Code Like a Girl: Dinah Davis on Amplifying Women’s Voices

by Geekgirl, July 1, 2016

Dinah Davis is the director of R&D for startup Arctic Wolf by day and founder of Code Like a Girl by night. For a long time, Dinah has been advocating for women and this year all her work has come together under Code Like a Girl.

Code Like a Girl started at the University of Waterloo’s Think about Math workshop for girls in grade nine and ten. Dinah was involved in the workshop to speak with young girls about her experience in tech and get them excited about considering a career in technology.

The prospect of entertaining and empowering these girls had Dinah wondering what she could possibly bring them to get them excited. Dinah got the idea to make a sticker with the words “Code Like A Girl” on it give to her young audience and that idea really stuck with her.

In December, Dinah launched Code Like a Girl with a mission to amplify the voices of women in tech and Dinah has been able to do just that. With posts getting over 20,000 views, Code Like a Girl has had great success in breaking down society’s perceptions of how women are viewed in technology.

Causing Conversations and Controversy

An Open Letter to the First Years” is one of Code Like a Girl’s viral posts. Emotional, raw experiences have a tendency of causing a lot of controversy and getting the attention of more than a few trolls. Dinah shared on controversy, “That’s good. That means that it hit a nerve. It’s not going to change the mind of trolls, but what matters are the people who hadn’t known it was an issue now know about it.” One of Code Like a Girl’s primary purposes is to bring issues of women in tech to light for men and women that hadn’t known they existed.

“Before Code Like A Girl I shared my advice and my experiences” Dinah explained. Within six months, Code Like a Girl has grown to a team of over 50 writers with over 89 articles published. Bringing multiple voices to the issue was one of Dinah’s goals from the beginning. She commented, “It’s much more powerful to get stories, advice, and wisdom from women of different cultures and backgrounds.”

Just several weeks ago, a friend of Dinah’s shared a post called “Your Privilege” about her frustrating attempt to explain male privilege to one of her male friends. After careful editing, Dinah shared her friend’s post and the response was huge. While Dinah’s friend has had a lot of meaningful conversations based on the post, not all the response was positive. “Education was her message,” Dinah explained, “and sadly she’s lost a friendship because of this post.”

From experiences like these, Dinah has learned the real power of blogging. “These are just blog posts, but they evoke real conversations,” She shared, “The power is in all those voices coming together.”

Amplifying Your Own Voice

While it’s a passion of Dinah’s to share the voice of others, Dinah emphasises how important it is to amplify your own voice. “Make sure you’re heard.” She advises, “Don’t let them cast you aside or talk over you.”

Dinah related a recent experience where a male colleague repeated her idea as his own minutes after she initially shared the idea. While this repetition didn’t go unnoticed by her boss and ended up making her colleague look bad, Dinah knows that this isn’t a rare occurrence. “Advocate for yourself.” she counsels, suggesting women respond to repeated ideas with a “Thank you for reiterating what I said.” or “That’s a great spin on my previous idea.”

Your voice can be heard beyond the boardroom. Dinah commented, “Tell your story. I really believe that when you get to a certain level, you pull the next person up to you. That’s what I’m trying to do.” Amplifying your voice in this way starts with being vulnerable enough to share the bad experiences you’ve had.

Dinah was brave enough to share one of her own failures, she told By Geekgirl, “I’ve made some wrong choices. One of my biggest mistakes was how I left Blackberry.” Dinah had been there eight years leading a team of developers working on security. This was just before Blackberry’s fall and Dinah could see it coming. “I could feel it in the vibe of the company and I was burnt out. I accepted the first thing that came by and got into a bad position where I let someone boss me around and destroy my self-esteem.”

The situation didn’t come without a lesson. Dinah entreated, “You have to be fearless and believe in yourself. If you are in a bad place, rethink where you are and get into a more positive work environment if you need to.”

Dinah related how this kind of negative, destructive environment can start with your investors or even board of directors. She recommends that women think very carefully about what kind of work environment these influential people will cultivate and how that fits in with your own vision.

“I foster a work environment that’s positive and motivating. I value collaboration and teamwork and my teams know it. One of the most important things to do as a leader is let people go who are destructive to your work environment. I always try to work with people to help them understand what is expected of them, but if they can’t make the changes necessary, then unfortunately they can’t stay. Keeping a positive, collaborative team culture is imperative to being successful.”

Working in A Male-Dominated Field

Dinah was straightforward with her answer to what it’s like being a woman in a male-dominated field. She remarked, “I’ve enjoyed it. I love tech, and it’s been the norm for almost 20 years. Once you get used to it, it just is, you start to ignore it.” Dinah explained that there have only been a few colleagues of hers that haven’t supported and respected her. She reasoned, “We don’t need more women in tech because men are horrible. We need more women in tech because we have a whole demographic, 50% of our population, for whom we aren’t taking advantage of their intelligence, strength, and ideas.

Why is utilizing the strengths of women important? The Code Like A Girl Founder stated, “Diversity brings a stronger company, stronger product, stronger ideas.”

“There are some amazing things you can do.” Dinah tells young women thinking about working in technology. “My first job was at Blackberry and my team of five was responsible for how secure Blackberrys were. Almost 100 million people have used code that I have written.” Dinah exemplifies how you can be involved in something so much bigger than yourself. “We changed how the world used phones. What are the possibilities for you?”

To men Dinah implores, “Amplify the voices of the strong, awesome, talented women around you.” Whether in the office, in public, or in meetings support women in tech.

With Code Like A Girl, Dinah champions the reality of women in technology and inspires girls to reach their potential in a tech-related career. To share your story, contact Dinah at info@likeagirl.io

What’s your experience?

What’s been your experience working in male-dominated field? Relate along with us in the comments below.