WonderWomen strives for inclusivity in programming industry

A newly founded organisation called WonderWomen is working to ease the access to opportunities for women and other minorities who are hoping to enter and advance in the programming sector, primarily a male-dominated field. 

Midori Koçak founded WonderWomen as a solidarity group primarily for women who have been marginalised from the software development industry and to provide support in finding job opportunities and establishing teams. 

According to Koçak, WonderWomen is an organisation that hopes to combat several challenges faced by female programmers including marginalisation, wage discrimination and being perceived as an “ornament.”

Asked about the support offered by WonderWomen, Koçak told Ahval: 

“I share freelance jobs and job postings. I also try to review the resumes of people who want it and give them advice. I act as a reference as much as I can for positions that I know. Instead of running a career site, I try to help and share job openings one at a time.”

Koçak, who previously worked as a software engineer in the Czech Republic, started WonderWomen only two weeks ago and has since established a team of about 50 software developers. The group’s activities are already beginning to ramp up. 

"For example, we have got four full-time job positions and four freelance projects in one week. There are exciting projects that are coming from female entrepreneurs. I don't get any money for it, but it's not tiring. The sense of contributing to people and society is too valuable to be bought with money." 

Koçak sees that providing opportunities to increase inclusivity is a must considering the lack of female representation in the sector, particularly compared to other fields in Turkey. According to Koçak, the proportion of women in medical schools in the country was 28 percent in 1978, a figure that has nearly doubled to 50 percent today.

“In the field of informatics and software, these rates are very low. Informatics is seen as a male profession, but this is a situation that will improve as it did in medicine. That’s the main idea behind this solidarity movement.”

There is good reason to believe that the number of female developers will increase due to the high levels of interest showed by women in software, Koçak said. 

“In fact, the first programmer, Ada Lovelace, was a woman, and similar to secretary and typist jobs, programming was seen as a women's profession until the 1970s. However, I hear that women who are interested in the profession have been told 'you can't do this’. or ‘the job is difficult’, or ‘a woman can never be a programmer.' This is due to incorrect policies in companies or the sector.”

As for now, women who do become programmers continue to come face to face with challenges in a male-dominated industry such as wage discrimination and a lack of respect in the workplace.

“Women who work in the same positions as men make 30 percent less. Although there are many women who are technically very successful at software and IT conferences, men are generally invited, and the panels are entirely composed of men, something that people don't find strange. In meetings at work, women aren't given the right to speak, and when they do speak out on a subject, they are seen as creating problems. As women, we strive to change this,” Koçak said 

Women in the workplace are “treated as ‘ornaments,’ instead of as colleagues”, she said.

But, so far, men have reacted positively to the existence of an organisation such as WonderWomen, Koçak said. 

"The reactions coming from men are generally very positive. When two or three people lay out the issues to someone who doesn't understand the subject, they become convinced and want to provide support. Men are not aware of the discrimination they cause. One of our goals is to create awareness.”

The lack of diversity in the sector is not only limited to women, something that Koçak is trying to remedy through the activities of WonderWomen. 

"WonderWomen is also open to individuals who are gender non-conforming, non-binary, trans, queer and intersex. I would like to state this in particular. One of the nice things about a woman's group in Turkey is to include these subgroups. In the field of software, we don't have many queer members in the country, but I think good examples will increase this considerably,” she said.

Koçak said inclusivity in the sector was not only a social issue, but also helped boost a company’s bottom line. 

“Companies in Europe are trying to increase the numbers of people on their teams through hiring people with different nationalities, LGBTI individuals and women; because, as the diversity of a team increases, profitability and product quality also go up. This has become standard policy in Western companies." 

Asked about how she decided to name the organisation WonderWomen, Koçak said: “I had to find a name for the group. Being a pioneer for women in the software industry and fighting against prejudices is something like being a superhero. That's how I came up with the name." 

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.