Tribeca 2015: Code: Debugging the Gender Gap

By @ZShevich
Tribeca 2015: Code: Debugging the Gender Gap

As the modern need for new programmers grows rapidly, a disproportionately low amount of women have filled those jobs. Despite American women earning 57% of college degrees, they represent less than 20% of computer science graduates. When director Robin Hauser Reynolds asks a group of young girls at the beginning of her documentary Code: Debugging the Gender Gap what they think a computer programmer looks like, the girls nearly unanimously respond with some version of, “a man.” By interviewing several high-profile female programmers and mining their insights, Reynolds seeks to uncover the obstacles that women face in pursuing math & science professions.

The documentary, making its World Premiere at Tribeca, provides a historical overview of the role women played in computer technologies, from Ada Lovelace to the programmers at Etsy. Highlighting the fluctuating percentage of the workforce made up of women through the decades, Reynolds pinpoints a culture shift in the 80s to 90s as a primary negative influence for women. Though the film largely avoids specifics, it emphasizes that the prevalence of the nerdy guy and “brogrammer” stereotypes have played a major factor.

The case presented argues that societal preconceptions for who should or shouldn’t become a computer programmer cause men and women to view women unfavorably for those jobs, both in how women are treated and how they perceive themselves. There is plenty of convincing evidence, but very little of what’s in the film comes as a surprise. Code: Debugging the Gender Gap is totally well-intentioned, but it’s an entry-level discussion point into the issues facing women in technology. Reynolds’ documentary is breezy and engaging, complete with slickly assembled infographics as well as talking heads from women that work for Dreamworks, Facebook, Twitter & other youth-friendly brands. It should make for a decently entertaining part of a middle school’s assembly programming.

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