Robin Hauser Reynolds is the director of CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap, a documentary that deals with gender stereotypes in the tech industry and the obstacles women have to overcome. The film debuted at The Sundance Film Festival, and was brought to Chicago for a private screening at tech incubator 1871 by Chicago-based advocates for women in tech, including Trading Technologies, Silicon Valley Bank, Sabo Capital, and 3Points Communications. Robin sat down to talk with FW: Chicago about the things that inspire her as a woman film director.
Photo Courtesy of 3Points Communications
Director Robin Hauser Reynolds briefly introduces herself before the screening of her film, "CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap."
You started working on the film because of your daughter’s computer science classes. Tell us more about the story.
She ended up dropping. She really had this sense of ambient belonging, she felt like she did not belong to the industry. She was one of just two girls—two women—in a class of 25 to 30 consistently. She made it through her first two classes and was halfway through her third class when she dropped.
This is part of the problem in the pipeline. By the time you get to college, there are so many men that are super-enthusiastic about their knowledge of computer science from their experience gaming. They have what seems like an innate ability to code. And because there are more men in the classroom, by like ten times, they tend to intimidate the women. If we really want to bring in people of color and women, we have to stop that. We have to make it a more comfortable environment for women.
Being a woman and a mother of a computer science student yourself, how was working on this film different from other projects you’ve worked on?
My daughter and my producer’s daughter—she has three daughters, and one of hers dropped out of college to work at a start-up—just sort of what got us thinking about it. Early on, people told us they didn’t think we had a story. They said, "Who cares, as long as the coding is getting done?" I’m a little bit tenacious, so for me, that just spurred me on to really dig deeper and find out what’s the issue, what’s going on.
Personally, what motivates you to explore these issues and make a film about it?
I’m driven by cause-based films. I’m a creative person, and I also have a business degree. Somehow, documentary film-making allows me to access my passion, my skill for business, my ability to fundraise, but also being artistic and creative. … I think I have this sense of responsibility to give back and to help in some way. I really do feel passionate about trying to make change in my small way—just trying to educate and entertain and inform.
Photo courtesy of 3Points Communications
From left, Terri Brax, Women Tech Founders CEO; Katie Burgoon, EVP of Human Resources at Trading Technologies; Robin Hauser Reynolds, director of "CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap"; Kelly Hallgren of Talution Group, Scott Bergquist of Silicon Valley Bank
How has being a woman influenced your work as a creator, a visionary, a leader?
I’m really proud of being a woman and of women, and I’ve frankly never let it stop me—not even in the film business, where less than 6 percent of film directors are women. Are there things, judgments that people are making about me because I’m a woman? Or are there certain opportunities that I haven’t received because I’m a female director? I don’t know, maybe, but I haven’t let that stop me, because I’m just so thrilled to have all the ones that have accepted me and the opportunities that I have been afforded.
One of FW: Chicago’s goals is to build a community where women can help each other. How do you think that helps in the film industry or the tech industry?
I think that my generation has had a worse time of women supporting women, mainly because women have to work so hard to maintain their level in a corporate environment. They have to prove themselves over and over that they’re worthy of the position they have. Women don’t have time to look up from their workload to reach down to coworkers and subordinates and help them up. The basic corporate structure in itself sort of pits women against each other. We need to look around and become role models and realize that we all stand to gain from supporting each other.
Advice to younger women in the tech industry—how do you think that has changed before and after you made this film?
If anything, it’s just made me feel even stronger about my belief that we have to instill confidence in our daughters. We absolutely have to teach our daughters, tell our daughters, that they can be anything they want to be. … We can’t make assumptions about our girls and our boys based on gender. (I think we need to educate our sons, too!) I just absolutely want to encourage us as parents, to tell our girls and our sisters and our nieces and our friends that they can do anything they want to do. And I really believe that’s true.