The Code Institute is leading two initiatives to help attract more women to the tech industry and support those currently fleeing conflict.
When leaders talk about gender diversity in tech, they often mean it in a very broad sense.
They talk about the fact that early intervention is needed at the primary and secondary level to ensure that young girls are encouraged to consider careers in technology.
They discuss the importance of industry-level mentorships and resource groups to ensure women working in the industry are supported.
The fact is that women remain underrepresented in tech. One thing that has changed, according to Jim Cassidy, CEO of the Code Institute, is the attitude towards women’s abilities.
“The misconception that gender and technical ability are related is less common. However, we don’t see that translating into more women in tech, tech careers, or studying tech subjects in school or college,” he told SiliconRepublic.com.
“There are long-standing obstacles that need to be overcome. A gender-dominated education system gives girls and young women fewer opportunities to take technical subjects. This translates into the lack of progress at the third level where the dial hasn’t moved for a decade.
A practical and concrete approach
In March, the Irish government released a report on gender balance in STEM education, which included a list of recommendations to close the education gap at primary and secondary levels.
While a step in the right direction, Cassidy said it will take at least a decade for this to have an impact on the workplace, creating “another generation of missed opportunities”.
“More immediate action is needed, especially to create more opportunities for women who are already in the labor market or re-entering the labor market,” he said. “It’s not realistic to go back to university for three or four years to learn these skills – the barriers remain the same.
To that end, Code Institute hopes its Coding Careers for Women initiative will help move the needle faster and more conveniently. It is a joint initiative between Code Institute, Limerick and Clare Education Board, the Mid-West Regional Skills Forum and Limerick For IT.
A first cohort of 20 women have been recruited from the Limerick and Clare area for the programme, which includes a nine-month diploma in software development and a three-month internship.
The Code Institute now aims to produce more than 40 graduates in one year from the program, which Cassidy says will significantly change the number of female software development graduates. He added that the program seeks to circumvent many of the barriers women may face as the course is flexible and online.
“We teach comprehensive software development in a one-year program, which is a hands-on, learn-by-doing approach. Women have the practical coding skills to start their first role,” he said.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s a tough program. It takes dedication and resilience, but the rewards are great.
Why an all-female cohort matters
The course is made up of an all-female cohort, which facilitator Kasia Bogucka says is important in creating a safe and supportive environment.
“Women often feel intimidated by the competitive, sometimes aggressive approach of some men in this industry, so they can feel inadequate,” she said.
“This feeling does not correspond to the capacities of these women. My first female cohort that I worked with was a group of women who immediately came together and created a safe learning environment. A sans arrogance and so-called chest pounding, which can often be observed in male groups.
Bogucka added that the band members bonded as teammates. “The students became colleagues and almost friends because they all worked as a whole team – a team of women coding.”
Siobhan Gorman is a graduate of the Coding Careers For Women initiative, after taking a break from her career to raise her family.
“If the course hadn’t mentioned targeting women, I wouldn’t have considered it – I liked the idea that the course addressed the particular constraints faced by women wanting to pursue careers in tech,” she said.
“With an all-female cohort, we understood where we all came from in relation to the particular demands and constraints of women, especially after taking a break from their careers or juggling between caring for children and working. The women are very supportive and we formed a close-knit team that shared problems and found solutions together.
Gorman is currently halfway through her internship at Jaguar Land Rover, which she says gives her lots of new skills every day.
“My ambition is to work in a company like Jaguar Land Rover in a team as a junior developer with a view to becoming a scrum master possibly after additional experience in an agile team.”
Helping underrepresented women
While all women may face some obstacles in the world of technology, there are even greater challenges for women from underrepresented communities such as refugees and asylum seekers. To help these women, Code Institute is offering 20 scholarships as part of its Level Up initiative with technology company Zartis.
Now in its fourth year, the conflict in Ukraine has made these scholarships even more timely.
While Code Institute provides training, Zartis offers a career guarantee for graduates, helping them move into a position of financial independence and stability.
Xhuljana Shehu is one of the graduates of the Level Up scholarship program. She came to Ireland as an asylum seeker in 2016. “Although I have a law degree, I cannot use it in Ireland. So, I started looking for training opportunities to give me skills I can use.
She was accepted into the course in 2020 and although she had never done coding before, she found it really enjoyable.
“The program is tough and I had just had a new baby at the time, so I really had to work hard,” she said. “I graduated recently, so I’m still working at my previous job, but I’m looking forward to changing careers when I get the chance. I can see a better future for myself with a coding career.
Applications are currently open for the Level Up Scholarship Program. The second Coding Careers for Women cohort is set to launch later this month.
10 things you need to know straight to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the brief dailythe summary of essential science and technology news from Silicon Republic.