Hackfort Diversity Pipeline Panel

Via Boise State University Update

Speaking on a diversity panel at Hackfort 2, Boise State student Kelsey Suyehira, a senior Computer Science major, and alum Marianna Budnikova, currently a programmer at MetaGeek, had sage advice for local tech employers looking to diversify their workforce and hire more women in this traditionally male-dominated field.

“You have to look at recruitment from all levels,” Suyehira told a male recruiter for a local technology firm, who bemoaned the fact that a recent job tech job opening attracted 1,000 male applicants — but only one female. “Go to the college level to see if there are any groups that support women.”

For instance, Suyehira offered, check out Boise State’s Association of Computing Machinery — Women (ACMW), a club designed to educate women about the opportunities in the computer science field. Suyehira is the club’s current president. Budnikova was its founder.

Now in its second year, Hackfort celebrates tech and creative culture through TED-style talks, panels, demos, presentations, product launches and workshops that explore the intersection of technology in music, education and civic life. The Boise State-sponsored event is happening March 26-28 at the Owyhee Hotel downtown.

“For so long as women, we’ve been told, ‘speak up, just put yourself a little more forward,'” said diversity panel moderator and Boise City Council member Lauren McClean, specifically citing male-dominated industries like technology and politics. “But the research is showing there’s more to it than that. There needs to be intentionality in businesses and universities for women.”

The panelists were shining examples of what that intentionality looks like. For example, in addition to ACMW, Budnikova and Suyehira co-founded Girl Develop It Boise, a programmer meet-up group that encourages local women in tech to learn from each other and foster community. Both women also praised Boise State’s Engineering Department for creating a welcoming environment for female students. Last year, the department sent seven students to Grace Hopper, a conference geared toward women in computing.

Budnikova and Suyehira were joined onstage by Mariella Paulino, a coder and fellow of Code for Progress, which brings women and people of  color into the coding workforce, and Shannon Turner, the founder of Hear Me Code, a coding school created for women, by women. Their hour-long panel offered valuable insights to the crowded, male-dominated audience that had assembled in the afternoon session for Hackfort 2. Each of the women had stories about feeling like an outsider, or sidelined, when working in their field. But they were more interested in discussing ways to solve these problems, rather than dwell on them.

“There’s this sense that someone else is going to have to step out in order for me to take their place,” said Turner, responding to a male audience member’s question about what employers can do to encourage women in their field. “But my success doesn’t diminish the success of anyone in here. How can men help? For starters, bringing more women in and understanding the value of women-only spaces. I look forward to the day when it’s not needed, when it’s a non issue, but we are so far away from that day.”

Paulino’s advice was straightforward: “If you want to hire more women, just hire them. Invest in them. Train them. They’re out there. It costs about $20,000 to get a coding education. That’s a huge barrier for women and an even bigger block for women of color.” She encouraged businesses to think about more ways to help women and people of color overcome that barrier, either through internships, apprenticeships, or university scholarships.

“Don’t take away women’s keyboards,” Budnikova told another audience member who asked how he and other men could encourage women to get into coding. Budnikova explained that some men (she used her own father and husband as examples) instinctively try to take over when they see a woman trying to work out a problem for herself. This well-meaning gesture, she explained, is frustrating and reinforces some women’s insecurities that they’re not talented enough at coding to work problems out for themselves. “If your daughter or wife has a spark, an interest in programming, let them try it. Let them do it on their own.”