If you ask Pooja Agarwal, COO at Flatiron School, she’ll tell you there isn’t a single barrier for women entering a career in technology — there are multitudes. And most are put up long before it’s time to pick a college major.
According to Agarwal, some of these hurdles are the result of outdated learning models, deeply rooted within our educational system, that dampen women’s academic, and later career, confidence.
“Women suffer more significantly from imposter syndrome,” said Agarwal. “Based on the way we are hardwired, women are more afraid to fail and make mistakes than our male counterparts.”
Other hurdles, she said, are gender-specific disadvantages, like child-rearing responsibilities, lack of access to tech education or encouragement to pursue a STEM career, and minimal representation in the industry.
“Representation is a simple but powerful thing,” said Agarwal, who referenced a 2019 report that states men outnumber women in the tech industry two to one. “A lot of women need to see it to believe it — that they can succeed in this industry. Our female leadership and teachers constantly showcase the success of our female alumni to prove it’s attainable.”
When designed with accessibility in mind, coding bootcamps can be a powerful solution for solving the skills gap and increasing representation among tech talent. Flatiron School offers immersive, career-changing bootcamps that teach students the skills they need to enter the in-demand fields of software development, data science, cybersecurity and product design.
Flatiron School has been an active champion of diversity in tech since it opened its doors in 2012, starting within its own walls. Flatiron School’s employee base is made up of 55% women and 43% men. To date, the tech educator has awarded $1 million in scholarships to women through partnerships with companies like CitiBank and Lesbians Who Tech. Its current initiative, Women Take Tech, is offering scholarships of up to $3,000 to empower students who identify as women to bring their diverse backgrounds and perspectives into the tech industry.
Moms returning to the workforce or women changing careers have the options to study full-time or at their own pace, with online and on-campus learning options.
While scholarships like these offer access, Flatiron School goes a step further to provide much-needed flexibility and support that is often lacking at more traditional institutions. For instance, moms returning to the workforce or women changing careers have the options to study full-time or at their own pace, with online and on-campus learning options.
“There are so many variables in women’s lives,” said Agarwal. “We work very hard to come up with every option possible to make our program a reality for them. We have technical coaches who offer after-hours support for students who need to study at night.”
Flatiron’s progressive educational structure was what enabled Jennifer Janette Gomez, a 2020 graduate of Flatiron School’s software engineering bootcamp, to finally invest in her own career change.
“I’ve been on my own since I was 18,” said Gomez. “I didn’t have an option to decide what I wanted to do. I had to pick the first thing that fell in my lap.”
By the time Gomez entered her 30s, she had established a successful career in hospitality and event sales — but she couldn’t shake her dream of working in the tech industry. She took a leap of faith, giving herself six months of self-study to decide if software development was right for her. When she was ready to solidify her skills, she enrolled at Flatiron School.
“You have a lot more to prove, not only as a woman, but a queer woman of color without a degree,” she said. “I wanted to learn in a place where I felt comfortable, and it was clear Flatiron School was advocating for people of all walks of life.”
During the program, when imposter syndrome struck, Gomez was grateful to be surrounded by women who could relate to her struggles.
"There is so much proof backing up the value of having diverse teams. We all should have a stake in fixing the gender gap in tech."
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, learning at an accelerated rate,” said Gomez. “At times I felt really discouraged, like I was falling behind. Having coaches who were women of color there to lift you up, and say, ‘I’ve been in your shoes, you can do it!’ was so empowering. When I was in a pit of despair, they were my biggest cheerleaders.”
One month after graduation, Gomez landed a job at a cybersecurity startup. Today she is a software engineer in Microsoft’s highly coveted Leap Apprenticeship Program.
Another 2020 grad, Nicole Janeway Bills, credited Flatiron School with creating a culture of safety.
“I felt very supported,” said Bills. “My cohort was 50/50, female to male. Our campus lead was a woman, as were our mentors. The school went above and beyond academics, hosting social events, proactively checking in on students’ emotional well-being, and soliciting and responding to student feedback.”
Like Gomez, Bills secured a job after graduating from the data science program and now works as a data scientist at Atlas Research.
From an inclusive, hands-on learning environment to rigorous coaching that ensures graduates land jobs, Flatiron School is diligent about developing confident, thriving tech professionals. And that success is backed by hard numbers: In its 2020 jobs report, 90% of women alumni successfully landed jobs post-graduation and earned an average starting salary of $72,280, almost $4,000 higher than the average starting salaries for its male graduates.
“There is so much proof backing up the value of having diverse teams,” said Agarwal. “We all should have a stake in fixing the gender gap in tech. Ours is creating an alternative learning structure; a space of comfort, belonging and inclusion where women are prepared to challenge the boundaries.”-30-