After giving birth to her second daughter in 2013, Tina Lee decided she wanted to learn more about computer programming. She had spent a few years in management consulting and wasn’t a stranger to technology, but as a mother of two, she no longer had time to attend meetups or networking events.
But one night while nursing her daughter, she said she had a meltdown while researching ways to learn how to code.
When I first started, parents weren’t even considered in the diversity inclusion conversation.
“I was sobbing and came to this realization that I wasn’t finding any resources,” Lee recalled. “I thought to myself ‘I can’t be the only one who feels like this.’”
That experience led her to create MotherCoders, a nonprofit that offers a 9-week, part-time training program for individuals who identify as women, have work experience or college degrees, and are caring for children. The organization hosted its first workshops in 2014.
“We aren’t a job readiness program or boot camp,” Lee said. “All the moms are going through the same thing. The last class is always a field trip where they actually go and see a company, and I think a lot of pieces fall together then.”
She added that the goal of MotherCoders isn’t necessarily to get its students ready to work, but to give them an idea of whether or not technology is right for them.
According to a 2016 Census report, women accounted for only 25 percent of the information technology workforce in 2014. And a 2016 report on high tech diversity by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that over time, more than half of highly qualified women in science, engineering and technology companies quit their jobs, due in part to inhospitable work environments, isolation, and lack of advancement opportunities, among other reasons.
Emily Chang, an anchor for Bloomberg TV, said that as a mother working in technology, she understands the barriers that women face. That inspired her to be more vocal about the field’s gender disparities, which she focuses on in her 2018 book, “Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley.”
In it, she writes extensively about the under representation of women of color in the industry.
“What I found while conducting interviews for my book is that your identity can be a ball and chain," Chang said. "So whether you’re an Asian woman, black woman, or Latina woman in tech, or whether you didn’t go to college, or you’re a mom or transgender, or whether you’re from a poor community, all of these identities intersect and can make life more isolating in a world where white men are in the majority.”
Chang noted that equitable representation can be particularly complex for Asian Americans in Silicon Valley, who are represented in the workforce but underrepresented in leadership.
“When thinking about Asian-American women working in the industry today, it’s made it difficult for them to speak up," she said. "A lot of them have told me ‘We don’t have it as bad as some, but it’s still bad.’”
Jenn Fang, an activist and blogger who has written frequently about Asian-American women in tech, said that a challenge she feels a lot of Asian-American women mothers face is that they may not have a support system that is as strong as other working mothers in the country.
“That can be particularly difficult for Asian-American women because many Asian-American women or many women who come from predominantly immigrant communities may not have an extended family support network in the area,” Fang said.
When thinking about Asian-American women working in the industry today, it’s made it difficult for them to speak up. A lot of them have told me ‘We don’t have it as bad as some, but it’s still bad.’
A benefit that MotherCoders offers to help mothers’ flexibility is on-site childcare. While Lee said getting childcare incorporated into the organization was initially a challenge, she knew it was an important element to be able to help the mothers thrive.
Lee said she’s aware there is still a crisis in the technology field, but she’s also noticed a surge of discussion surrounding the topic of women and mothers, which has kept her optimistic.
“When I first started, parents weren’t even considered in the diversity inclusion conversation,” Lee said, noting that much of the discussion centered around race, sexual orientation, and gender. “I feel like a part of it does have to do with the numbers because millennials are getting older and becoming parents so when we first started talking about this, we weren’t filling rooms, but now people are paying attention.”