May 19, 2020Read More
It's International Women's Day, and I have some things to say about women in tech. It's something I’ve said many times before, an old tale that you’ve undoubtedly heard: tech needs more diversity. The number of women and people of color in tech is staggeringly low, and tech companies seem to be taking their sweet time catching up. Meanwhile, the demand for diversity in tech is growing stronger and louder by the minute. We are the townsfolk waiting outside the castle with pitchforks and torches, and we’re tired of waiting.
For such an innovative industry, tech is pretty busy pointing fingers. Many companies blame a lack of talent for their lack of diversity. There are just not enough STEM people in underrepresented communities, they argue; it’s not their fault that the talent pool is so small. While this does hold a speck of truth to it (only 6.7% of women graduate with STEM degrees), it’s not really a viable excuse – 6.7% is not 0%. There are plenty of qualified women and people of color in the talent pools; tech companies just need to do a better job of finding them.
The pipeline isn’t the problem. We all know that. The problem is what happens at the beginning and the end of the pipeline, and it starts with recruitment efforts. Last week, Wired published an article covering a research paper that looked at 84 introductory recruiting sessions from 66 tech companies. The behavior at these sessions was undeniably discouraging to women. I urge you to think about this from a woman’s perspective:
The boy’s club mentality isn’t just limited to the recruiting sessions, and it doesn’t just affect women in tech. Women and people of color are often discouraged from pursuing tech careers as early on as high school and college. In 2014, MIT senior Jennifer Selvidge published an article about the sexist and racist behavior at the school. Her article revealed the disgusting behavior with rage-inspiring detail, everything from professors making “get back in the kitchen” jokes to a TA arguing that black people are genetically inferior. No wonder STEM attrition rates for women and minorities are so high.
Sadly, the people who make it through the gauntlet of discrimination and discouragement don’t get much of a respite. For many, the harassment continues long into their careers, causing women to leave tech careers at a rate that’s two times higher than men.
The tech industry is all about innovation and disruption, so why not apply that attitude to the problem at hand? Technology is quickly becoming ingrained in every minute of our everyday lives – tech companies need to genuinely focus on diversifying before it’s too late. Blanket solutions will not work. Tech leaders must disrupt this bigoted way of thinking from the inside out, and make targeted efforts to support and include women and minorities:
Diversity is not a one-and-done thing, and it’s not a passing fad. We’ve given tech companies our fandom (and our money), and now it’s their turn to give back. It’s time tech leaders take responsibility and start pushing for real change. The onus is on them to make sure everyone is represented and given a fair chance. As Erica Baker, an engineer at Slack, so perfectly put it:
“We can’t really build an app for everybody around the world if everybody isn’t in the room.”