To Anyone Who is Still Not Convinced that a Career Fair for Women in Computing is “Fair”

Grace Hopper, a pioneer Computer Programmer and woman leader

I’ve heard it all before, and what I haven’t heard explicitly, I’ve felt in sentiment: “It doesn’t seem fair that when everyone is struggling to land an internship or job during recruiting season, my female peers are offered multiple programs and career fairs to supplement their search.” I can confidently assume that some iteration of this thought has been glossed over by almost every man in computing, and I want to start off by acknowledging that it’s not a bad thing to question whether a system in place is truly equitable.

I also want to preface, that as a woman in Computer Science, I know that I am as privileged as it gets; having been raised in an affluent suburb of Silicon Valley, I experienced no dearth of exposure to the tech industry. However, despite the forward-thinking social climate of the Bay Area, there is still an embarrassingly low number of women engineers in the Valley, and I hope I can use whatever privilege I may have to surface the inequities I’ve experienced myself and witnessed through my peers.

I vividly remember the first day of my intro to programming class at UCLA in 2016. In a crowd full of boys, I spotted two girls and briskly pushed my way through the packed hallway to introduce myself to them and find solace in their company. We soon learned that none of us had much prior experience with programming, meaning that we were already disadvantaged from a large chunk of the class, who had figuratively been coding since inside the womb. And although many of my male classmates were also in the same boat as me, they were able to more naturally form friendships with other men who already had enough experience to help lift the others up. As the year progressed, I noticed how these simple acts of empowerment through networks compounded enough to propel their success. While the men in my grade joined clubs together, teamed up at hackathons, and exchanged company referrals like Halloween candy, I never felt more alone as I watched the few female friends I had drop out of my major one by one.

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I wish there was a way to quantify the isolation I felt as a freshman woman in Computer Science. I wish there was a way to quantify the extra effort I had to put in towards exploring opportunities all on my own. While the men in my major talked about software architectures over lunch, I wasn’t able to find a group of women who wanted to indulge in the same topics on the daily. Many of my male friends in Computer Science would choose each other as roommates, which one could imagine, would lead to hours of endless conversations about tech. How could I possibly keep up with the amount of information and opportunities they shared amongst themselves when none of my roommates, much less my immediate circle of friends, majored in anything remotely related to Engineering? People often undervalue the power of simply surrounding yourself with the right company, and in my opinion, this denial is one of the biggest mistakes we’ve made in our attempts to reach gender parity in Computer Science. The subliminal differences in every day habits and actions may not be quantifiable, but they certainly add up until any underrepresented individual has no choice but to feel like an imposter.

Of course, over months of research and networking, I learned I was never totally alone in my educational endeavors as I found out about the numerous programs targeted towards women in STEM. I am extremely grateful that while I was an undergrad, I had the means to attend such conferences, and I am more grateful to the powerful women who help make these events possible. I don’t view these conferences or career fairs as an unfair advantage for women, I view them as a deliberate rounding up of women to meet each other because otherwise, we are so few and far between. These events are attempting to do what every other over-represented person in Computer Science already does organically (and without having to pay for a conference ticket!) And this is exactly what it means to be equitable: no one gets a head start in a race, they are purely given the equipment that others already have in order to run the race fairly.

Many men out there are allies and advocates, which is great, but it also doesn’t fall under the job description of an ally or advocate to have to add a woman to his hackathon team, so why not just give ladies a chance to meet each other and form their own networks and teams?

I landed a role at my current job as a result of an interview I had at Grace Hopper, the largest conference in the world for women in tech. While I used to be wary of telling people that this was the case out of fear that my hard work would be written off or diminished, I now realize that this fear was unfounded. I’ve met many women who have felt the same apprehension towards parading such achievements or opportunities, and to that, I urge us all, especially women, to re-frame the way we view career fairs and conferences for women. So to anyone who is still not convinced that women deserve their own career fairs, hackathons, or conferences, keep in mind that there are still many systemic issues at the root of this gender imbalance, most of which the average student can easily take for granted, but we have solutions right here, already in place, and they are just about as simple and fair as they can get.