Debugging the Gender Gap: Filmmaker Warns of Economic Crisis in Tech
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merit and used to the best of their abilities. My point was you have no idea of the potential. You might be growing at five times now, but you might be growing at 10 times a year from now. That’s what studies are showing.
X: Do you think the conversation has focused so much on lack of women in tech jobs that we have pushed to the back burner the problem of lack of minorities? Or are concerned people speaking loudly enough about both issues?
RHR: Women are minorities. But let’s talk about people of color. This is also a huge issue for a Latino man or an African-American man. Because it’s more my style as a director or documentarian, I really decided it was better to focus on one issue. We really focused on the gender gap. I felt like I couldn’t make the film without touching on diversity and mentioning it. So, we do talk about people of color. A lot of this relates to them as well.
There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that a Latino man or an African-American man has some of the same struggles in terms of fitting in. They don’t have the same gender thing—the misogynistic, objectification nuances. But they definitely will feel “ambient belonging,” which is the sense that they don’t really fit in, because they’re not going to see a lot of people like them around them. It doesn’t mean they don’t belong there. It doesn’t mean they’re not going to add special things. It means you have to be a special person to handle that.
Somebody asked me what it’s like being a female director. My response, without trying to be coy, is “I don’t know what it’s like to be anything other than a female director.” In other words, I don’t know that somebody would go to a male director and say, “What’s it like to be a male director?” They’d say, “What’s it like to be a film director?”
I’m not letting that stop me. I’m just doing what I’m doing. But I used to be a stockbroker, so I’ve dealt with being in a man’s world. Why’s the focus always on gender? Why can’t it be on merit?
X: Did your experience as a stockbroker influence the making of this film?
RHR: I think what it has done for me is I understand what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. So, it’s not that I pretend to know what it’s like to be a female coder on an engineering team, because I don’t. But I can appreciate what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. When I was in my 20s, I didn’t really have an issue with it. It didn’t bother me. I grew up in a household where I was always sort of fighting to be taken seriously as an individual and not being limited to anything because I was female. But I think that it has made me obviously empathetic because I know the feeling of being a minority.
But there is a certain type of woman that makes it as a woman in tech, as a woman stockbroker, as a woman in finance. And I think that those are women who have been raised with parents who have instilled an enormous amount of confidence in them. They’re women who, yes, to a certain extent can let things roll off their back, but also are women that can stand up for themselves when they need to and when they know something has crossed the line. And I think that’s what it takes.
X: Lack of diversity in tech is not something that’s going to be solved overnight. But what’s one concrete action that can be taken in the next year that you think could help?
RHR: Hire women and promote women. Pretty simple really, when you think about it.
X: But is there something structurally that we can change to speed that up?
RHR: I think once you hire a woman, you have to make sure she’s landing in a welcoming environment. So, what does that mean, and how do you train people within the company to look at their own biases? That’s a long thing.
If you want to get more into it, let’s convince Hollywood to change the stereotype. If you want to get more young women interested in pursuing science as a career, then you have to make it look appealing. So, therefore, show them how creative it is. Show them that coding is what programmers use at Pixar to make the light shine off of a school of fish in “Finding Nemo.” Show them that code is at the base of Facebook and Pinterest. Show them that it can be collaborative, that you can work in pairs when you’re coding, that it doesn’t have to be this solitary confinement.
When you think about it, code is at the base of almost everything we do now. It’s in our cars. It’s in the hospitals. It’s in animation. It’s in our apps. It’s in our phones. It’s in fashion; our watches. It’s cool. It’s everywhere.
Seriously, the average kid, the average person probably, but especially a young person—and this is how we open the film—if you ask them to describe what a computer science engineer looks like, they’re going to tell you he’s wearing glasses, a hoodie, is kind of nerdy-looking, doesn’t have a lot of friends, and often works alone. That’s not really enticing to a young girl.
Ultimately, the message I want to send is the importance of exposing what’s happening because you have to expose something to face a problem before you can actually fix it. That’s what the documentary is about. It’s about showing what coding can be, it’s about showing why we don’t have more young girls and women pursuing it, and what can be done to fix it. Ultimately, we’re hoping to inspire.