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Women Who Code CEO: Companies Have a 'Fiscal Responsibility' to See Women Succeed

Percival says women are so underrepresented in the tech industry that feeling 'a sense of belonging' is challenging.

AK: Alaina Percival taught herself the basics of coding and now she's CEO of Women Who Code.

AK: What's the biggest challenge for women in tech right now? 

AP: Right now, women are so underrepresented that having a sense of belonging over time is really challenging. You might be the only woman on the engineering team, or one of just a very few of a large engineering team. And you might start to ask yourself over time is the right career path for me? Am I in the right industry? And a lot of that comes about because of unconscious bias. And that is that little tiny things happen on a daily basis and each of these things are typically so small that if you ever complained about them you'd be the weird person who complains all the time, but they build up and so you start to have these doubts about if you're going to be successful in the industry, if you're the correct industry. And when you do succeed often people attribute it to you being more likely to succeed in another aspect of the business. So, for example, if you're great at connecting with other engineers and convincing them to work on projects with you, someone might say, 'have you thought about recruiting?' Instead of saying, 'hey, we should promote you to the leader because you're great at growing the team and having people work well together.'

AK: To that last point, we've have seen issues regarding gender disparity at some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, 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.

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AK: WWC says it empowers women with skills needed for professional achievement, can you describe how WWC does that?

AP: So, of our 1,7000 technical events we are having, we are typically focused on a variety of different technologies and so you come to an event and you're coding at those events. You have people supporting you and learning that if you get stuck on a bug you can work through it with someone else who is at the event. But then what we do is we weave in aspects of leadership and networking into every single event that we have. And so what it does is it creates a really strong sense of community and a sense of belonging and you're really building up some of those softer skills that engineers aren't typically looking to build up but they will definitely help you get to the next level in your career. 

AK: I want to go back to Women Who Code, we know it has a global network. How did Women Who Code grow to become a global company? And is there a particular area that services more than another?

AP: We are in 60 cities and 20 countries around the world and what we've seen is tremendous growth. We have a waiting list at any given time to launch in 50 new cities. You know as a relatively new non-profit we have to pace our growth to be able to meet the market needs but also continue to support our existing community.

AP: We have hundreds of jobs posted on a monthly basis and we have really talented technical women applying for those roles. We've taken a very engineer-focused approach in asking companies to present their jobs in a way that's going to resonate with our community and we work with the companies to help them fine tune that and better resonate with our community. 

AK: What's your long-term goal for WWC?

AP: Our goal is to put ourselves out of business. We look forward to the day when we can't understand why Women Who Code would be necessary.