(Before I begin, I just want to say that I don’t mean to offend anyone through this article but merely want to help spread the message)…
The World was left in shock a few weeks ago after the ‘Superpowers of Silicon Valley’ released surveys detailing the lack of diversity among their employees. Companies like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Yahoo have officially come out with their numbers, and it’s terrifying news for the common coders, especially if they’re not men or white.
The surveys show that men enjoy the lion’s share in these Tech firms, which is a discouraging sign for women coders. Google was the first to release it’s numbers, followed by Yahoo, LinkedIn and Facebook. The companies are trying to open up about their internal issues, hiring policies and biasing/discrimination. Of the four companies, Google had the least diverse working population while LinkedIn had the most. But the disparity calls for a change in mindset, both from the companies and society alike.
Google led the charge in both disclosing the details and admitting it’s failures. By opening up, they’ve sparked a mini-revolutions of sorts, which aims at encouraging women and the culturally diverse to become Entrepreneurs.
In their survey, Google revealed that nearly 70% of their working population is men, and 61% of them are white while Asians took silver at 30%. These numbers point toward a lack of cultural diversity, as well as a gender bias. Google cited that women earn only 18% of all the Computer Science degrees in the U.S, whereas black and Hispanic students earn less than 5%. But this alone can’t be the reason for it’s lack of diversity. Over 79% of their senior management are white men while the Hispanics and blacks only hold 2-3% combined.
As shown above, over 72% of senior management are white and 79% are men, which is a recurrent trend in most tech companies. And the numbers get worse as we dig deeper still. By classification of jobs, only 17% of women are employed in the technical field, whereas that number almost triples when it comes to non-technical work.
Does this mean that the company is unwilling to hire female coders or that women saw themselves as more management fit?
While Yahoo has slightly better numbers than Google, it too faces a problem when it comes to diversity.
But the company believes that it needs to work hard in creating a diversified work force for it’s minorities. Like with Google, Yahoo’s tech population is infested with men while it’s non-tech shows a slight domination by women. Again, senior management is divided in a 1:3 ratio and the cultural diversity is almost negligible. Marissa Mayer (Yahoo’s CEO) however does not believe that women can successfully handle both their jobs and being a mother simultaneously. She took a hit recently after imposing a ‘No Work From Home’ policy, which made it even more difficult for women at Yahoo to concentrate on their personal and professional lives at the same time.
Marissa insists she’s not a feminist, nor does she believe she has what it takes to be one. Her comments on feminism were received with widespread resentment. She quotes:
“I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that, I certainly believe in equal rights. I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so, in a lot of different dimensions. But I don’t, I think, have sort of the militant drive and sort of the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it’s too bad, but I do think feminism has become, in many ways, a more negative word. There are amazing opportunities all over the world for women, and I think that there’s more good that comes out of positive energy around that than negative energy.”
But while she maintains her stance, she does believe that her company needs to change and fast. Her view is that Yahoo has to work very hard in an attempt to fix the current diversity issues. That’s certainly easier said than done.
LinkedIn is by far the most promising place to work, but even they feel a need to ‘shift the trend’.
Their recent demographic survey showed a 40:60 ratio in favour of men, which is miles ahead of it’s competitors. With that in mind, they also feel the need to increase the cultural diversity among their staff. Not surprisingly, Asians occupy almost a third of every company’s task force but it’s the minority issue which seems to stay relatively constant from one big tech firm to the next, averaging around or less than 5%.
Facebook went all out in releasing it’s stats, despite what it might do to their popularity as a social networking platform.
In all possibility, Facebook has the worst numbers of the four. Not only is it’s workforce predominantly male, it also employs less Asians and has more men than women in the non-tech department. With this in mind, Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) released her book titled ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’ in which she encourages women to light the beacon and create their own destinies as future leaders and entrepreneurs. While this is a positive move, it doesn’t address the larger issue of cultural diversity and how Facebook, or any other company for that matter plan to address it.
Why the Disparity?
It’s easy to point a finger at these companies, but are they to blame for everything? Katty Kay and Claire Shipman surveyed the matter and found that in general, women have lower self confidence than men, which hampers their decision making and in most cases, their careers.
