March is Women’s History Month, and women have come a long way since the days of fighting for the vote. But women around the nation and around the globe are still fighting for equality in many realms, including in education, technology, equal pay, campus sexual assault, and beyond. All month long, msnbc.com is highlighting women leaders who are fighting for the women’s rights issues of 2015.
Shannon Turner loves attending technology events. But she doesn't love showing up to find that she's the only woman in the room. "Not only did I feel like I didn't belong, but I often felt that others were talking down to me and not taking me seriously," the homepage of Hear Me Code, reads.
Turner started Hear Me Code, a series of free coding seminars for women, after finding that the unwelcoming environment at tech events is part of the reason many women stop attending in the first place.
"When I talked to the other women at these events, I realized that it wasn't just me. We all had this shared experience: feeling isolated, intimidated, unwelcome. It's no wonder that most women didn't come back for a second event," Turner says.
"Hear Me Code is my attempt to address the gender disparity in tech, and in so doing, empower others to create the change they wish to see," she says.
Turner answered our questions about her work to make spaced for women in the tech sector. Check out her answers below and watch the video to hear more from her and the women of Hear Me Code.
Tell us about Hear Me Code. What inspired you to start it?
Hear Me Code is a nonprofit offering free, beginner-friendly women-only coding classes in D.C. I felt frustrated being one of the only women at tech events and figured since I was self-taught, I could teach other women how to code and create the community I wanted to see. It started informally with just four women around my kitchen table; I didn't think it would ever be more than that, but a little over a year later, our group is over 1,000 women strong.
What's the lasting impact of the work Hear Me Code is doing?
Hear Me Code is more than just a coding class. Yes, you learn how to make apps and create websites, but it's just as much about building community and developing the next set of women leaders in tech. Because there's such a strong focus on leadership development and peer mentoring, women are learning and growing together and building a supportive community. Already, women are finding work as coders, starting their own groups, and mentoring others. Over 40 women who started as students have become teachers and teaching assistants. Add all of that up, and it's big change.
Why is it so important that women are well represented in tech and that they have the skills you're helping them get?
Right now, women's voices aren't being heard. For all of the talk of the talent gap, we're still not listening to half of the population. I want to unlock that other half, because when we change the ratio in tech, it's not just about women finding challenging, exciting work. It's about women helping to build the future. It's about women having a say in what the world of tomorrow looks like.
What's your advice to women who want to be involved in tech?
Community is everything. A lot of the learn to code websites are designed to be very solo activities, but I don't think anyone learns well that way. Pair up with a friend, join a meetup, find your community. Learning to code is like learning another language, and if you have others you can learn and grow with, you'll pick it up much more quickly.
You can't sit back and wait for great talent to find you! Getting a diverse recruitment pool takes effort. If you're not getting a diverse set of applicants, it usually comes down to how your job descriptions are worded and where you're promoting your job opening. But if you're not an expert on getting a diverse set of applicants, you should hire someone who is.
What's your hope for women of the next generation?
I hope that the next generation of women leaders continue to extend the ladder once they've climbed up. I hope that change continues because as far as we've come, we still have so far to go especially when it comes to equal pay and equal treatment in the workplace.