Group promoting women in tech says Austin companies need to diversify

Sara Ines Calderon, event lead at Women Who Code Austin, works on her computer on Feb. 7, 2018 (KXAN Photo)
Sara Ines Calderon, event lead at Women Who Code Austin, works on her computer on Feb. 7, 2018 (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s tech industry has played a big role in the city’s growth over the years, and a group that focuses its efforts on getting more women interested in tech jobs says those companies have to play a role in diversifying it.

Women Who Code Austin is hosting a meet-up Thursday night at the Archer Hotel featuring a speaker who holds a top cybersecurity job at Comcast. The talk by Nancy Devoust, executive director of security architecture and technology solutions at the company, is “intended to inspire women to excel in technology careers, and anyone who is there for this purpose is welcome,” the event page notes.

But Sara Ines Calderon, event lead at Women Who Code Austin, says the gender gap problem in Austin’s tech industry goes far beyond who’s interested in the jobs.

“The vast majority — 80-90 percent in some cases — of technologists who work in various types of software security, artificial intelligence, virtual reality are white men,” she said, adding Austin companies mirror those national numbers.

That leads to problems with the products the companies develop, like “a health app that tracked everything but did not track menstruation,” Calderon said. “There have been technologies that cannot work with dark skin … So when you don’t have inclusive technology from the get-go, you’re going to create technology that doesn’t really work.”

An industry dominated by one subset of the population also exacerbates income disparity, she said, in which women and minorities are not seeing the benefits of growth in high-paying, prestigious jobs. It will only get worse if it goes unchecked, Calderon said, and that’s where tech companies need to take the lead in changing their recruiting and hiring practices.

“You can’t become what you can’t see,” she said. “If young girls can see women working in technology as though it were the most normal thing in the world, then they can also aspire to do that work as though it were the most normal thing in the world for them to do so.”

That’s the perception Thursday’s talk, just the latest in a monthly series that features women in tech, aims to change. Women Who Code Austin has also been hosting screenings of the documentary “Code: Debugging the Gender Gap,” a piece that examines where that gap came from and what would happen if it were to disappear.

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