Being a Woman in Codeplay
29 June 2020
I have been a software developer at Codeplay for over 14 years, during which time I went through two periods of maternity leave, so I feel quite qualified to comment on what Codeplay, and to some extent the industry in general, is like for female developers and mothers. Over the years I have also gained some insight first-hand into why there may be fewer women in this industry.
The question of lack of women in technology is two-fold: Why there are not more women who choose this field, and why there are so many that do not stay there. I cannot say much about the first: whatever implicit forces there are, they obviously didn't impact me sufficiently to keep me away! What I can discuss is the second question, since it is all about women like me.
I feel incredibly lucky, and a little embarrassed, to never have encountered explicit sexism or machismo in my career so far, though I know it is an everyday reality for many women in technology. Everyone I have met has been welcoming, friendly and inclusive, within Codeplay, within the companies I have worked with, and at conferences. The worst I encountered was an assumption that I don't like beer! Now, Codeplay has generally been attracting younger engineers, which, I believe, goes some way towards that. It also has a strong culture of meritocracy, in that people are judged not by who they are, but by what they do.
Maternity leave provides a lot of time to reassess priorities. For many women, having a career suddenly pales into insignificance when they have a new little human to look after. It is no longer enough for the job to just be OK, it has to be outstanding, to compete for their attention. Childcare is also expensive, so if extended family is not available (which, in this age of globalization, is true more and more) the job also has to pay enough to make it worthwhile. This is where the gender pay gap really hits home; when time is limited it is a simple calculation of who earns more that decides who goes to work and who stays at home. Add to that the societal pressures of being a great mother, which sometimes frowns upon sending your child to childcare, the job often falls by the wayside.
On the other hand, if the job passes muster and you find a balance that works, you have renewed energy and enthusiasm for your job. A company that provides a good environment in this situation will earn the loyalty of the employee, for whom flexibility has become a priority.
Codeplay has been extremely flexible around the time of my own maternity leave periods, and I am very thankful for that. I was able to choose when to stop work and specify the hours of work when easing back afterwards, ramping up slowly. I have chosen to continue on a part-time basis since then, and have become an advocate of work-life balance and part-time work, for everyone.
Unfortunately, part-time work is still pretty much unheard of in the tech industry. When I asked around, I found many companies have just never considered the possibility. But part-time work has advantages for companies, as well. Because time is much more limited the employee is more efficient in that time, to the extent that two part-time workers job-sharing produce more output that a single person would. And at this stage of a woman's life, if the choice is "all" or "nothing", she may well choose "nothing", unless a compromise can be offered.
Explicitly and publicly advertising for part-time roles is a simple step for all companies to extend their reach, not just to women. By shifting the expectation of all-or-nothing it may also free up men to take on more duties at home, which allows more women to pursue a career.
There is, of course, much more to be done. Codeplay is not just a software development company, it is one that tackles particularly technical, low level challenges. Even at a very young age many children already have the harmful opinion that low level technical tasks are not for girls, so it is perhaps not such a surprise that there are even fewer women at Codeplay (less than 10% of engineers) than in an average tech company in the UK (12.3% according to WES). But there is no reason it has to be this way. Codeplay, together with the rest of the industry, need to continue to take concrete steps to actively attract women, from all walks of life.
Unfortunately, I predict the Covid-19 pandemic to emerge as a big set-back for equality. Since women are, on average, paid less than men, in addition to lingering preconceptions of childcare as a "woman's task", the additional overhead of looking after the family will fall disproportionately onto to them. Reduced hours, or even the necessity for a career break will further hinder the women's prospects of a successful career. It is especially important to ensure women are not penalized, but supported, during this period.