We finally did it. Our 11th software engineering bootcamp finally reached 50% women.
Many, many people did not think this was possible. In Japan? A country ranked in the bottom 25% of the world when it comes to gender equality. In English? When Japan’s population lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to English.
We did and it was not easy. In fact, it took us nearly 3 years of sustained and consistent focus to get to 50% women in our full-time course. I wanted to write this blog post to show many of the things we did and be transparent about the reality (both ups and downs) we experienced in trying to reach this number 💪
A couple of notes:
- This is mostly about recruiting women into our course and community building, not about our course itself, though there are many things that we have also done in our program to make it more inclusive. That will be for another blog post in the future.
- If you are unfamiliar with our Immersive bootcamp, please note that it’s not easy to get in. All applicants need to pass our technical and non-technical standards. You can read more about that here. We address this barrier with our introduction to programming class. You can read about that further down this article.
- This is written from my point of view. I’m one of the co-founders of Code Chrysalis and have been involved in getting women into STEM throughout my tech career.
TREND OF OUR CLASSES 📊
While we did have majority women in our first Immersive cohort (3 out of our 5 first students were women), it was a fluke. This was followed by nearly a year of NO women in our Immersive cohorts. It took us a long time before we saw any consistency; that was frustrating.
Below is a chart showing the percentages of women and some things that happened around those time periods. We will talk about Foundations and scholarships below.
^ Foundations is our introduction to programming part-time course
* Includes a scholarship recipient in the class
Events are a big cornerstone of our business — they serve both as a way for us to promote ourselves and a way to foster a particular community around us that encourages participation, inclusivity, and innovation.
You can’t build a peaceful home without caring about the neighbors around you.
On average, we run 2 events per week and the majority of them (95%+) are free to attend. Events have been a primary vehicle for our mission of reaching out to women.
To date, 51.8% of our events have either specifically targeted women or had women representation.
As of Feb 26, 2020, we have hosted 305 events since we started running events as Code Chrysalis.
Out of those 305 events, 48 (~15.7%) of them have been targeting women specifically. These include events done in collaboration with wonderful organizations and groups like Women Who Code Tokyo, AnitaB.org, HexagonUX, and DevJapan.
We also have held 110 events (~36%) with women representation. These events encompass workshops led by a woman, or events with female panelists or speakers.
A large portion of our events (~43%) are workshops with just one speaker. For single-speaker workshops, 56% are female-led. This means that when it comes to single-speaker events, we are actually at gender parity.
You can see all of our data that I pulled from our Meetup.com account here to see how I did the calculations. I also added in data from events that Code Chrysalis hosted in conjunction with other organizations, but we did not put on our own Meetup.com page for some forgotten reason.
While 51.8% is pretty good, there is certainly room for improvement. We are setting a goal of female representation on 100% of our panels and all the panels that we speak on are diverse and inclusive as well.
Creating Inclusive Events 👋
For some events that were NOT outwardly targeting women nor featuring a female speaker, we also worked behind the scenes towards raising female numbers.
For example, by paying attention to our event banners and making sure they reflect the diversity of our event attendees, we can make the events feel more relatable to a women audience.
We also spend more time encouraging women to attend (mostly through writing personal messages to women). When we encourage women to attend, it gives them the courage to step out of their comfort zone.
Through these actions, we have seen a more equal attendance at our events.
One series of events that I am proud of was done in conjunction with DevJapan. Caven Cade Mitchell, the founder of DevJapan, was one of the first people that I met when I came to Japan to start Code Chrysalis. He and I bonded over our love of community organization and he made me a co-organizer of DevJapan to help make their events more diverse.
DevJapan had just over 2,000 members at the time and hosted a monthly coding session, where people would come together, code, and hangout. These monthly events consistently drew 60–70 people or more. But while we saw women on DevJapan’s members list, their events were overwhelmingly male. Women were interested, but not coming to the events.
In order to make DevJapan events more welcoming, I started hosting a women-only coding session (it eventually became women and non-binary) two hours before the start of the usual event. It was exactly the same event, but marketed only to women. Women felt more comfortable knowing that they wouldn’t be the only woman in a room full of men and it was a great way for them to meet each other and bond. Many of the women did not have other women friends who also coded.
This event lowered the loneliness barrier for women to attend. It was a safe place for them to get comfortable with each other, with the venue, with being a woman interested in coding.
We did not announce any end to the women-only coding session or the beginning of the usual coding session. They flowed seamlessly together. This also meant that at the start of every monthly DevJapan event, the big table in the middle of the room would already be lively and packed with women.
