Vivek Wadhwa calls on startups and tech companies to support Tracy Chou's project to collect data on gender in engineering.
By Vivek Wadhwa (VP of Research, Singularity University)
One of the technology industry’s most serious shortcomings is that it leaves out women and some minorities. I have written a lot about the dearth of women and why this is an important issue. I am also crowdcreating a book, Innovating Women, on how to fix this imbalance. In a nutshell, we need to do this for the economy and to boost innovation.
Culture, values, and ethics flow from the top to the bottom in companies—from the board down to the executive team, to management, and ultimately to the rank and file. When boards don’t place a value on diversity, you can’t expect employees to. The gender imbalance that is created hurts companies at all levels.
I and many others have highlighted the problem with company boards, and I said some strong words about a company that is in the limelight because of its IPO: Twitter. Its CEO, Dick Costolo, was not happy about this because he and many other executives would rather pretend that there is no problem. But as a result of the media firestorm that resulted from Costolo’s inappropriate comments, we are making progress on this front. Now that Twitter has been called out on its board imbalance, I have no doubt that, by early next year, it will announce that it has at least one woman board member—possibly two. With a bit of luck, these will be African American, Latino, or Asian women.
Other companies too are looking at themselves. We can measure the gender composition of boards and executive teams, because these are published on company websites. What isn’t published—and is hard to determine—is a breakdown of the engineering staff. The best way of fixing any problem is to start by admitting it exits, measuring it, and then taking positive actions. So these are important data.
One woman engineer is working on making this happen. Tracy Chou, who works at Pinterest, is collecting data on gender in engineering. I encourage you to help her. Please provide her with information about the composition of your engineering team and of any others that you know about. This information is not confidential information and is not a trade secret. It will help the cause. Here is the link for submitting data: github.com/triketora/women-in-software-eng.
Here is what Tracy wrote on her blog about this effort:
A 2011-2013 CNN investigation into diversity at top U.S. tech companies turned up nothing but an industry-wide unwillingness to release any workforce diversity data. Some out-of-date sources cite Google’s percentage of female engineers at 20%, but I couldn’t find any explanation of this old stat (which seems high) or anything at all from other valley titans like Facebook. I’ve inquired at a couple of well-known startups: one of them started counting women in business development, another included women in the product org generally, each saying that those teams were so integrated with engineering that it didn’t make sense to separate out the functions. Every company has some way of hiding or muddling the data on women actually in engineering roles.
The actual numbers I’ve seen and experienced in industry are far lower than anybody is willing to admit. This means nobody is having honest conversations about the issue. While companies do talk about their initiatives to make the work environment more female-friendly, or to encourage more women to go into or stay in computing, there’s no way of judging whether they’re successful or worth mimicking, because there are no success metrics attached to any of them.
But it’s hard for companies to admit that they’re working through any issues when they want to paint the rosy picture for recruiting. The competition for tech talent is fierce, and companies are inevitably pitted against each other fighting for good candidates, even more so for good female candidates because of their paucity. While it’s ok to say in a generic way that the industry has a long way to go, companies always need to at least intimate that they’re doing better than average....
I’ll start. Pinterest has 11 women out of 89 engineers, putting us at 12% female in engineering — the same percentage as coming out of undergraduate CS programs. Our inaugural intern class had 8 women out of 28 engineering interns, which is 29%. Many people ask me if it’s easier because we’re Pinterest. It’s not, really. We have to be thoughtful about sourcing candidates and building the right culture, and we invest in deliberate efforts to connect with women in the community. We’re still learning and growing, and we can get better about measuring and understanding our funnels as well. But we’re eager to open the conversation.
Tracy is a hero to me; she has taken the initiative to speak up and do something to fix the gender imbalance that is hurting our economy. Now it is time for you to do your share.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.
About the guest blogger: Vivek Wadhwa is Vice President of Academics and Innovation at Singularity University. In his roles at Stanford, Duke, and Emory universities, he lectures in class on subjects such as entrepreneurship and public policy. Prior to joining academia in 2005, Wadhwa founded two software companies. Follow him on Twitter at @wadhwa