In their article titled The Confidence Gap, it’s found that:
- In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality.
- Do men doubt themselves sometimes? Of course. But they don’t let their doubts stop them as often as women do.
- Women applied for a promotion only when they met 100 percent of the qualifications. Men applied when they met 50 percent.
- Girls lose confidence, so they quit competing in sports, thereby depriving themselves of one of the best ways to regain it.
- If life were one long grade school, women would be the undisputed rulers of the world.
- What doomed the women was not their actual ability to do well on the tests. They were as able as the men were. What held them back was the choice not to try.
- If a woman speaks up first at meetings, she risks being disliked or even—let’s be blunt—being labeled a bitch.
- “The natural result of low confidence is inaction. When women hesitate because we aren’t sure, we hold ourselves back.”
Their article goes on to explain each of these facts, which reassure us that women are just as capable as men but for a fear or want of trying, which develops from a very young age.
Contrary to the 18% of women Computer Science graduates, another survey indicated that almost 70% of 4th grade girls are willing to pursue a life in the tech industry. So it’s between middle school and college that a major transition takes place. One of the reasons women shy away from coding is the image of transforming into a geek, which seems to have a profound affect on their minds. An article by The Wallstreet Journal showed that while men were neutral to being called a geek, women absolutely resisted computer science upon reading articles about the stereotypical computer geek. These impressions convert coding and tech enthusiasts into anti-coders, and thus the number of women who take up computer science falls steeply. And women who do manage to get into these companies as a coder get threatening emails, as reported by The Washington Post.
The issue of cultural diversity is a mindset issue which arises either during middle school or under-grad. The lack of motivation and encouragement for the culturally diverse forces them into a field with less white/pasty men, which sees only 3-4% of Computer Science students being non-white. Keeping these numbers in mind and reflecting upon the Tech Giants’ numbers, not much can be said about the cultural diversity, although the number of white men is substantially larger than any other group, almost doubling the other groups put together.
What’s the Next Step?
Although it seems like the most obvious step, both women and the non-whites have to be nurtured in the field of computer science. The schools and colleges have to take it upon themselves to rid the youth of their misconceptions and clarify the overly exaggerated stereotype that “only white guys can code” or “you’ll look undesirable and ugly if you become a coder”. I feel this is the most hindering factor because the same stereotype is conveyed throughout the world. Even in India, the land of tech support, children are being influenced not to code from a young age by their parents. Parents believe that there’s more money in doing an MBA. Furthermore, with such a large number of engineers struggling to get a job in the tech sector, it seems like the world is slowly shifting away from the concept of encouraging the growth of techies.
There’s is a silver lining to this sad tale. The companies mentioned above, and many more who recognize this growing disparity, have already begun working on ways to overcome their internal problems.
Some of the initiatives taken by Facebook include partnering with the Anita Borg Institute and the National Center for Women & Information Technology to encourage women coders, partnering in pipeline programs like Girls Who Code, Code 2040, National Society of Black Engineers and establishing Employee Resource Groups (ERG) to help employees from culturally diverse backgrounds.
Google has begun by welcoming over 1,000 women at it’s recent event, The Google I/O, which saw a 13% increase in women attendees since last years minuscule 7%. It’s also donating $ 50 million to start ups which can encourage and promote cultural diversity. Their Made With Code initiative looks to bring female engineers to the foray and encourages them to become THE future coders.
LinkedIn is working with a handful of women and minority focused organizations to provide opportunities for jobs in the tech industry and they’ve also partnered with Out & Equal Workplace Advocates to end sexual orientation based employment discrimination. Yahoo, like Google and Facebook, is partnering with the Anita Borg Institute to promote equality in the tech industry.
What we can do as individuals is encourage our youth to partake in coding, irrespective of gender or cultural background. We need to motivate them to take the step they’d never take otherwise. Institutions should address this matter head on. More training programs should be provided for women with a genuine interest in computer science. Parents should help their children understand the significance that programming has in our lives today. Organizations should strive to provide a safer working environment for all it’s employees. In general, the adolescence should not be afraid to dip their toes in boiling water. It’s the brave, not the cowardly, that have made the world what it is today.
As always, I’d like to thank the sources for their amazing images.