Why Women Need to Lean in and Stay in Computing

Sheryl Sandberg- COO of Facebook, Founder of LeanIn and Keynote at GHC 2015

ABI.Chicago 2015 Grace Hopper Viewing Party at ThoughtWorks Chicago
By Eureka Foong

“I think I would be better at my job if I could code.”

I remember thinking these same words just a year ago when I was a UX researcher at a tech startup. I still feel the same way as a Ph.D. student. Being a computer scientist is no longer an exclusive occupation. Even Chief Operating Officer of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg admits she would benefit from being able to code.

This October, ABI.Chicago held a viewing party of the Thursday plenary from the 2015 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. The theme of the day was the gender gap and why we need to not only attract women to the tech industry, but encourage them to stay there.

As the plenary speaker, Sheryl was interviewed by Nora Denzel, the vice chair of the Anita Borg Institute Board of Trustees. Sheryl called for women to negotiate well, form connections with other women and stay in tech despite the hardships. By turning away from these jobs, women are contributing to a gender imbalance that will persist even as their children begin to look for jobs. Midway through her talk, Sheryl recounted a time when she referred to a little girl’s “bossy” behavior as “executive leadership skill.” Then, she said the sentence again, replacing the little girl in the story with a little boy. Women in the room laughed at a little girl being called an executive leader, but were silent when a little boy was called the same thing. Even in a room of intelligent female computer scientists, our stereotypes about women run deep. This presents one of the biggest challenges to the gender imbalance: ourselves.

To begin to overcome these challenges, Sheryl encouraged women to join or start a Lean In circle, a group of women who support and help one another achieve their career goals. The circles run on peer mentorship and more than 25,000 have been developed worldwide. Recently, special circles for Computer Science and Engineering have been formed. Despite the gender imbalance, Sandberg is confident that tech jobs are flexible and well-paid and believes that circles like these are crucial for women to hold onto these jobs.

ABI.Chicago GHC Viewing PartyMy favorite takeaway from the event was learning about the way Sandberg journals. More often than not, we are told to write about things we are grateful for or things we wish we were better at. Instead, Sandberg lists three things she did well during the day (e.g., make tea). She says this allows women to think about themselves for a moment and to feel accomplished.

The ABI.Chicago meetup itself was small but warm and the majority of the attendees were women. Lyubko Luchechko, a digital strategy consultant and the only male who attended, shared his motivation for joining the meetup. Earlier this year, he helped convince his younger sister to pursue a degree in computer science and now wants to help her find her place in the industry. Another guest talked about a friend who had broken away from computing to care for her family. After attending Grace Hopper and being surrounded by other women in computing, her friend could not wait to be a part of the community once again.

The group plans to have meetups once a month and is continuously looking for volunteers to help out at events and contribute to the blog. So if you are thinking about being a part of ABI.Chicago, consider these words from Sheryl Sandberg: “Don’t say no before you even start.” By simply being a part of events like these, we are already making huge leaps in changing the gender imbalance in the tech industry.

Filed under: Event Recap

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