Is Frontend Web Development Sexist?

melissa mcewen
6 min readDec 9, 2017

Earlier this week a judge threw out the class action lawsuit against Google for pay discrimination. Embedded within a larger case about pay discrimination, is a question about whether a subfield in tech, front end development, is gender-segregated and lower paying. It is a fascinating argument and one that requires some understanding of why software is divided into frontend and backend, and what that means for women.

For onlookers, frontend and backend are the two “main” types of software developers who make websites and web applications. It is a relic of back in the late 90s and early 00s when frontend was mainly governing the appearance of the website CSS, HTML, and a little Javascript, whereas back-end was roughly coding how the website interacted with databases in languages like PHP or .Net. This distinction hasn’t been relevant in probably over a decade, but it persists.

And the consequences are unfortunate and largely harm women. In the lawsuit, Kelly Ellis says that despite her background in backend development, Google assigned her to be a frontend developer, which had significant consequences for her career:

Google pays backend engineers more than frontend and fasttracks them for promotion. On the teams Ms. Ellis worked with and observed at Google, almost all backend software engineers were men. Almost all female software engineers, however, were frontend engineers.

The darker subtext of the divide between frontend and backend is that frontend is considered by many to be the “pretty window dressing”, whereas backend is the “real” development.

From commitstrip, they have one for how frontend sees backend but I don’t think it has the same consequences professionally

Often companies have just developers and then frontend developers, as if the latter are not quite the real thing. Very few companies even classify people as backend formally though in practice they are treated this way.

There aren’t that many women in tech, but it’s generally recognized that we are disproportionately represented in the frontend field. Unfortunately it’s hard to pin down the numbers since a lot of surveys lump us together. Where we aren’t lumped together is in salary estimates, which almost always show…

melissa mcewen

Software bugs + regular bugs