Women Who Code Manila fights workplace discrimination a line of code at a time

Cover art Samantha Gonzales

Words by

Digital Reporter

Every meet‑up with Women Who Code (WWCode) Manila starts with an introduction. Who are you? What experience do you have with coding? Why do you want to learn to code? And through these brief discussions, the attendees found out that they were not alone in facing discrimination in working for or even applying for a job in the field of computer programming and web development.

“During one of our meet‑ups, someone said that they had tried to apply as a web developer in a company and was denied because the company only hires men for that job. She was discouraged even further when the person in‑charge told her that they only hire women for sales,” Michie Ang, director of WWCode Manila and co‑founder of Tecsoft Apps told SparkUp in an interview after an HTML coding session last August. “Someone else had the experience of searching for web development jobs in a job site—let’s not say which—only to find that most companies specify that they only hire men. And then if you’re hired, there’s a possibility that you’ll have a lower salary than your male counterpart, or that you’ll start at the same salary but the man has a higher chance to get a salary raise.”

WWCode holds regular meet‑ups in different venues to provide a space for people who are interested in coding. There, experienced and newbie coders alike can code together, share their experiences and gab with their new found friends. It’s less of a coding tutorial and more like a group study session. Everyone else goes at their own pace and at the end of the day, they share what they’ve learned with the group. Meet‑ups tend to be an hour long and about a specific coding language like HTML, JavaScript, CSS and Python.

“There’s still discrimination. We still have an unconscious bias that when you say coding or engineering, those are fields for men,” Ms. Ang explained. “WWCode Manila is here to explore what the situation really is like in the Philippines.” WWCode Manila started January this year, and is a chapter of the larger Women Who Code network—which is currently 60 cities and 20 countries strong. The network aims to encourage tech professionals to reach their career goals, especially since women in tech face issues such as a high quit rate and a lower chance for promotion.

But why is it important to have women in programming‑related jobs? The answer, Ms. Ang said, has a lot to do with the reason why you program in the first place. “Programming is all above solving problems, and you find better solutions when you have a diverse team who can look at the problem from different perspectives,” she said. “If you’re a team of just one group of people then you might miss a problem or two because it doesn’t concern you, but concerns other people. Maybe the person who could find that problem and come up with a solution is a woman, because it’s relevant to her experiences.”

“I’m not saying that the programming team has to made up solely of women,” Ms. Ang added. “There has to be a mix of genders, backgrounds, age, etc. If you’re trying to solve a problem, it’s better to have a lot of solutions in order for you to create the best solution available. If you’re trying to build a product, a team that is diverse will have a better understanding of that product.”

Women in the Philippines also have another hurdle in learning to code: the prevailing image that it’s our role to stay at home and take care of the children. Ms. Ang recalled one meet‑up when the security guard of the building asked her about Women Who Code and showed interest in learning to code. “But she didn’t have any time because she works from Monday to Saturday, and dedicates her Sundays to taking care of her family,” Ms. Ang said. “I told her that she’s welcome to join us when she finds time. I also had a similar conversation with a waitress who had the same problem.”

That’s why in their upcoming Hackathon this November 24, there will also be a kiddie hackathon for coders with children. “Some interested participants have children who they can’t leave behind, and we hope to teach them too. We’ve also realized that women rarely join hackathons in the Philippines, and we want them to join this one so they can boost their confidence. So that next year they’ll join hackathons that aren’t specifically catered for women.” Men can join the WWCode November hackathon, an event where coders and programmers dedicate a day or two solely to programming, as mentors.

“Programming gives so many opportunities to everyone, and can be used in different fields,” Ms. Ang said. “We hope to reach and help more people. Together we will change the face of the Philippines in the technological field.”

Interested coders, whether new or experienced, can check out WWCode Manila’s MeetUp and Facebook page future study group sessions and events.