Underrepresentation of women in technology fields explored in event
About 15 students and faculty members gathered in Palmer Commons Tuesday evening for a screening of the documentary "CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap," a film that aims to address the gender and minority gaps in fields such as software engineering and coding.
Women Who Launch, a student-run entrepreneurial organization, sponsored the screening. Founded in the spring of 2014 by three Ross School of Business MBA students, the group encourages female entrepreneurship through workshops, speakers and networking opportunities.
Organization co-founder Marianna Kerppola, an MBA Ross School of Business student, said the group aimed to reach students from all disciplines.
“It’s really intended for all students,” she said. “Generally, it has been Ross students who have been participating, but our goal is to be campuswide, because there is so much opportunity for women to collaborate and find partners and just supporters."
Kerppola said these supporters could be fellow students across various disciplines as well as members within the broad community such as professionals and investors. She said she chose to screen this specific film after meeting one of the film’s producers at TEDWomen last spring and immediately connecting the project to her organization’s mission.
“Their vision was to address this huge gender gap that we see in tech and computer science,” she said. “She told me a little about the documentary, and it was spot on, because one of the things we aim to do is encourage women to engage in entrepreneurship through whatever venue that is. Technology, computer science, programming is certainly one of them."
The Center for Entrepreneurship also sponsored the event. Ashleigh Bell, who runs student services in the office, said their mission of promoting women and minorities tied in well to the event.
“Our office is very passionate about equality in the workplace and in the entrepreneurial space, whether that be for women or underrepresented minorities,” she said. “This year we’re making a really concerted effort to increase our enrollment of women in underrepresented minorities."
Bell said in the past year the female enrollment of classes through the University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship has increased by 30 percent, which she added is only the beginning of increasing engagement.
"I have conversations with female students all the time about being one of the only women in their classes and just really feeling that there is a non-inclusive culture," Bell said. "(We) want to really help by having conversations about this issue and really empowering both women and everyone to engage in entrepreneurship.”
The film, directed by Robin Hauser Reynolds, was inspired by the director’s daughter — a computer science major who found it frustrating to be one of two women in her class. It looks at why women are often discouraged from pursuing careers in technological fields and the sexism that occurs in these fields, but also the benefits of having a more diverse workplace.
The film notes that computer science is often not encouraged for female students or, in many states, even taught prior to the university level. It argues that once female students — who have been culturally pushed away from fields like building and technology, and often see these paths as male-dominated fields — enter higher education, computer science is not on their radars.
At the end of the film, Dannan Hodge, vice president of Women Who Launch, led a brief group discussion during which attendees shared thoughts about the film and their personal experiences in connection with it.
For Engineering freshman Monika Paliwoda, the film resonated with her experience in a coding class. She said though it was a beginner course, she was intimidated by the skills of her peers.
"It’s been really interesting seeing that disparity and my confidence level has been tested a lot," Paliwoda said. "I thought this movie was really interesting just to shed light on that it’s OK not to be one hundred percent confident in your abilities, and that doesn’t mean you’re a bad coder or a good coder. It just means that your level at that point in time is different, and that it’s something that you can learn in the future.”