Considering all the hand-wringing and diverse efforts to attract women to tech, it turns out that it’s relatively simple.
Lina Nilsson is a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and director of innovation at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley, noticed a quaint factoid.
…if the content of the work itself is made more societally meaningful, women will enroll in droves. That applies not only to computer engineering but also to more traditional, equally male-dominated fields like mechanical and chemical engineering.
This held true at dozens of universities, such as D-Lab at MIT, Arizona State University, University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University and Santa Clara University.
And it’s important to recognize that the primary, or even secondary, intent was not to attract women, but to solve problems.
None of the programs, clubs and classes were designed with the main goal of appealing to female engineers, and perhaps this is exactly why they are drawing us in. At the core of each of the programs is a focus on engineering that is cutting edge, with an explicit social context and mission.
The problem, of course, is that most existing companies and current startups are focused on money, while “women seem to be drawn to engineering projects that attempt to achieve societal good.”
I love watching Shark Tank, whether the current season on ABC or reruns on CNBC.
My favorite sharks in order are Robert Herjavec, Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John.
My almost-least favorite shark is Mark Cuban, but it is Kevin O’Leary who I really can’t stand.
I have no problem with a shark saying no, but to listen to O’Leary tear down not only ideas, but also the entrepreneurs themselves makes me slightly ill. His criticism is rarely constructive and sometimes it is downright destructive — especially to women founders, or so it seems.
If you’re a guy you may not have paid much attention an ad from Always.
It looks at how #like a girl has always been an insult and an effort to change that perception.
“In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes first-hand,” said Lauren Greenfield, filmmaker and director of the #LikeAGirl video. “When the words ‘like a girl’ are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly disempowering. I am proud to partner with Always to shed light on how this simple phrase can have a significant and long-lasting impact on girls and women. I am excited to be a part of the movement to redefine ‘like a girl’ into a positive affirmation.”
But the insult goes far beyond the days of puberty.
The company recently hired Barbara Beskind and both she and IDEO consider her 90 years a major advantage.
She applied after seeing an interview with IDEO founder David Kelley, who talked about the importance of a truly diverse design team and hires accordingly.
The aging Boomer market has companies salivating and hundreds are developing products for them.
The problem, of course, is that younger designers have no idea what difficulties older people face; not the obvious ones, but those that are more subtle.
For example, IDEO is working with a Japanese company on glasses to replace bifocals. With a simple hand gesture, the glasses will turn from the farsighted prescription to the nearsighted one. Initially, the designers wanted to put small changeable batteries in the new glasses. Beskind pointed out to them that old fingers are not that nimble.
“It really caused the design team to reflect.” They realized they could design the glasses in a way that avoided the battery problem.
It’s the little things that make or break products and the knowledge of the little things comes mostly from having been there/done that.
We’ve both seen it happen again and again. When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more. (…) Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings.
The critical words are, “both men and women punished them;” again, not a surprise.
The findings in the article aren’t new or even that surprising (here are two more from 2008 and 2009); I heard similar comments more than 30 years ago.
It gives the lie to the myth of sisterhood.
I never believed in the whole sisterhood thing — the idea that women supported each other.
I got support and encouragement from the men in my work world — it sure didn’t come from the women.
That’s not to say that women don’t form solid relationships and support each other, of course they do, but they aren’t based on an accident of nature, i.e., plumbing.
They’re based on common interests and ongoing discovery.
So while ‘sisterhood’ has worked for some, it’s dangerous to assume it works for all or all the time.
Intel said it has established a $300 million fund to be used in the next three years to improve the diversity of the company’s work force [goal of 14%], attract more women and minorities to the technology field and make the industry more hospitable to them once they get there.
The big difference between what Intel is doing and the rest of tech is not just focusing on STEM training and recruitment, but on changing the workplace so that those who join tech will stay in tech instead of being driven out by the current culture.
Changing culture is difficult within a company, let alone within an entire industry.
The discussion was flowing until—yup. You guessed it.
But because this is the internet, a few trolls showed up, too, asking bizarre and rude sexist questions, some involving parts of the human body. A PR person from MIT forwarded the links to us [Business Insider], asking us to expose these trolls.
To everyone’s amazement, instead of leaving it to the crowd to vote the yucky comments down, Reddit stepped in.
But Reddit aims for these AMAs to be respectful. Reddit’s policy is that it will remove comments that are “abusive or harassing” as well as “comments where there would be no possibility of a real answer, especially where it is deliberately creepy or offensive.”
