What Tech Companies Are Doing To Close The Gender Gap
In opinion / By Ellen Bowers / 13 September 2017
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a flurry of technology giants release demographic data regarding diversity in their workforce.
This diversity parade as the New York Times calls it, started when Google published a blog sharing the demographic breakdown of its employee’s genders and ethnicities. The data showed that pioneering company had a lot of work to do. Although Google is considered to be ‘politically progressive’ the figures proved otherwise with men in 80% of tech jobs and 75% of men leadership roles. Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter soon followed in Google’s footsteps by releasing their own diversity statistics, proving that the gender gap in tech is still firmly in place.
The data released was far from surprising, men have always made up the overwhelming majority of the tech workforce and there’s no simple fix to solve the inequality. The gender gap in tech is a complex issue with many factors contributing towards it – from education policy to hiring techniques. There are also legitimate reasons as to why technology companies struggle to hire and retain women employees, for instance, Google sites that, ‘women earn roughly 18% of all computer science degrees in the United States.’
But what are tech companies such as Google, Twitter, Uber and Facebook doing to help close the gender gap?
Uber has been in the spotlight frequently due to reports of its toxic environment for its female employees. A former engineer, Susan Fowler, went public with allegations of sexism and harassment that lead to a huge internal investigation and a purge of top execs. According to Uber’s diversity report released in March 2017, just 15% of its technical workforce are women, with 22% of women in leadership roles.
However, things are looking like they might improve, thanks to Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, formerly chief executive of Expedia. Khosrowshahi has recently stated that a lack of diversity of all kinds is ‘definitely a problem’ in tech, ‘you look at the problem and solve it one step at a time,’ Khosrowshahi said. ‘You solve it by first recognising it and then working it. It requires real candour and real honesty.’
Uber has also announced a multi-year partnership with the non-profit Girls Who Code. Uber will be donating $1.2 million to Girls Who Code over the next three years, this money will go towards growing more after school and immersion programs for girls to learn about tech while at school. Uber engineers will also be volunteering to help set up coding workshops and mentoring programs. Girls Who Code have estimated that 60,000 more girls will gain access to the program as a result of the deal
Google made an announcement via Twitter that the company has closed the pay gap among their workers globally and is now sharing their methods with other companies on how they managed it. The tech giant has also made strides in getting more girls into STEM, with their venture Made with Code a project to help young girls see coding as a potential career path.
Last year Microsoft hit the headlines when it promised to link executive bonuses to workforce diversity goals after seeing the number of women that it employees fall for a second consecutive year. In 2016 Microsoft’s new hires for the business overall were 27.7% female and 21.1% for tech roles. Microsoft has also outlined their plan to ensure that their workforce becomes more diverse this includes ‘creating and delivering compelling career development offerings for women and racial/ethnic minorities’ and ‘continuing mandatory internal training on inclusive hiring and awareness of unconscious and unintended bias.’
Mark Zuckerberg recently welcomed his second daughter, August, to the world – joining mum Priscilla and sister Max, to bring the total of women in the Zuckerberg to three. As pointed out by Twitter user Melanie Ehrenkranz, there are now more women in the Zuckerberg family than on Facebook’s board of directors. According to Bloomberg, the only women granted access to Facebook’s boardroom are Susan Desmond-Hellman MD, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and, of course, Sheryl Sandberg.
While women on Facebook’s board may be few and far between, their overall diversity is slowly but surely improving year on year. The 2017 data revealed small gains for women, women now represent 35% of the social network’s overall workforce, up from 33% in 2016. However, in tech roles within the business, women have yet to crack one-fifth of the roles at a lowly 19%.
The company states that they are actively recruiting for more women in tech roles, noting that 27% of its graduate hires in engineering are women. Sheryl Sandberg, one of the two female members of Facebook’s board and the chief operating officer of Facebook, said she believed job openings should be contested by equal numbers of men and women.
Facebook has also come under fire earlier on in the year when a study disclosed by The Wall Street Journal found that female engineers may face a gender bias that prevents their code from being accepted at the same rate as their male counterparts. These revelations call into questions the company’s ongoing diversity efforts. While Facebook dismissed the results of the study, they did bring attention to the industry wide lack of female engineers.
After Twitter published demographic data that revealed their workforce was predominantly white and male, Twitter announced that they are committed to making their workforce more diverse and even set measurable goals, that they now say they have ‘met or surpassed.’ In January of this year, Twitter released updated employee demographics info which stated that women now make up 37% of Twitter’s workforce. The company was aiming to jump from 34% to 35%, women also now make up 15% of their technical workforce, just short of its 16% goal. For leadership roles, women now hold 30%, up from 22% in 2015. Although a rise in 1% for some of those stats may seem insignificant, remember to keep in mind that Twitter isn’t small – it has roughly 3,500 employees, so even small jumps in percentage represents dozens of employees.
Apple’s figures appear to be the most impressive so far with 37% of their company’s hires in 2016 were women with 23% in tech roles, and like the rest of Silicon Valley, they’ve said they are committed to hiring a more diverse workforce. Apple’s figures show that they are making progress, albeit slowly.
Although Apple’s diversity figures look to be improving, there is still a distinct lack of women in leadership roles. To combat this issue a proposal was submitted that would require the company to improve diversity in its highest ranks. The proposal stipulated the firm would have to ‘adopt an accelerated recruitment policy to increase the diversity of senior management and its board of directors’ however this was vetoed by 95% of investors. Just like Uber, Google and Facebook, Apple has also come under fire with the office culture accessed of being ‘sexist’ and ‘toxic.’
Earlier this year Apple appointed Denise Young Smith to head up their diversity efforts in the newly created role of vice-president of diversity and inclusion. This is the company’s latest efforts to improve racial and gender disparities among its employees.
Do you think these tech giants are doing enough to close the gender gap?