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Man’s Advice to Women in STEM: “Don’t Be a Brogrammer,” Woman’s Advice: Make Programs Accessible to Girls

StBernardComputerFortune recently posted a piece by Michael Choi, CEO of Coding Dojo, titled “How women can break into tech: Don’t be a brogrammer and 6 other tips.” The Huffington Post posted a different piece by Linda Kekelis, CEO/Executive Director at Techbridge, titled “Want to Change the Face of Technology? Look to Our Girls.” Let’s discuss, shall we?

Last year was a mixed bag for women in STEM fields. We had some great moments and some not great moments. Last month we even reported on a study which said many male internet commenters don’t believe sexism in science is a real thing, even though it definitely is a problem. But what can women who still want to brave this unwelcoming landscape do to stand out? Who will help them?? Michael Choi has some advice—but don’t expect it to be very specific to women.

“It’s hardly news that the tech industry has a gender gap issue,” Choi begins in his article, “While women were once the pioneers of computer science, their ranks have fallen since, even as the ubiquity of computing has grown.” Ok, so far, we’re with you.

Choi goes on to mention how companies are taking steps to improve their diversity and get more women in STEM, his included (Coding Dojo has a $2,000 Women’s Opportunity Scholarship.). We’ve reported on several of these advances like Intel’s new $300 million initiative, the White House asking for women in STEM to share their stories, President Obama hanging with some girls at the White House Science Fair, Girls Who Code expanding their summer program, and most recently, we talked with “Code and Cupcakes” founder Jen Meyers about her work inspiring girls and her advice for working in a male-dominated field. But then he has some specific tips.

“Keep up your technical chops,” is one such piece of advice. “Because the tech industry is so…well, technical,”  the misconception that men are inherently more interested in or better in this field “can be quite pervasive. The good news is that women can overcome this. Maintain strong technical skills and stay abreast of the latest industry developments — something all coders should be doing, regardless of gender.”

To overcome society’s perception that men are better at technical work, women must… be good at technical work. Well, yeah. Duh. Women in tech already face insurmountable pressure to be better than their male peers in order to prove their worth, because if they fail then their entire gender will be blamed. That’s not new.

Moving on. Next is “search for opportunities.”

YouDontSayCage “Master the humble brag,” he also suggests. Apparently men brag a lot, and that means they get noticed more—but “they aren’t likely to give it up anytime soon,” says Choi, “so it’s up to women to level the playing field, especially if they want to stand out in the ‘brogrammer’ culture.” I guess only one gender is allowed to openly brag about themselves at once? Speaking of which, there’s also his titular piece of advice: “Don’t be a brogrammer.”

Whenever you’re in the minority, it’s tempting to emulate everyone else and conform to the “norm.” But don’t repress your true nature in an attempt to seem like “one of the guys.” First, you won’t succeed — people respond to authenticity, not self-conscious reproductions. But more importantly, you need to embrace your differences, not hide them.

Well, really, no one should be a “brogrammer,” because it can be a pretty toxic culture to more types of people than just women. But let’s break down what Choi’s saying here. Even though he frames it as “embracing your differences,” his method of encouragement still relies on women acting a certain way to make it in their chosen field. As much as we all want to believe that one woman striding in and being herself is going to save the day, if the system still accepts these women as outliers or exceptions, it’ll be an uphill battle—and these individual women will probably end up getting burnt out in the process.

Aside from that, most of Choi’s advice for women breaking into tech is just regular job advice. His piece also included general advice like “seek out mentors,” “network,” and “find a company that’s right for you.” This is all good advice, but given that women are inherently more likely to formulate their career goals at a later stage in life than men are, it might be too little too late for a lot of women with potential.

Linda Kekelis has a different approach in her piece: rather than creating a new set of rules for women in tech to follow, we should be making the field more accessible as a career opportunity for girls.

“We’ve learned that it’s not enough to make after-school STEM programs available at schools in underserved communities. We have to be strategic in whom we engage in these programs, from schools to teachers to role models,” she writes. “Like the engineering design process that we teach our girls, we learn from what goes wrong and make changes, all the while measuring our progress.”

Her first bit of advice is “Making Programs Truly Accessible for Marginalized Girls,” because part of the reason there’s such a gender divide is all the systematic barriers which redirect girls away from tech before they can even become interested in the first place.

“I’m not smart enough. I’m bad in science. Coding sounds boring. Engineering—isn’t that for boys? I can’t afford the program and even if I could, how could I get there?” she writes, “These are some of the reasons why a girl in Oakland or in your community might not engage in STEM outside of school.” So they partner with teachers to help recruit girls. Which connects to her next idea, “Training Role Models to Inspire Girls in STEM”:

I see girls captivated by activities that include designing video games, soldering circuits, and taking apart appliances. As appealing as these activities are, they are not enough. While girls have fun doing hands-on projects, they may think of engineering and technology as a hobby, not as a career option. Role models can help connect the dots between an activity and career interest.

So in contrast to Choi, who tells women they have to go looking for their mentors, Kekelis wants to bring those kinds of women to their possible successors to show them careers like this are even possible for them at all.

Kekelis’ third and final piece of advice is “Families Matter.” She writes, “We are working to empower parents and help them understand that it’s their encouragement that matters… For others, it’s inviting their daughter to share about Techbridge during dinnertime or enlisting her help on a household repair project.”

In the grand scheme of things, Choi’s piece certainly isn’t that bad and you can tell his heart was in the right place. But short of companies like Intel taking it upon themselves to purposefully hire more women, there isn’t any magical fix women as individuals can do to help themselves get a STEM job. It takes systematic changes in the way we talk about tech and science in the first place to make that a reality.

(image via Shutterstock, Copyright: Rita Kochmarjova)

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Jill Pantozzi is a pop-culture journalist and host who writes about all things nerdy and beyond! She’s Editor in Chief of the geek girl culture site The Mary Sue (Abrams Media Network), and hosts her own blog “Has Boobs, Reads Comics” (TheNerdyBird.com). She co-hosts the Crazy Sexy Geeks podcast along with superhero historian Alan Kistler, contributed to a book of essays titled “Chicks Read Comics,” (Mad Norwegian Press) and had her first comic book story in the IDW anthology, “Womanthology.” In 2012, she was featured on National Geographic’s "Comic Store Heroes," a documentary on the lives of comic book fans and the following year she was one of many Batman fans profiled in the documentary, "Legends of the Knight."