Gender Balance in Civic Tech: Still Has a Ways to Go

As part of our ongoing Gender, Civic engagement and Tech conversation series at the Hub, last week we organized a lunchtime discussion around gender balance in civic tech. We know that the numbers show a gender imbalance in the tech sector at large, but is it the same in the civic tech sub-space?

For the discussion, we decided to go for a balanced view of men and women from both civil society and government agencies working at the intersection of civics and technology:

What is the balance? On the government side of things, the DC government’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) noted that one-third of its full-time hires are women; however, most are in front-end user experience and communications positions rather than back-end technical positions. For the US federal government’s 18F team, MapBox, and Code for DC, only a quarter or less of staff or volunteers are women; however, in MapBox’s case, 43% of their new hires in 2014 were women.

While a number of organizations make a concerted effort to have a more balanced gender split - whether it be through hiring goals or staffing regulations - it’s clear that there is a long way to go. As Lean Bannon, Code for DC’s co-captain and organizer of the TechLady Hackathons, points out, “women are 51% of the population, so let’s not go patting ourselves on the back just yet.” As Matt Bailey of Code for DC noted, “we started off with about 25% women at their first meeting, which we were really excited about, but by the 3rd or 4th meeting Leah was the only woman still attending.” This may point to a larger issue: gender equity is something that needs to be maintained and much more than a one-time push. Even if you hired 50% women, if you don’t invest in the time go maintain a healthy work environment, it is not a place where women will want to stay for long.

While the discussion may have sounded a big grimm, there were many things that we were able to take away from the speakers:

  • Gender balance is something you need to work at and make sure that everyone in an organization is committed to, and not just female colleagues (Code for DC)

  • Speak up for for the minority gender - especially if you are part of the majority (18F)

  • Hiring talent that takes gender into account requires strategic, long-term thinking (MapBox)

  • Discrimination is something that needs to be understood by all (OCTO)

A big part of the discussion focused around the fact that children and child care play a huge role in terms of women being involved in civic tech initiatives. For groups like Code for DC that meet after hours, it is extremely difficult for parents, especially women who are statistically twice as likely to care for their children, to participate. This remained somewhat of a conundrum for all participants.

If you would like to suggest a future discussion topic around gender in technology, participation and/or politics, please feel free to contact us. And for some good reading, check out the recent NPR podcast on “When Women Stopped Coding.”

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