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Etsy Narrows the Gender Gap with a Coding Scholarship for Women

Web development is dominated by dudes, so Etsy's giving out 20 scholarships to ladies who want to get better at coding.

Etsy may be better known for knit products than coded ones, but the company just announced that it’s teaming up with Hacker School, a three-month coding program in New York City, to give out scholarships to women who want to become better programmers. The tech world has long been a boys’ club—not even one in five software developers are women—and the idea is to take a stab at evening out the gender inequality a bit.

The scholarship program will award $5,000 grants to 20 women who want to attend the summer 2012 session of Hacker School, held in Etsy’s headquarters in New York. The school, whose three founders include a woman, looks for students who love programming and have "curiosity, passion, raw intelligence and a desire to build things." The full-time program takes students through an informal instruction period for programmers of all skill levels, requiring that "everyone writes free and open source software" so others can use and learn from it. The goal of the scholarship is to fill half the spots with women and have a gender-equal classroom.

Etsy’s vice president of engingeering, Marc Hedlund, lamented the fact that during 17 years of doing business online, he’s hired hundreds of men and only about 20 women. Just 11 of Etsy’s 96 current employees in Engineering and Operations are female (keep in mind this is a crafts website that sells most of its product to the ladies). And the same thing goes for Hacker School — just one of their 20 current students is a woman.

New York University psychologist Madeline Heilman told the New York Times that "[t]here’s the perception that women somehow don’t have the right stuff to fulfill these roles and that colors everything. It’s very hard to crack, and has consequences for selection, promotion and task assignment." Part of the problem lies in the male-heavy recruiting process and the stereotype of a workplace crowded with nerdy men akin to those of "Big Bang Theory."

Hedlund addresses some important changes that need to be made to bring women into a male-dominated workplace, like creating a welcoming and supportive environment. He stresses reaching out to women far and wide as the most important step, followed by making the program appealing and financially accessible. The Hacker School session itself is free, so the $5,000 will be for surviving and thriving on the cash-devouring streets of New York City.

In February, GOOD launched its own campaign to promote women in the media industry. It’s time for more companies to put in a concerted effort to make way for women and an equal workplace.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Bekathwia.

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