The Coding Circle
Women Supporting Women at State Farm
March is Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate the past contributions of women while making progress toward a more equitable future. There is much to celebrate about the contributions by women in the field of information technology. However, although more women are choosing IT careers, studies show that additional progress can be made.
For example, at major tech companies, women accounted for only approximately one-third (34.4 percent) of their workforce1. A Catalyst Report2 found that while women in technology companies were generally satisfied with their job, there were areas of particular concern for technical women—specifically around supervisory relationships and perceptions of fairness and voice—that companies must address. According to a 2020 Women in Tech Statistics3 study, women often feel isolated and need to rely on their own strength to stay in their role or they might leave the profession altogether.
What if there was a way to help address issues faced by women in technology through open conversations and a network of trust?
We know it’s possible. At State Farm®, an idea to help women find their “circle of support” helped spark a movement. A movement where women are empowered to seize tech opportunities, gain new perspective and accomplish professional goals.
This is our story.
We are part of an exceptionally talented group of women at State Farm who have found a way to support and empower each other to share their voice. It started with honest conversations between employees who had a similar interest, in this case, to support women in technology.
Our circle started in 2016 with just two technical women, discussing the noticeable absence of women participating in voluntary events centered on coding. This led to a companywide code-learning program called Zero to Hack Day Hero. The program was created in part to help increase diversity at the company’s annual Hack Day (coding competition).
We focused on recruiting technical women at State Farm to become mentors and instructors for Zero to Hack Day Hero. We were surprised and excited that the program grew so rapidly. Networking began. Relationships were built. And vigorous conversations about experiences as women in tech were had.
As personal stories were shared, it became increasingly clear that many had similar experiences in the tech world. As we continued to share, we gained more confidence and realized we were inspiring each other. We understood we were building something special and wanted to share it with others.
Building our circle
State Farm provided a space where our group could grow. We leveraged State Farm Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to further share our support. We attended lunch & learns, watched tech talks, and socialized at networking events provided by an ERG called Women & Technology (W&T). The goal? To meet more women who might benefit from connecting with each other.
Through these actions, our group created a ripple effect of attracting a larger, more diverse, circle of women from various backgrounds, technical skills, experiences, and personalities. We could not have done this without the intention of providing an honest, accepting, and welcoming environment built on trust of the group and each other. We learned how to lean on each other during times of need. In addition, we created a space for other women to benefit from women-to-women mentoring relationships. Our circle grew larger–as did our bond over shared experiences–with our goal to support other women.
As a result, our circle developed a long-term mission focusing on:
Identifying how to create a foundational support network within State Farm
Creating a culture of women in technology
An established network of women in tech to support and mentor women
This mission helped us support women inside and outside the workplace. We started having a more intentional, longer-term impact.
A women’s coding circle was born.
Build each other up
With our larger circle, we were able to help target some of our most pressing problems while creating and facilitating actionable results. We identified several areas where we felt we could make a difference for technical women.
TECH TALKS / PANELS
We recognized that there were few women giving tech talks, and panels rarely included women. We solicited the W&T ERG to sponsor regular technical presentations given solely by women. For example, we gathered a group of women in the Technology Engineer role to hold a panel conversation to help demystify the position. State Farm is intentional about ensuring women are represented during panels and tech talks.
STUDY GROUPS / MENTORING
We created study groups where more senior technical woman help guide others on newer technologies. We also have study groups where everyone is beginning a new technology together. We set up mentoring relationships as a means to help provide guidance and gain new skills. These relationships encourage technical women to be problem-solvers and gain knowledge together. We gain technical coding skills to stay relevant, keep up skills to not lose what we have, share resources, and work on code projects that don’t directly align to our day-to-day, yet give us the “real world” experience needed to solidify the concepts.
State Farm is a diverse and inclusive company that challenges us to better ourselves. As a result, many of its ERGs sponsor book clubs. Our circle was grateful to be part of the W&T ERG book club centered on books by–and for–women. However, our group continued our discussions outside of the ERG and realized we needed to take a hard look at our role and challenge our own thinking.
Having the book clubs helped facilitate even deeper conversation and catapulted the bond where we could talk about tough subjects. This allowed us to dive deeper into using soft skills that are such a vital aspect of any professional role. By approaching daily obstacles with a growth mindset we’ve all been able to realize continued success in our careers. Some of our members have even been hired for positions that were outside of their comfort zones before joining the coding circle.
Beyond the circle of coding
Over time–through continued efforts–our core coding circle has grown, and continues to grow, beyond just coders. It includes State Farm interns, managers, product owners, and technical analysts. Our conversations are not always easy - the circle does not always agree, but respect and trust is always evident. In recognition of our role as technical women in the industry a bond between the members of the group formed.
The circle is close-knit and there is an understanding of the need to be there for each other. We ask each other questions to challenge and grow each other’s perspective. Because this circle is one of trust, everyone knows it is a safe space to have tough conversations. Our motto is, “You’re not alone. Let’s confront this together.”
Outside the workplace
Our circle is expanding beyond the workplace to build on our respect for each other and our shared trust. Despite the challenges to continue engagement during COVID-19, our circle of support not only continues, but finds new purpose. Through virtual get-togethers and weekly meetings, our topics have expanded to include common interests like biking, gaming, and movies. Despite the challenges that COVID-19 presented, coupled with months of quarantine, our circle provides a camaraderie we never expected. It elevates the feeling of being connected even when we’re apart.
The circle has developed coveted long-lasting friendships. Our members are committed to helping the circle grow and provide support to as many women as possible.
Being a woman in a technical role comes with its share of challenges. We achieved gains by starting small, building our group, and targeting specific ways to empower women. Hopefully we inspired others to build a supportive, thriving community wherever you find technical women. The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminds us we must, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Our circle hopes that sharing our experience inspires you to take action and join a community that can help accomplish change for technical women. We are always looking for exceptional technical women to join us at State Farm - you will be welcomed by our circle of support on your very first day.
To learn more about technology careers at State Farm, or to join our team visit, https://www.statefarm.com/careers.