Telling stories for social change

This week we talked to Dinah Davis about how she uses content to create awareness around some of the challenges that are faced by women in STEM fields.

Kendra: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me about your project: Code Like A Girl! Before we dive in, can you tell us a little bit about your story?

Dinah: As a girl, I had an early love of math which grew into mathematics degree,  a masters in cryptography, a career in security, and becoming a technical leader. I’ve been a developer at Blackberry, built educational software at D2L and today I lead the engineering team at a Waterloo startup that protects small companies from getting hacked.

When I was in high school I knew I loved math, but I didn’t see the full opportunity of careers available to me in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. I am very glad that tech and computer science found me. I would love to help it find other smart young women before they go to university so they can be part of it too. This is why I started Code Like A Girl.

Kendra: Code Like A Girl has an awesome space on Medium, where women and men are sharing their thoughts. Why are you dedicating your (limited) time to curating a blog?

Dinah: The Code Like A Girl publication is something I started to advocate for women in tech after not finding this type of publication on Medium. I had been blogging for several years on my own, but I thought this message would be more powerful being delivered by more voices along with my own.

This project is something I care about and spend my time on because it the best way I have to amplify the voices of women in tech and the feminist men that support us.

Kendra: We’re (obviously) huge believers in the power of the written word, and in the role storytelling can play in spreading a message. Is that content that’s being shared prompting discussions?

Dinah: I try to include many different perspectives of Women In Tech issues. Some are bold and controversial, some are exactly what you might expect, but all the voices need to be heard and amplified. We get a range of responses to our articles, but I must say most of it is positive.

Our most controversial piece so far was the article that Clarisse Schneider wrote about experiences of herself and her female friends had at university. I love how she wrote so honestly about what was happening to her friends and herself. She received a lot of support from friends and other women in tech for the article. But it was also trolled on the University of Waterloo subreddit with many nasty comments about women in tech.

To me, that proved that we need to continue to write articles just like this! You can find the article here: An Open Letter to the First Years.

Kendra: Your mission for Code Like A Girl revolves around creating awareness – both about challenges and opportunities that women face in STEM fields. Can you speak to some of the hurdles you’re facing?

Dinah: Over the last 50 years, a lot of change has happened to remove overt sexism, what remains today unconscious bias. I believe the only way we are going to make to change unconscious bias is by talking about it and raising awareness of the issues that still exist.

Kendra: I’ve worked with a few startups and passion projects now, and they all have one thing in common – a tight budget! Unconscious bias is a pretty big issue to tackle with limited resources. Does this impact the type of work you do?

Dinah: I have no budget at all. Any of the Code Like A Girl merchandise or supplies have come from my own pocket. I would love to have money to buy computers to run scratch coding classes for young girls, or be able to make code like a girl t-shirts, and more Code Like A Girl stickers to distribute to all the tech companies in town as well as schools.

I do, however, have a few amazing people that have donated both their time and energy to Code Like A Girl. A huge thanks goes to my designer Kristina Foster for doing the logo and mobile website! Another thanks goes to Sean Yo who co-edits the medium publication with me. Without them, Code Like A Girl would not be what it is today.

I am also grateful for all the Code Like A Girl supporters who share content via social media, hand out stickers, and spread the word of what we are doing with Code Like A Girl.

Kendra: You really have a great team! I think the number of talented people who are rallying around you speaks to how important your mission is. What do you think is making publications like yours so successful in inspiring change?

Dinah: I think real change in people comes when they identify with what other people have been through. We saw the most change in Canada with the Refugee Crisis when we saw that little boy washed up on the shore. Why? Because we all saw our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, or grandchildren in the same scenario.

When we identify with the issues we are more likely to do something about it. I believe it is important to share as many perspectives as possible so that we have more of a chance for people to identify with the issues of women in tech and decide they want to be part of the movement.

We hope the stories we share and amplify through the Code Like A Girl Medium publication are able to evoke this same kind of empathy in our readers about the opportunity and need for change in women in technology.

Check out Code Like A Girl on Medium and visit their website to learn more about Dinah’s mission.