I've been hearing that same song for twenty+ years now. Experience [and] history says that virtually none of the women will still be programming a few years from now.
I remain encouraged at the company I'm working at now for several reasons:
- Some of the employees (with kids and families and lives) have had to take time off/reduce hours to deal with various matters outside work, and the company (i.e. those who run it) has been very supportive and helpful.
- There's also a real effort to involve all staff in developing the company's compensation schemes, as well as its culture and values, to reflect the real value of people's work, knowledge, talents, and experience—what adds value to the firm, in other words—not just how gonzo they are in coding late into the night.
- As I mentioned, more than half the programmers are female, including the person in charge of the whole team, who has also been with the company longer than anyone but the founders (who, I guess I should mention, are all male and in their mid-'30s). This firm has every interest in keeping those women (and their male counterparts) working here well into the future, and for the reasons above, I think it will adapt to employees' changing needs over time.
- As it begins to stabilize out of its startup phase, the company is building its business proposals and project plans around reasonable working hours for staff (and particularly programmers), not the kinds of unrealistic deadlines typical of many software houses.
- We have been discussing having the company perform community outreach in various forms, again as the business stabilizes, and mentoring younger technology professionals has been one of the ideas that has come up.
Not that this firm is some sort of employee Nirvana. It is a business, has work to do, and isn't yet quite out of that startup phase. But I think as an organization, it understands that people grow and change, and that life isn't all about work. The company president, who flew more than 120,000 miles last year and has hardly been home in months (he just flew from London to Houston, and has been in Hong Kong and Oslo as well in the past few weeks), would certainly like to tip his personal balance a bit away from "all work, all the time."
Why am I not naming this company? I will, eventually.
Tangentially related to this diversity/women in programming idea is the Joel Test, Joel Spolsky's easy 12-question yes-or-no way to figure out the quality of your software programming team. Thanks to Noel for the link.
Disclaimer (added May 2004): Okay, the company is Navarik Corp., but this site is my own, and doesn't represent the company's position on anything.