An alley-oop for women in tech!
Sue Harnett, a former professional basketball player, is the Founder, President, and Board Chair of Rewriting the Code – an organisation striving to support and empower college, graduate, and early career women in tech, through intersectional communities, mentorship, industry experience and educational resources.
Electronic Specifier’s Paige West spoke with Sue about inequality in the tech industry, the community Rewriting the Code is building and what role basketball plays in all of this!
Sue first became aware of the problem of inequality in tech around five and a half years ago when she realised that many women who had been passionate about engineering and science were dropping out after just one or two classes.
Rewriting the Code is conducting research to understand why women often quit the tech industry. Why do you feel women often quit?
On the undergraduate side, I think that women are dropping out first and foremost because they feel like they don't belong. They need to be around other people like themselves and see women who are ahead of them in the roles that they aspire to be. They also need to be able to interact with them to understand what their career journeys are, and the types of challenges that they're solving with technology.
On the professional side, women are underrepresented, especially Black and Latino women. Companies need to have a more diverse network or they're going to lose the ones that they get.
Your LinkedIn profile states that you are “changing the game for young women entering careers in computer science and engineering guided by principles of the game of basketball”. Could you explain your thoughts behind this?
It's all about belonging, and teams. For myself, I was a first-generation college student, and I grew up in a very middle-class house in New York City and found my way into a very affluent school, and didn't fit in. And it was really my basketball team, these 13 other amazing women who I looked up to and who told me that I belonged here. And every woman I speak to who has left tech, I realised that they didn’t have a team. They didn’t have a community.
So, we set out to create a community that wasn’t limited by the school you’ve attended. We now have a global community of over 15,000 women – 10,000 are in their early-stage careers and 5,400 are undergraduates.
Within Rewriting the Code, you have created the Black Wings community. Could you explain what this is and what it hopes to achieve?
So, three years ago, I started to talk to some of our Black/African American women in the community and asked them if Rewriting the Code was providing everything for them that they needed, and the answer was very quickly no. They really felt like they wanted to have a community within the community, ideally. Their vision was to create an organisation where, no matter which school you attended, you could join this community.
This particular community has always been very student-led with five student leaders and, in the last three years, they’ve grown from 250 women to just over 1,500. Those numbers are significant and most of it came from networking and word of mouth.
A similar-style Latino community started a year later, which has now surpassed 1,000 members.
How can companies partner with Rewriting the Code and what does that involve?
The majority of our operational funding comes from company partnerships. We sit down with companies and look at their recruiting and diversity strategies and discuss how we can help them find the right candidates.
Instead of recruiters travelling to individual campuses to try and find pockets of underrepresented people, we’re making this process much more efficient and effective by saying “here’s a community of women looking for an opportunity”.
What would be your advice for women and young girls considering a career in tech?
Women belong in tech, and they can’t let anything get in their way. They bring such a unique perspective and should not be the least bit intimidated by the fact that maybe they’re a minority.
I think it’s important that we’re always looking to lift those behind us – I ask women to make sure that they’re not just taking care of themselves, but those around them too. Because if you just worry about yourself, fast forward 25 years and we’ll be in the same situation we’re in today and it will always be a struggle.