Rhode Island International Film Festival

RIIFF: CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap explores tech inequality

Robin Hauser Reynolds takes a critical look at women in the tech industry in her new documentary

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Robin Hauser Reynolds is not the your typical director at the Flickers: Rhode Island Film Festival this weekend. A businesswoman by trade, Reynolds turned to documentary filmmaking after a social issue hit close to home. When her daughter, then a first year computer science major at Colgate University, called home to say she planned to drop out of the computer science program, Reynolds noticed that the gender gap in the technology industry is too big to be ignored.

She decided to create CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap, a feature-length documentary about women’s role in the technology industry. The film debuted in April at the Tribeca film festival, and it is coming to Providence this weekend to foster discussions on inequality, gender and technology.

“She was somewhat discouraged in some of her classes and it was the first time that she had felt that in her academic career. There was no support system,” Reynolds says of her daughter. CODE is an exploration of the lack of support and gender bias experienced by female computer engineers in school and in the workplace. Reynolds identifies the most significant tech industry roadblock to gender parity as the stereotype of the computer engineer as a white, male “nerd.” Women and people of color, she says, lack role models in the industry.

One of the biggest issues addressed in CODE is the lack of computer science education for young girls, but Reynolds says that the gender gap begins to form even earlier. “It begins with gender separation,” she says, citing a need for more gender neutral, engineering-based toys. She says that teachers and parents of girls should foster interest in computer science and all sciences from a “very, very early” age.

Though the outlook may seem bleak to some, Reynolds acknowledges that there are some tech companies that have addressed the problem and have been successful. Etsy, an online marketplace, has “done an amazing job” including women and people of color, she says. “Etsy really set up a system where they supported [women], and diversified their interview panel.” It is this diversification, according to Reynolds, that is sorely needed across the industry.

Reynolds was shocked to learn that the percentage of women in technology jobs was much higher in the mid-1980s than it is today. “It’s going to take changing the stereotype,” she says when asked how the technology industry will eventually achieve gender parity.

CODE is not just a documentary for women or for people with technology-related jobs. “It’s not a chick flick,” says Reynolds; CODE’s thoughtful and poignant exploration of inequality is entertaining and eye-opening for anyone.

Tickets for CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap
Metcalf Auditorium – RISD Museum, Chace Center
20 North Main Street Providence, Saturday August 8 2:30pm