The big problem with trying to eliminate discrimination? The people with the problem are precisely the ones who don't--or won't--recognize it as a problem. Rooting out sexism in tech is a prime example, as one documentary filmmaker learned.

The film CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday, succeeds in getting all kinds of women to discuss the issue but the testimonials from men are few and far between. 

"It was hard to find guys who fit the 'brogrammer' image to talk to me," said director and producer Robin Hauser Reynolds in an interview with Inc. on Tuesday. Brogrammer, of course, is the popular stereotype that refers to macho--and often sexist--coders. "They don't want to be singled out." 

"Guys in the industry, they're like: 'What's the big deal?,' and don't really understand how that affects somebody down the line," she added. It's not a huge surprise that those same guys aren't jumping at the chance to air their views on camera. 

As the film calls out the glaring lack of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, it also draws on interviews with success stories: White House CTO Megan Smith, Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant, and Pixar Director of Photography Danielle Feinberg, to name a few. It looks back on important women scientists throughout history--including Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelace--to communicate that women have both the drive, and the aptitude, to make it in the industry. What's more, technology actively needs them: By 2020, there will be one million vacant jobs for computer scientists, and not enough people to fill them, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While men dominate the field today, it's worth noting that this wasn't always the case. The overall number of women in tech declined significantly circa 1984, and as NPR points out, this correlated with the advent of the personal computer. The film also suggests that the brogrammer stereotype--which entered into popular culture around the same time--actually dissuaded girls from learning to code. Brogrammers make appearances in clips from movies like War Games, and Mean Girls, as well as the hit HBO TV series Silicon Valley, but real-life brogrammers are scarce in the documentary. 

Pax Dickinson, the former CTO of Business Insider and now the CTO at his own startup Glimpse Labs, is one of just a handful of men interviewed in the film. Dickinson had come under fire in 2013 for tweeting many sexist and racist remarks. Here's just one example: "'misogyny' is 'hatred of women.' It is not misogyny to tell a sexist joke, or to fail to take a woman seriously, or to enjoy boobies." He was quickly fired from his role at Business Insider.

Ahead of the interview, Hauser Reynolds says that she was warned by Glimpse's other co-founder, Elissa Shevinsky: "Don't expect this big epiphany. It's not like he's changed a whole lot." Hauser Reynolds added that Shevinsky and Dickinson insisted on doing the interview together. 

The scene itself is brief, with Dickinson often glancing at Shevinsky for support, as if asking: "Is it okay what I'm saying?" Hauser Reynolds recalled to The Atlantic in a recent Q&A.

"That was the most difficult interview I did because I just had to keep asking the same questions in about six different ways," Hauser Reynolds said. "I don't know, Pax might be a really nice guy. What I know is that he's a perfect example of this sort of bias, and in some ways with him, I do believe it's a little bit unconscious. It needs to become very conscious."

If the image of the brogrammer and what he represents is in fact responsible for the gender gap that CODE discusses, shining a light--and the brighter the better--on this culture will be a crucial part of rooting out sexism in tech. 

Published on: Apr 23, 2015