent report from Girls Who Code found that 82% of Canadians picture a man when they imagine a computer scientist, and half of Canadians can’t name a single female scientist or engineer (um, guilty).
Myth: Coding is a solo sport
As Senior Director of Partnership Management and Worldwide Developers Relations at Apple, Shaan Purden leads global developer relations for all of Apple—a long way from a childhood spent in small town British Columbia. Purden, who completed her BSc in Computer Science and Mathematics in 1983 at the University of Victoria after growing up on Vancouver Island, has seen the technology industry evolve over the years, from her college days when women actually made up a large portion of the computer science and engineering classes to today when women are underrepresented in STEM.
And she says some stereotypes about coding persist, particularly the perception that it’s done in isolation.
“I don’t find that to be true at all,” Purden says. “Coding is a team sport, especially when you get beyond yourself working on this project, you’re going to have to start bringing other people in once it starts to take off because you just can’t do everything yourself.”
She adds that understanding that coding is actually a team sport will likely be more appealing to women, who are naturally collaborative, than the old “dude alone in a dark basement” trope. “When you have a successful product, it’s because there is an amazing team of people that work on it and are very collaborative. I think women have a lot to contribute in team environments and can make it much more collaborative, and invite diverse opinions, and get really decisions and make really great products as a result.”
Fact: Imposter syndrome is rampant
Apple is trying to close gap with their Entrepreneur Camp, a free two-week technology lab where female-founded app companies get one-on-one, code-level guidance from Apple engineers and the opportunity to get feedback from Apple’s senior women leaders at Apple HQ in Cupertino, CA. The intensive program’s pilot session began in January 2019 and now takes place quarterly. (P.S. The program is now accepting applications for the January 28, 2020 program for which 20 app companies will snag the coveted spots. Deadline to apply is November 15—and Canadians are welcome! Visit developer.apple.com/entrepreneur-camp for more details.)
But even there, Esther Hare, Senior Director, Worldwide Developer Marketing at Apple, says that imposter syndrome is pervasive. “When we first meet the entrepreneurs coming to Camp, one of the things we hear in each cohort is, ‘I couldn’t believe I got selected’ and ‘At first I thought maybe I was chosen because I was a woman, and then I realized the whole program is for women, and then I thought maybe they didn’t mean to pick me,’” Hare says.
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“It’s sort of heartbreaking, honestly. When we look at these apps [when considering applications to Apple Entrepreneur Camp], we don’t say ‘these are second-rate apps’ or ‘how nice, they’re made by women.’ We look at these apps—within education or health care or mental health—and we’re like ‘wow, these are incredible!’”
Hare, who also helps connect Apple with an always-expanding list of STEM organizations focused on bringing more women and underrepresented groups into technology and was essential driving the launch of the Camp, adds that women coders aren’t the “unicorns” we think they are. “They’re out there, we just need to reach a hand out. And we’ll find that by doing so, we’re able to help tackle that problem and provide more access, more exposure, and really help these female leaders grow, not just in the app community, but in the companies that they run,” says Hare.
“By the time we’ve taken them through the program and helped them think through what their product could be, and think a little bit bigger, it really bolsters their confidence to go out there and really make it happen,” adds Purden. She says she typically sees a total shift in mindset after the two weeks spent working intensively on their apps. “It’s not like they didn’t have it in them [before Camp]; I think they just didn’t feel confident enough to get out there and tell the story of their app in a bolder way. That’s the thing I’m most excited about.”
Myth: Coding is wildly difficult and painfully boring
“There’s a misconception that coding is so difficult. It’s so much fun, honestly,” says Hare. And she urges anyone even the tiniest bit interested in coding to just give it a shot. “The biggest thing is just start,” she says. “Download the Swift Playgrounds app (a free iPad app that teaches you to code in a game-ified way) and do the first lesson and you’ll be hooked.” (Editor’s note: She’s right. I, a non-coder who gets flustered when the printer is out of paper, gave Swift Playgrounds a try and it’s a hoot.)
Fact: Women around the world face the same challenges when it comes to working in STEM
“It’s an unfortunate reality that women are underrepresented [in STEM]; there’s the fact of the underrepresentation of venture capital and capital funding that women-founded and co-founded companies get, and the obstacles they have to overcome to get there,” says Hare. “And we want the women developers who are in those companies to have an opportunity to step up. A lot of times what we see is even if the woman developer is the most senior in the company, they are oftentimes seen as junior or treated as more junior employees.” Hare says that these are problems women in tech are facing all over the world.
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“We’ve had applicants [to Apple Entrepreneur Camp] from 62 different countries around the world, and we see that in every country, the women have the same issues. And while it makes me feel great about the fact that we need this program, the flip-side is it’s an unfortunately worldwide problem,” she says of women-founded apps not getting the funding they deserve, and women developers being mistaken for junior team members. But she’s hopeful.
“One of the things we’re seeing, and getting feedback about, is that by coming to the program and having female developers come to the program even if they’re not the most senior, when they go back to the company, they’re the ones with the answers. So, immediately her position back within her company is elevated.”
“We have a lot of work to do,” says Hare about women being underrepresented in STEM, and the funding that women-founded and co-founded companies get, “but we know there are a lot of teams out there that we really can help. We can make a meaningful change.”