4 min read

Nicholas Bergson-Shilcock, the co-founder of Recurse Center, announced yesterday, that the company has nearly achieved its 2012 goal of making RC 50% women. Recurse Center is a self-directed, community-driven educational retreat for programmers in New York City. After seven years, 48% of new hires at RC this year are women, trans, or non-binary.

“We believe nearly every aspect of RC gets better when RC becomes more diverse…my cofounders and I have experienced RC across 60 batches: some with significant gender, racial, age, and other forms of diversity, and others with very little diversity. We believe firmly that the former are a better experience for everyone”, states Shilcock.

RC mainly focused on three things as a part of its strategy to achieve its goal. These three things include: getting a strong and diverse pool of applicants, minimizing bias and evaluating everyone on the same admissions criteria, and building an environment where different people can easily thrive.

As a part of RC’s strategy:

  • It first focussed on getting as strong and diverse a range of applicants as possible. To achieve this, RC funded women and people from other traditionally underrepresented groups for the program. For instance, RC  partnered with Etsy in April 2012 to fund living expense grants for women who can’t afford to attend RC. RC further expanded its grants program in 2014 to include Black, Latina/o, Native American, and Pacific Islander people.

By 2015, RC began funding grants itself and has managed to disburse over $1.5 million in grants so far. Apart from that, RC also offered merit-based fellowships of up to $10,000   to women, trans, and non-binary people that work on open source projects, research, and art. RC launched Joy of Computing last year which is a site that features technical work by members of the RC community.

  • Secondly, RC focused on minimizing bias and evaluate everyone on the same admissions criteria. To achieve this, RC uses pseudonyms and hides the demographic information. For instance, RC updated its admissions review software in 2014 to replace people’s names with pseudonyms ( “Keyboarding Animal” or “Temperature Jeans” instead of “José Smith” or “Kimberly Lin”). Shilcock recommends that companies should document and clearly explain their admission criteria and process. Firms should also be very specific about what precisely comes under their criteria.

RC also recommends training its interviewers and recording the interviews for quality control and training. Additionally, RC offers ongoing support and has a process in place for giving interviewers feedback

  • Lastly, RC focused on building and nurturing an environment where different kind of people can thrive. To foster a healthy work environment, RC has explicit social rules in place that contribute towards making RC a friendly, and productive place to program and grow. RC also has a code of conduct in place which is a system for reporting violations and a response protocol. Moreover, it also focuses on welcoming people and making them a part of its community.

RC is further working towards itself as a firm more accessible to the programming community. For instance, apart from attending RC for six or 12-week batches, people can now also attend for a week-long program and become alumni and lifelong member of the community. RC has also modified and updated some of its policies to make RC more family-friendly. There is now a lactation and wellness room at RC, which will allow parents to bring their children along with them.

Shilcock states that earlier in 2012, only 5% of the Recursers were women, trans, or non-binary, but that figure has changed to 34% now. Also, of the nearly 150 people who have already joined RC’s batch for this year, 48% identify as women, trans, or non-binary. However, Shilcock states that although the numbers are quite promising, they can fluctuate.

“We know it will take continuous investment and work to have any chance of consistently achieving a gender-balanced environment at RC”, writes Shilcock.

For more information, check out the official Recurse Center announcement.

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Tech writer at the Packt Hub. Dreamer, book nerd, lover of scented candles, karaoke, and Gilmore Girls.