Women in Technology: Time for a Change

I have been following the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology Conference from afar and on Twitter and I was disappointed to hear what was discussed at the Male Allies panel on Wednesday (here’s a good summary) and how Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, advised women not to ask for raises but to wait for them. “It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along,” said Mr Nadella. “Because that’s good karma. It’ll come back because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust.” It’s discouraging that the men leading the tech world have such little understanding of the existing biases and the meritocracy myth in tech.

It was also a hard week to hear about what women in the tech community have been going through in terms of harassment. Kathy Sierra, Adria Richards and Julie Pagano are just the few I have heard of, and their stories about how they were treated in the tech community are frightening. I urge you to read them.

Show your support for women in tech by contributing to CODE documentary:  Debugging the Gender Gap

Show your support for women in tech by contributing to the CODE documentary: Debugging the Gender Gap

Along with these disheartening statements, more tech companies are releasing their diversity statistics. Microsoft, for example, released its diversity report last week and the numbers are disappointing yet in line with every other tech company. Women make up 29% of Microsoft’s employees and 17% of its global tech employees. They also make up 17% of Microsoft’s leadership.

It seems that tech companies still don’t understand that gender diversity (and racial diversity, but that wasn’t discussed as much this week) is beneficial to companies. I have said this before: having a diverse workforce enables companies to understand their user base by employing representatives of every segment. Not just a token woman, a token African American and a token Asian, but a workforce that reflects its user demographics. When most of the employees are white males between the ages of 25 and 35, that is the demographic they will understand and identify with the most. A larger company can “afford” to employ a diverse workforce that can at least echos its user base.

So many recent product and policy mishaps might have been avoided with a few more women working on those teams. A few recent examples are:

  1. Facebook refusing to allow drag queens to use their stage name as their Facebook identity (after allowing them to do so for many years) and being unable to understand why anyone would want to use an alternative identity on Facebook. As Mr Zuckerberg, perhaps the poster boy for the typical tech guy, famously stated “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” As many articles pointed out, there are many legitimate reasons to have a pseudonym on Facebook. Could more women and members of the LGBT community on Facebook’s PR team and real names team have been more empathetic?
  2. Jason Calancis shared statistics about the high percent of teenagers who have been bullied or know someone who has been bullied via a mobile phone. His comment: “Only founders without children would build an anonymous app.” Would a woman, a mother, on the team would have helped put more safeguards in place?
  3. Earlier this week Sarah Lacy at Pando Daily wrote a scathing commentary with the title: “Venture capital and the great big Silicon Valley asshole game.” In it she discusses the various products created by tech businesses lead by men and how they are treating both their employees and their users. These are small startups with mostly a very non-diverse team. She talks about Snapchat (another app that is harmful to teens) Uber, Secret, Tinder and many others. Again, can women help shape a startup’s direction and voice? With the toxicity apparent in these companies’ culture, would any woman have even wanted to join?
  4. Safety has become an issue with Uber and other ride-sharing companies. Can women, who perhaps suffer the most from driver behavior, initiated a smarter set of background checks?

These are just a few, recent examples where more diversity could have enabled a greater understanding of the user base and their product use. Tech leaders, men and women alike, I urge you: take a few moments to read some of stories that women have told this week. Then, don’t go and talk about hiring more women just because you have to. Hire them because you want to.


Note: this is a personal post that strays a bit from my usual product discussions. I’d love your feedback. Thanks.


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