At gatherings across Silicon Valley, especially those where engineers cluster, lines extend far out the men’s room door, while the ladies’ room has little wait.
“Sometimes it can be hard,” said Serena Yeung, 23, a recent Stanford graduate who worked as a software engineer at a Silicon Valley startup before returning for graduate school. Just walking into the classroom is one of the biggest hurdles for women thinking of entering the field, she said. “You go in and you’re the only girl in it.”
For Yeung, having parents who were both engineers spared her the sense that computers weren’t for girls.
She got her first job as a programmer at Mountain View-based Rockmelt Inc., which makes a Web browser with built-in social media features. She started working there even before she graduated with her degree in electrical engineering, another coding-intensive field where men heavily outnumber women.
Rockmelt CEO Eric Vishria says the competition to hire qualified women software engineers has heated up as companies see that they need diverse perspectives to build products that attract the widest audience. He said startups that don’t hire women early in their existence risk creating a male-dominated culture that will put off potential female hires.
“It becomes a death spiral, it becomes self-fulfilling,” Vishria said. “You have 15 guys in a room, that’s your company, and it becomes harder and harder to hire your first woman.”
Yeung said a recent experience at a Stanford Society of Women Engineers event for elementary school students showed her that intervention needs to come early to steer girls toward tech. She said girls who had just come from a computer science workshop complained they didn’t like it because the boys asked all the questions.
Steeped in video game culture and barraged by positive male tech industry role models, boys tend to dominate conversations around computing early on, leaving girls feeling shut out, said Yeung.
As for her own childhood, Yeung said that as she got older, her commitment to computing carried a social cost as female friends drifted toward other interests.
“It’s harder to spend time with them. It’s harder to do things with them,” she said. “I think you feel kind of a conflicting pull between friends and career interests. That can be hard.”
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