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Congresswoman Suzan DelBene speaks with students and staff at Ada Developers Academy about obstacles to minorities entering the tech field.
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, center, speaks with students and staff at Ada Developers Academy about obstacles to minorities entering the tech field.

Tech’s diversity gap — and particularly the gender gap —  is starting to feel like a well-trodden subject. But despite increased efforts from large tech employers, minorities and women are still drastically underrepresented in the tech world.

In celebration of Women’s Equality Day on Friday, U.S. Congresswoman Suzan DelBene — who worked at Microsoft from 1989 to 1998 and then held executive roles at and Nimble Technology— visited Seattle’s Ada Developers Academy to discuss this persistent issue with staff and students of this women-only program. And many of these women agree: there is no single program or incentive that can fix tech’s diversity problems.

Part of the reason diversity efforts fail is because companies are looking for a quick and easy solution that can boost their demographic numbers.

Two years ago, Facebook announced a system of incentives to encourage recruiters to bring on members of minorities, but last month revealed that their system has had almost no impact. Other companies have faced difficulty with similar attempts.

Instead of a demographics-booster, closing the diversity gap will take efforts on many fronts that make the environment in tech workplaces more welcoming to women and other minorities.

Ada students listed a multitude of things that have kept them from entering the work force: a lack of role models, the discomfort of being the only woman in a room, or simply being told women aren’t suited to tech work.

“People think, ‘if we just get more women in the pipeline, if we just throw more money at this problem, it will be fixed,” said Ada student Jade Vance.

“Everyone wants to have a black and white view, no one wants to say, that this is a complex problem that will take many different approaches,” student Elle Vargas added. Both students agreed that checking off demographics during hiring won’t make a workplace more inclusive.

Ada Developers Academy is a tution-free coding education program for women. About 100 women graduate from the program each year.
Ada Developers Academy graduates about 100 women each year, most of whom go on to fill full-time positions in Seattle’s tech industry.

Ada has been working towards a more well-rounded approach to bringing women into the tech world, including offering counseling for students and integrating social justice training with their courses. The program also works with Seattle companies on diversity training and creating an inclusive environment.

“We talk about what it means to be a woman entering a male dominated space, to be a non-white woman entering a white-dominated space,” said Crystal Hess, Ada’s program director. “We do a lot of great things, but we can’t go out and change society.”

Congresswoman DelBene agreed.

“This idea that you have to be a certain way or look a certain way or be a particular type of person to be a part of an organization is a barrier we have to break down,” said DelBene. “Role models and mentorship (are) very important, and it’s great to see that these students are realizing that.”

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