Tina Lee, Founder of Mothercoders, on the importance of women in tech
A 2015 Google Impact Challenge Bay Area finalist, MotherCoders is a non-profit, part-time technical training program for women who “need a way to connect their experience, their educational background, their passions, and their life goals” with careers in what can be a daunting industry to break into.
“If you’re a parent, you’re facing multiple levels of barriers,” said Lee. “Online learning is not accessible to most beginners; you might not have the money to pay for a full-time coding bootcamps, or you may not have the time… the term that people have been using is ‘time poverty.’ Mothers are time poor — and women are time poor all over the world.”
Tina Lee, a working mom, launched MotherCoders in 2013 after she was unable to find sufficient resources for her to become more proficient in computer programming — and realized how high the barriers to entry were into the tech industry for parents, and particularly mothers.
“There’s all this locked up human capital that we’re not using,” said Lee. “A lot of millennials are approaching parenting age… why not start building that environment that is inclusive of parents?”
Women are extremely underrepresented in technical occupations: While women currently hold more than 51% of all professional occupations in the U.S., only around 26% are in computing-related occupations, and only 7% are tech company founders.
MotherCoders seeks to give mothers a learning experience involving lots of social interaction and support from like-minded peers, looking at education in a more holistic perspective.
When asked about what has to change in order to encourage more women to pursue a career in tech, Lee responded that “we really have to change culture.”
“As a society, we’re still operating under the assumption that everyone lives in a nuclear family: You have a male breadwinner who only has to worry about work, and a female homemaker who takes care of everything else,” explained Lee. “And that’s not the reality. In fact, it never was. Today, more than 50% of children in the US live in families whose parents work full-time jobs. We have to, to stay afloat. And yet, when you look at our policies, they don’t reflect that.”
Lee explained some of these policies, including a lack of a national paid family leave program or a subsidized childcare system in the U.S.; a dual-income earning families incurring penalties from the tax system; pre-school not being universal; and schools letting out at 3pm and closing down all summer.
Additionally, workforce development programs largely come without considerations for job seekers with childcare constraints, leaving mothers with the message: “You’re on your own.”
Lee hopes that in the future, not only will our culture grow more inclusive of women in technology, but more policies will be implemented to assist working parents in building their skill sets throughout their careers.
“Our policies don’t match the needs of our society, and it will hurt our economic development,” Lee said. “We are moving from the industrial era to the innovation era. If we don’t solve this problem, it’s not only the industry that goes down — our whole society will.”