RALEIGH, N.C. — With laptops open and coffee in hand, a dozen women joined a Code & Coffee session in Raleigh, N.C., recently, where they coded Web pages, shared tips on design and chatted about hobbies.
It was a friendly, helpful environment — somewhat of a rare treat for the women, who are used to being isolated islands in the tech industry's sea of testosterone.
Code & Coffee was organized by Girl Develop It, a New York-based company that's combating gender disparity in the industry by teaching women practical programming skills.
The company also organizes local get-togethers, such as the Raleigh event.
Rachael Hobbs, organizer of the Raleigh-area chapter, said GDI wants to cultivate environments where women can feel comfortable asking questions.
"A lot of tech meetups seem to be more for professionals, and it's a very male-dominated industry, so it can be intimidating," Hobbs said. "You don't want to be the one person who doesn't understand how things work, and people are like, ‘Oh, she's just a girl.' "
About 3,600 students have taken classes offered by various chapters. By mid-2014, the company wants to seek financial backing to expand to 40 cities worldwide, said GDI Chief Technology Officer Izzy Johnston.
"We have been able to successfully launch Girl Develop It in multiple cities with different economies, technology landscapes and cultures, and in each city, we have done well," Johnston said in an email.
The scarcity of women — and minorities — in technology fields has long been a sore spot for an industry that prides itself on forward-thinking and innovation.
In the past decade, as innovations in social media and mobile computing have created a new gold rush in the industry, the percentage of women in technology jobs has declined.
In the computer scientist and systems analyst occupations, the percentage of women dropped from 34 percent to 27 percent between 2000-09, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Women software engineers declined 24 percent to 20 percent over that same period.
Women are making some gains in the tech world, including being named to head such high-profile tech companies as IBM and Yahoo!.
When Marissa Mayer, 37, was named the new CEO of Yahoo!, the appointment triggered a wider debate over work and motherhood after Mayer said she would work through her pregnancy.
The National Center for Women and Information Technology said the industry has a particularly hard time retaining mid-career women, who often depart the industry for reasons that include isolation, unconscious bias and sexism, both subtle and overt.
"It's fun to get together with people who do the same thing as you. It's not as common for women to be in Web development, so it's good to have some kind of community," she said.
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