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Tech Companies Look To Bolster Gender, Racial Diversity

women working info graphic
The percentage of women working tech jobs in the US greatly lags behind other industries such as education, law and marketing. (Graphic by Leslie Cory
Source: US Census/company reports)

 

By Leslie Cory

When Leslie Miley became an engineering manager at Google nine years ago, he found few African Americans like himself in their offices.

“Google in 2006 through 2008 was not a great place to be if you were a minority,” he said. “I just did not feel supported.”

Bay Area tech has long been criticized for a lack of workforce diversity, but some companies, including Twitter on Market Street, have been nudged by lawsuits and are beginning to prioritize hiring women and minorities.

Twitter is currently facing a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by Tina Huang, a former female software engineer. Huang alleges that during her five years at the company Twitter failed to outline a policy for promotion and “thus had the effect of denying equal job opportunities to qualified women.” After filing an email complaint to Twitter’s then-CEO Dick Costolo, Huang was placed on leave for three months and later resigned.

In late August, Twitter committed to increasing women to 35 percent and minorities to 11 percent of its 4,100-employee base by supporting diversity organizations and conferences. The company Pinterest also pledged to hire 30 percent women and 8 percent minorities for new engineering roles.

But even as women and minorities in the industry praised the latest developments, they expressed frustration about the slow pace of change.

“A lot of the solutions … were things they were already doing that haven’t moved any of their numbers very much in the last year,” said Melinda Epler, CEO of Change Catalyst, an incubator for women entrepreneurs.

Melinda Epler

CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda Epler, helped organize the Tech Inclusion Conference in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood September 11-12. (Photo by Leslie Cory)

In mid-September, Epler’s company hosted the Tech Inclusion Conference in San Francisco’s SOMA, where discussion centered on the need for a shift in culture. Christine Tsia, a founding partner of 500 Startups, spoke about colleagues who unthinkingly ask her to do menial tasks such as handling her partner’s calendar.

“This can happen a lot with cofounders, where it’s male and female,” she said, adding that one of her fellow female founders had been told, “You aren’t that serious about this company because you probably have a husband that is making money, so it’s just your little side hobby.”

As she spoke, many women attendees clapped and nodded their heads in agreement.

Miley attributed a major part of the problem to Silicon Valley’s tendency to hire talent from each other, and a small handful of the same top universities.

“If you recruit from Facebook and Google and Twitter and LinkedIn and Airbnb and Uber, well guess what? Your company’s going to look like them,” Miley said.

Miley, along with other speakers at the tech inclusion conference, said companies like Twitter should learn from those that have succeeded in achieving a more diverse mix of employees. The streaming music service, Pandora, increased women to 49 percent of its workforce by inviting employees to help develop more diverse hiring strategies. Etsy also took similar actions.

Some advocates believe that kind of hiring culture would change if more women and minorities were in corporate leadership roles. Epler said she was particularly encouraged by Twitter’s goal to increase its women leaders to 25 percent from 22 percent and minority leaders to 6 percent.

“They really did have a strong goal to reach there,” she said.

For Miley, a public commitment is just the starting point.

“I’d like to see CEOs actually standing up and making a commitment to diversity,” he said. “If you look at your data, your data says that women and people of color actually do better. So why don’t you make a bigger bet there instead of your boys at Stanford?”

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