BY: DANIEL KORN
Diversity is important. Everyone pretty much understands this when it comes to strategies for success —investment brokers advise their clients to have a diverse portfolio, artists are encouraged to learn as many different mediums and styles as possible, and the tech companies that control the developed world have retained their grasp by keeping their fingers in just about every pie available.
So why do the overwhelmingly male employees of companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook have a problem with diversity in their own workplaces?
41% of women leave the tech industry after working in it for 10 years, compared to just 17% of men
Sexism in the tech industry has been understood as a problem for quite a while, but has garnered increased recognition over the past couple years as more women discuss their experiences online. As relayed by Sue Gardner on the LA Times, a 2008 Harvard Business Review report found that 41% of women leave the tech industry after working in it for 10 years, compared to just 17% of men. Tracey Lien, again in the LA Times, explains the reasons for their leaving as “a ‘hostile’ male culture, a sense of isolation and lack of a clear career path;” an updated version of the study from 2014 suggests that these haven’t changed. This in an industry where, according to a public Google spreadsheet by Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou, women engineers make up only 13% of the engineering workforce. Constant tales of workplace sexism have also resulted in a steadily declining population of female Computer Science undergraduate recipients, from 37% in 1985 to 18% in 2012.
The perilous atmosphere of tech workplaces is mostly attributed to the wider perception of programming and engineering as fields that are not “for girls.” As such, higher-ups at major companies like Uber, Snapchat, and Tinder make sexist comments about women and shrug off negative feedback as “political correctness,” while infantile “brogrammer” culture pervades Silicon Valley. This is in addition to the problems that women face in just about any workplace, where they almost always make less money and receive fewer promotions than men with the same qualifications. It’s no wonder, then, that toxic work environments are seemingly the norm.
Bonnie Ross, the head of 343 Industries, was wolf-whistled while presenting at E3
With a lack of workplace diversity comes a few problems. There’s the obvious moral issue— the simple notion that every individual regardless of gender or race deserves to be paid the same amount for equivalent work. More importantly for big tech companies is the fact that diversity is simply good for business. The majority of the tech industry consists of men making products for other men, which is kind of a problem when women make up roughly half of the world’s population. If efforts aren’t made to make the industry more inclusive, future generations of women will continue to stay away from tech fields, creating an unending cycle of homogenization—a serious issue in an industry devoted to innovation.
Interestingly, a lot of the major companies recognize that this is an issue, and have tried to rectify it in various ways. In 2013, Google introduced workplace-training programs that try to fight cultural biases in employees. Pinterest has a diversity-focused recruiter and a special committee that ensures employees don’t get overlooked for career advancement due to their gender or ethnicity. Facebook offers a four-month maternity and paternity leave and a “leadership day” for female employees worldwide.
Here is an example of the many tweets that flooded the Internet after Bonnie Ross presented
Do these methods work? Maybe. Joan C. Williams, co-author of “What Works For Women: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know” contends that sensitivity training and mentoring does little to make workplaces more welcome. Pinterest’s system of having a watchdog group might be the most effective for the women working there, but it’s unsure if that will result in an increased number of women in technical roles at the end of the day.
What has to happen is a systemic change. Basically, men in tech fields need to stop being so shitty. They need to advocate for women’s rights and start treating their female peers like the skilled workers they are. They have to give women the same respect they would give anyone else. They have to realize that equality is the only way to keep their currently thriving industry alive.