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Women in tech face discrimination at the intern level too, says survey

A survey from Girls Who Code looks at what young women in tech are up against.

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Girls Who Code surveyed young women applying for internships. 

Getty Images

Teaching girls to code is one step in the effort to diversify the tech industry. Another is getting them through the interview process for jobs and internships.

A survey out Thursday called Applying for Internships as a Woman in Tech shows that women as young as 19 are running into discrimination when applying for internships at businesses ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies.

Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that teaches middle school and high school girls coding and professional skills, surveyed more than 1,000 women in its network and found that more than half reported either having a negative experience when applying or knowing a woman who has. 

"We've brought our girls so far -- through obstacles in elementary, middle, high school and college -- only to face this kind of behavior in the workforce. What's worse, though, is that it's happening in an industry that claims to be working toward gender parity," CEO and founder Reshma Saujani said in the report. 

The survey comes at a time when tech companies regularly draw criticism for a lack of diversity. Major companies like Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and others release diversity reports every year that have shown their technical workforces don't crack 30% women. For women of color, the numbers are typically lower

Negative experiences reported by survey respondents run the gamut. One quarter of survey participants said they'd had an interviewer focus on personal attributes rather than skills. Aside from data, the Girls Who Code survey also highlights anecdotes from respondents. Their experiences are divided into four main categories: 

  • Lack of diversity.
  • Dismissed and/or demeaned because of gender.
  • Biased and/or discriminatory comments or practices.
  • Harassing comments and/or behavior.

One respondent said she was told: "How did you come to want to code? We don't see many African Americans with these kind of interests and qualifications."

Another was told that women are better at nontechnical roles. Yet another was told she didn't look like someone who studied electrical engineering and that "hopefully your [graphic] don't get in the way of the equipment."

In response, Girls Who Code has launched a Change.org petition calling on tech companies to commit to hiring practices like diverse hiring panels, gender-neutral job descriptions, tracking and reporting applicant diversity data and, well, decency.