Addressing the gender gap with Django Girls

  • Sylvain Fankhauser

I recently attended a Django Girls workshop in Lausanne, along with my colleagues Stéphanie and Raphaël. Django Girls is a non-profit organization that aims to "inspire women to fall in love with programming", and to do so they organize free programming workshops all around the world. These are usually held in the form of a weekend where participants start from scratch and learn how to create their own website with Django by following a tutorial, while having coaches available to answer inevitable questions. One of the particularities of these workshops is that registrations are restricted to women. If you're wondering why, let me tell you...

A short story

I graduated from the ETML (École Technique des Métiers de Lausanne) in 2005, after studying computer science for 3 years. The picture of the graduation shows 26 smiling people. Among them, 0 women. Zero. And that's not because women in my class failed: they couldn't since there just were no women in the class. Not a single one.

Fast forward 4 years, in 2009: new graduation, this time for a bachelor in computer science. The picture of the graduation this time shows 20 smiling people who just got their diploma. Among them, not a single woman.

Fast forward to 2018: I've been in the IT for the last 10 years, creating websites and applications, sometimes with a team, sometimes on my own. In the last 10 years, I can count the number of women I worked with and who were developers on the fingers of one single hand. And I guess this number comes with no surprise, considering the amount of women graduating from IT schools.

Bringing more diversity

The gender gap in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields is a reality, and, in this binary society where everything still has "for boys" and "for girls" labels, Django Girls events are a very good opportunity for attendees to get to know a domain that is still wrongly perceived by many as "for boys". I hope that, out of the dozen attendees, this workshop has inspired some of them to pursue a career in the IT, or at least shown them that programming is fun and is not a "for boys" thing.

picture of all attendees

This particular Django Girls workshop was organized by people from the department of computational biology from the UNIL. It was the first time I attended such a workshop with coaches being 100% women (Raphaël and I were there only as "backup coaches", bringing our expertise if needed), and I realized that's important for the image you give to the attendees: it helps breaking the image of a domain that is restricted to men and shows that expertise is not related to gender.

Coaching is also a very good opportunity to learn from others: most of the questions raised by the attendees make you think about why things have to be done a certain way, which can sometimes be complicated or illogical, and you can't just answer "because that's the way it is". It forces you to think about why we do things the way we do, and understand them better.

It was the third time I attended a Django Girls workshop as a coach and I will never stop being impressed by the patience and the ability to learn of the attendees (they basically have to learn everything in one single day). Nothing beats the feeling of seeing the spark in the eyes of an attendee understanding a concept and exclamating "aaaah yes, I got it"!

At the end of the day you can sense how tired everyone is, but also happy to have taken part in such an experience, learned new things, and maybe started making new plans for the future.

Now what?

I hope this summary made you want to get involved in Django Girls, either by participating as an attendee or a coach, by organizing your own Django Girls workshop by supporting them, or by following the tutorial to learn how to create websites.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank once again the organizers for making such an event happen. I can't wait for the next one!

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