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Women Are 'Dramatically Underrepresented' in Tech, Says Women Who Code CEO

Alaina Percival, chief executive officer of Women Who Code, says companies have a 'fiscal responsibility' to not only bring women into the organization but to see them succeed.

AK: Alaina Percival taught herself the basics of coding and now she's CEO of Women Who Code. We've have seen issues regarding gender disparity at some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley's, including Google and Uber. Since WWC works to educate companies to better promote, retain and hire talented women, what would you tell Silicon Valley companies to do?

AP: Definitely implement programs and analysis around finding gender inequities but the essence is this isn't because it's a fun thing to do or we're just asking you to do it. While there is that social good aspect of it, teams that are diverse are smarter and they perform better and companies with women in the leadership role, from Fortune 500 company level to startup level, they experience a higher ROI. So companies actually have a fiscal responsibility to not only bring women into the organization but to see them succeeding there.

AK: Pertaining to the Google memo that went viral just recently, is there any reason to say that gender inequality in tech and leadership roles can or should be attributed to biological differences?

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AP: Absolutely not. Nothing but ignorance would bring that about. What you can see is in other countries and other cultures, you see much higher rates of women going into software engineering. So you don't experience the barriers at the same points in time. And, you know, when we look back, initially software engineers were women. They were the first people who were coding and in the '80s, women were a much higher representation percentage-wise of women in engineering or of software engineers. So, many different things have attributed to that over time, but right now women who are dramatically underrepresented in the tech industry. 

AK: And another point that the memo highlighted as a potentially discriminatory practice was the affinity groups. Do you find that they are discriminatory in any way? Or could they actually be used as an effective retention mechanism? 

AP: Affinity groups are going to be different in every company, it's certainly a great way for companies to highlight ways and gives people a voice and a platform to connect and have a sense of belonging. Coming from an external organization, we see huge success when those internal groups partner with groups like Women Who Code because that breeds a lot of fresh energy into the groups and can even be a way to better attract people to the company.