When asked if the males at Web design and development company Papercut Interactive feel outnumbered, founder and President Jason Hill jokingly responded that the men just aren’t allowed to talk.
The company’s employees said the culture has evolved into one of collaboration and communication regardless of gender, but-by the numbers-the women do outnumber the men.
That’s significant and unique because the Web and technology worlds are largely male-dominated, especially when it comes to coding.
And until last year, Papercut Interactive did employ mostly males.
But now, five of the company’s eight employees are female. Three of the women program full time.
For the majority of her eight years at the company, Jenny Hill, partner and client relations, was the only female there.
“I think maybe there’s this weird stigma that if you are a woman in the tech industry that you’re incredibly nerdy and strange,” Crystal Henry said. “And I don’t think that’s true at all. But maybe that’s how people perceive it.”
But in the past year, some male developers left, and the company added new positions. The end result is a mostly female office.
It wasn’t intentional, and clearly there is an array of talented male Web developers, Jenny said.
Did the women just gravitate toward each other and the company? Ultimately, the women hired in the past year were the best fit for the positions and company, she said.
But the situation makes for interesting discussion about gender roles and women in business and technology.
Monday morning, the women at the business-Jenny Hill, art director Ashley Frasier, front-end developer Win Giamportone, account manager Jamie Ann Phillips and front/back-end developer Crystal Henry-sat down with Nooga.com to discuss their perspectives on the issues and reflect on how the business has evolved in the past year.
The company has grown slowly and carefully since its start in 2001, Jenny said.
“We’ve never had any venture capital funding,” she said. “We’re more of a homegrown success.”
The partners didn’t want debt and didn’t want to be slaves to investors. Papercut Interactive started with one person: Jason.
Jenny said the company has grown because the employees are good at what they do.
The evolution of the gender ratio has coincided with a shift in work process, Jenny said. Now, art designers and graphic designers are also programmers, she said.
And the developers practice responsive design, which means the website changes and optimizes for different devices.
Frasier initially felt intimidated by Web development. She came from the more creative design side. But she found an internship that required Web development, and once she learned it, she realized she loved it, she said.
In college, Giamportone was one, if not the only, female in her classes. She also came from a design background and initially didn’t think working in development and coding was much of an option for her.
Henry knew from the time she was in high school that she wanted to go into IT work. She was always one of the only females in her classes. She has a master’s degree in IT and eventually taught herself development.
Phillips has a master’s in math and has coded in the past, although she doesn’t on a daily basis.
“These women are really great at what they do,” Jenny said. “They are not novices.”
In the past, when the company was more male-dominated, there wasn’t as much communication. The employees all sat in the same room, but instead of talking, they would communicate via instant message.
“We always felt like the projects had the potential to be better if we would talk, but it was like this hump we had to overcome,” Jenny said.
It’s impossible to say with certainty if the change in the male-female ratio led to better communication or if it’s just the different combination of people and personalities, Jenny said.
But the current combination of employees is helping the company thrive.
A big part of Papercut’s mission and culture includes being “super-friendly.” That means high standards. It means being more than kind, Jenny said. It means meeting deadlines, figuring out what the client needs and making that happen.
“In hiring, we have to have brilliant people, someone that is superbly skilled, but also who can relate to the client,” Jenny said.
More women in the industry?
Some of the women said they have noticed more women in the industry. And Jenny said the company is getting more and more unsolicited résumés from women.
But the national numbers still show fewer women in the tech field.
According to the National Center for Women in Technology, women earned 57 percent of all undergraduate degrees but made up 18 percent of all computer and information sciences undergrad degrees in 2009.
The women at Papercut did note that their industry is one in which people can train themselves and not necessarily get a degree in a related field.
And some statistics show a decline in women in tech occupations.
In 2000, women made up 26 percent of computer programmers. But by 2009, that had decreased to 20 percent, also according to the National Center for Women in Technology.
In 2011, that number was still hovering at 20 percent, according to software development company Amadeus Consulting, which cited Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.
Women own 40 percent of the country’s private businesses but create only 8 percent of venture-backed tech startups, according to the Women in Technology Education Foundation.
But there are efforts across the country to engage young women more in science, math and technology.
And Giamportone said she hopes that encouragement continues.
“If I never found out that I had this opportunity [to be in Web development], I’d never be doing what I truly love to do,” she said. “So I think it would be great for other women to experience the same thing.”
Editor’s note: This is the first of occasional stories in a series about women in business.