The first few times this happened, it was funny watching the men come in. Some of them didn’t think they were at the correct event — there were a dozen plus women in the middle of the room, is this a tech event? 😯
But after a while, it became the norm and that’s exactly the way we envision it should be.
It was through these women only coding sessions that we saw a noticeable increase in the number of women attending the regular event. I remember feeling intense pride when a woman came in during the regular event, skipping the women-only session they usually attended, because they had a lunch date. They felt comfortable in this space and didn’t need us anymore. That was exactly the purpose of it.
While our events are free for participants, putting them on is both time-consuming and costly for us.
Hosting an event means time and money spent on:
- creating content
- promotions and ads
- personally reaching out to people
- venue, electricity, water
- coordination before, during, and after the event
- food and drinks (sometimes)
- feedback, aftermath
During the first year and a half of Code Chrysalis, when it was mostly me running the women-only events, it meant that many of my Saturdays and weeknights were consumed by hosting events. There were times when we had fewer than 5 attendees at an event. But we knew that consistency was key and that it would eventually pay off.
Events are really important to us and we wanted to make sure that there was more visibility. Check out this guide we wrote on female-friendly tech events in Tokyo.
We are so honored that TRI-AD (Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development) and yamaneco have sponsored full-scholarships for our Immersive bootcamp. These scholarships came during critical times and helped pull us out of our diversity drought.
These scholarships helped boost the profile of Code Chrysalis and draw more diversity into our student body. For each of these scholarships, all of the finalists ended up enrolling in the Immersive, regardless of winning the scholarship or not.
I wish I had data to analyze the impact of these scholarships, but unfortunately, we did not have that ability at the time.
INTRODUCTION TO PROGRAMMING COURSE 🚀
Early on, we knew how tough it was, especially for women, to get into our Immersive Bootcamp.
Women are less likely to be in technical or quantitative roles and less likely to have studied STEM in university [see wiki]. Even though girls in school have the same math and science test scores as boys, the lack of exposure later in life puts most women at a disadvantage before they even apply to our bootcamp.
So, we started an introduction to programming class called Foundations. Our first class started in February 2018, during CC3 (our third Immersive bootcamp cohort).
The aim of Foundations is to gain confidence and autonomy through coding. Students are encouraged to ask questions, to not be afraid to say “I don’t know”, and to embrace mistakes. We wanted to undo the bad habits that people have developed through years in traditional school systems and messaging that has been particularly tough towards women.
It took us nearly a year before we started seeing a sustained pipeline of women applicants to the Immersive bootcamp. Now, our Foundations class is a reliable springboard for women (and men and those in between!) to get into the Immersive bootcamp.
We are also inspired to hear from female Foundations graduates who have found usefulness in their newfound technical skills at their current jobs — from being able to talk more comfortably to engineers to doing more advanced things on spreadsheets.
As you can see from the above, this progress has not been a perfect upward slope but we should not be deterred by the downs. We are proud of how far we have come and our progress motivates us to do more and be better.
Creating an inclusive environment through our events, promoting the visibility of STEM women, and creating an introduction to programming class were key to seeing the number of women in our cohorts rise. We hope to continue our efforts and find more things that work. It was not just us, though!
There is an African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child” [link].
We think of this often. It takes a village to make long-lasting change. I would like to take this time to thank all the people, companies, and organizations that are part of our village.
Collectively, our village has:
- 🙌🏻 encouraged female colleagues, partners, friends, relatives, etc. to attend and participate in tech events
- 🏆sponsored scholarships and increased awareness
- 💃🏻💃🏻collaborated on events
- 📢spoken up about gender inequality
- 📰actively promoted women in STEM by featuring them on podcasts, panels, news articles, etc.
- 🚨been a beacon of outspoken representation
- 💡coached, mentored, and guided women
- and more!
If you would like to join our village for any of the above or something else you have in mind, please reach out to us: [email protected].
Thank you for reading.
More Reading on Gender Equality:
- Why gender parity matters by the World Economic Forum
More Reading on Code Chrysalis:
- Becoming a Technical Product Manager — Sora Maruyama’s Graduate Story
- How Kumiko Haraguchi Became a Frontend Developer — Graduate Story
- Female-Friendly Tech Events in Tokyo
Code Chrysalis is a full-stack coding school located in the heart of Tokyo🗼. Our programs include a 12-week advanced software engineering bootcamp, and a beginner coding course in English and in Japanese.
See why we are an industry leader in tech education in Japan.