Transforming tech culture

Sophie Viger is the managing director of école 42, a teacher-less, tuition-free coding school in paris.

Why did you decide to start a career in the tech sector?

To be honest, I did not really choose a career as a developer. Before embarking on tech studies, I tried out many different paths, from biology to musicology. I was interested in everything and never truly specialized in a field.

When I discovered programming, I realized I was not only very good at it, but also very good at explaining and formalizing it. What I found difficult was the attitude of the experts who often made things look obscure and “hermetic.” It seemed like they wanted us to believe that their knowledge was very difficult to access, but programming is actually very simple.

In 2013, I became the director of Web@cadémie and discovered my love of teaching an audience of young people who have left the school system. These young talents have a great sensitivity – they are gems. I also discovered my love of project-based pedagogy, which places the responsibility of learning on the student. This is why, when I was asked to join École 42 a year ago, I did not think twice before accepting the offer.

What has been your experience in the tech sector and how do you inspire other women to pursue this path?

I was interested in everything that “belonged” to the male domain. For example, I remember when my brother was given a ZX81, the first tiny home computer that was typically offered to boys; I did not wait a second to get my hands on it. When I entered the professional world, I did not really notice the hurdles that were placed in my path, because for me, these obstacles were not actually obstacles but rather sources of motivation. I had been raised to question my skills in order to improve myself, and ultimately, my upbringing made computer science a perfect match.

Initially, my approach to inspiring women in tech was saying, “We need to strengthen women and tell them they can do it, but it’s up to them to advance

themselves.” Taking a step back, I realized there was a problem with that mentality — that it was somewhat limited and sexist.

What are your initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion in tech work culture?

At École 42 we have started implementing different initiatives aimed at making inclusion and diversity a part of our DNA. I think many of these initiatives could inspire tech companies, regardless of their size.

In my opinion, work culture is very much driven by management. Executives have the purview to develop a business culture from the ground up and can be an organization’s most efficient agent of change. Before I arrived at École 42, it took 5 years to go from 7% to 14% of female students; after I joined the team, the percentage increased from 14% to 21% in a year.

Tech culture is extremely sexist, and it is management’s responsibility to listen and act on all employees’ feedback. Providing resources for streamlined communication is of the utmost importance. At École 42, we are making efforts to eradicate sexist culture from the workplace. Most notably, we have started a think tank that meets every few weeks to foster innovative ways of being more inclusive. This group is comprised of current students, former students, external contributors and private business partners, all of whom collectively contribute to the ongoing endeavour of extinguishing sexism. Employees who have experienced sexism firsthand are essential in this critical undertaking.

In order to address discrimination, we created a “social report” email address to which either people who witness or experience discrimination can write. We address any form of discrimination — sexism, homophobia, racism — because diversity is diversity. We must talk about different forms of discrimination and not isolate the subjects because it is the same engine that activates them. Above everything else, you need to have a system in place. When discrimination happens, what will you do to address it? At École 42, the accused person is convened, we talk to them, and if they repeat the offence, they are summoned again and sanctioned. We also make an effort to show the positive work that we do. We are a school that actively opposes discrimination. Diversity should be celebrated, and our school certainly does that.

In order to increase and maintain diversity at École 42, we decided to assign 50% of places to men (which get filled very quickly) and 50% to women (which take more time to fill). We continue to encourage women to apply by reminding them that there are still openings, and eventually we open the remaining spots to everyone. It’s important to note that quotas are very complicated and must be treated with extreme care. If a student [or new hire] feels as if they were chosen because of their diverse background and not their skills or experience, that can make them feel illegitimate.

42 logo

One final piece of advice is to look towards your “ecosystem” and work with other like-minded organizations around you. Even if a company has women in decision-making roles, that company’s culture is not necessarily inclusive. When wanting to implement a new initiative, consider calling on an outside firm or an expert. In order to bring more female students to École 42, we work with the national employment center, which encourages women to discover our school. We also partner with organizations that support the integration of women into tech and through which they can connect with mentors and investors.

Although sexism is very much present in tech culture, we are definitely moving in the right direction. There are aspects that have improved despite everything (for instance, the wage gap is narrowing), and we can’t say the opposite. There’s always a delay between acknowledging a problem and working towards resolving it. Change takes time, and changing tech culture needs not only management, but also committed individuals who share the same vision.

Get custom recommendations to Pow’Her Tech

Accelerate efforts to empower women to join and thrive in the tech sector locally and internationally. Be challenged to create more inclusive culture, intentionally. Start here!

Get recommendations

Read more content

Start with what you value
Blair Presley
Inspiring the next generation
Elisabeth Holm
case study
How Alan shakes up the rules
A recruiter’s perspective
Aline Lerner
Pow'Her In Tech is a global initiative led by Inco Group and supported by the Fondation Chanel
RecommendationsContentDownload the guideContact
© 2020 All rights reserved
Terms and Conditions