Reddit exemplifies the anything goes/no censorship/trust the crowd to police itself internet.
One has to wonder if this is a sign that people have had enough, that anonymous hate and bullying are finally falling out of favor — at least a little bit.
A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read allIf the Shoe Fits posts here
In the course of today’s culture I am a virtual nobody. Aside from this blog, LinkedIn profile and a few comments here and there over the years I have no visibility.
This was pointed out to me in an irate email that asked who I thought I was to belittle the wonderful world of tech on non-issues like diversity.
Actually, I was surprised at both the lack of four-letter words and that writer didn’t blast me publicly. When I complimented the former and inquired about the latter I was told that “Ryan” assumed I wouldn’t see anything done in social media (true), so he decided to write directly.
The following is specifically for Ryan and those who agree with him, as well as those who find these posts enlightening. And a shoutout to KG Charles-Harris, who sent me the link.
Leslie Miley wrote a post at Model View Culture called The Top 10 (%) Tech Rules, but could as easily have been “why nothing changes” or “a self-propagating culture.”
Hopefully Ryan and friends will accept Miley’s comments as valid, since his credentials are above reproach.
Working as an engineer at Google, Apple, and Twitter has afforded me a view of the hiring process that for years has produced a homogenous culture: mostly male, and significantly white and Asian.
The Silicon Valley hiring process has been homogenized to the point that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy—as entrenched as the “old, white guy” culture in the east.
I don’t believe much will change in my lifetime and maybe not in yours or your kids.
As Miley points out, habits are hard to break and breaking this systemic habit will make quitting smoking look like a stroll on the beach.
I am not optimistic about the future of diversity in tech. I see too many of my co-workers ask what university before they ask what applicants have accomplished. I see bias in the CS questions culled from the top universities, and preference given to candidates from the top companies, referred by their peers. The system now serves itself. And that will be the hardest habit to break.
That said, it could change.
Read Miley’s post carefully and then stop doing what it talks about. In other words, be your own person and stop being an organization person.
Talk about it and, whenever possible, call out those you see abiding by the system.
For all the talk about the lack of diversity some folks still don’t get it.
It’s a recognized fact that sometimes very smart people do or say very stupid things as reflected in Marc Andreessen’s recent comment explaining that companies actually are diverse.
“When you actually go in these companies, what you find is it’s American people, but it’s also Russians, and Eastern Europeans, and French, and German, and British. And then there are the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Indonesians, and Vietnamese.”
A recent Reuters report found that the majority of Silicon Valley startup founders that receive Series A funding come from the same pedigreed cohort: either they previously worked at a large, well-known tech firm, a well-connected smaller tech company, they previously created a successful startup, or they come from one of three universities—Stanford, Harvard, or MIT.
Andreessen also says that the lack of women and people of color in Valley companies is a function of education inequality and not having the right connections; another thought that flies in the face of facts.
Except for the fact that a recent analysis conducted by USA Today found that top universities are graduating black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering students at twice the rate that technology companies are hiring them. Last year, 4.5% of computer science and engineering graduates from top universities were black and 6.5% were Hispanic. But on average, just 2% of employees at Silicon Valley tech companies (specifically, the seven companies that have released diversity stats) are black and 3% are Hispanic.
The walls around the Valley investor community are far higher now than they were when in 1993 when he happened to meet Jim Clark, who suggested forming a company based on a program Andreessen wrote in college called Mosaic.
The Valley needs to wake up, bite the bullet and follow the lead of Google, instead of pulling Andreessen’s rationalizing over their collective heads.
In 1974, Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture critic for The New York Times, wrote that it was “appalling” that the institute’s national membership consisted of 24,000 men and 300 women.
Although women now account for half of all graduates of American architecture schools, they represent only 20 percent of licensed practitioners and an even lower proportion of partners in firms…
It took pressure from Millennial men in search of better work-life balance to force some law firms to effect change, in spite of the fact that losing a second-year associate costs $200,000 – $500,000 and nearly 50% of women lawyers quit.
Many in tech believe that organizations such as Girls that Code and mentoring groups like WEST will change the dismal gender diversity numbers.
Facebook, Box and Pinterest announced on Wednesday that they have gotten together to launch a new mentorship program called WEST (Women Entering and Staying in Tech). The idea is to get more women interested in computer science, and to help them be prepared for the tech jobs of the future.
Google is ahead of the pack by taking a different approach and addressing unconscious bias.
Will any of these initiatives work long-term?
Because, other than Google, none address the need for cultural change.