The gender diversity problem is one linked to culture. We are attempting to solve the issue by pumping resources into educating more women and minorities, and questioning hiring practices—but these are trivial solutions in comparison to recognizing, addressing, and eliminating the hidden discrimination against women rampant in the tech industry and in the general workforce. Gender bias permeates the tech and business sectors, and forces talented female and minority employees to leave these fields altogether, or risk remaining stuck at the bottom of the career ladder.
We can pump all of our resources into hiring more women, but without addressing the inherent gender discrimination, we won’t see much of an improvement. Only by addressing unconscious bias and stereotyping can companies begin to create a culture of inclusivity that will naturally attract and retain more diversity.
Kieran Snyder, a former executive at Microsoft and Amazon and now CEO and co-founder of Textio, interviewed over 700 women who had quit tech positions at 654 companies in 43 U.S. states. Many of these women decided to leave after working in the tech sector for an average of seven years; an overwhelming 26.8 percent reported leaving because they were not comfortable at work due to blatant discrimination. Of these, several had faced discrimination related to their age, race, or sexuality, in addition to gender or motherhood-related issues. Another 11.9 percent spoke out about inflexible working arrangements and non-inclusive working environments for working moms, and low salaries that simply couldn’t cover necessary child care expenses. Overall, 64.9 percent of the women surveyed were not currently working, and 35.1 percent were employed outside of the tech sector. The overwhelming majority (87.3 percent) had no intention of returning to tech companies, while only 3.1 percent reported that they would like to return to tech-oriented positions in the future.
In another study performed by UC Hastings College of Law, 100 percent of the 60 female scientists interviewed reported gender and racial bias. Half of the scientists stated that they had been mistaken for administrative or custodial staff before, and the majority felt that they had to work twice as hard to prove they were just as competent as their male colleagues. More than half felt they couldn’t be assertive at work without being challenged by their male counterparts. In particular, 64.0 percent of the scientists who were also mothers felt affected by ‘maternal wall bias,’ characterised by strong assumptions and prescriptive stereotypes that women with children no longer have the same commitment and competence in their jobs as they did before having children, as well as hidden penalties for mothers with family commitments.
In order to achieve gender diversity in the workplace, companies must address cultural issues. Once companies recognize discrimination and unfairness in work practices, they need to design policies and programs to help retain female talent and make the workforce fair for all employees. Objectively, companies should hire an external auditor to conduct an assessment of existing culture/hiring/pay practices, along with their current representation of women and minorities. Leadership should then sponsor and implement action plans to address any gender and racial discrimination issues. Mandatory training programs should be set up to help employees recognize unconscious bias. There should also be clear career paths within organizations to allow employees to identify their opportunities for career growth. These plans should be inclusive and flexible to support all employees, regardless of gender or race.
Specific coaching, training, and mentoring programs should be developed to help women advance in their careers, including advice on networking, negotiation, and self-promotion skills, among others. Not only will taking these steps send a clear message to male employees that sexism and gender discrimination will not be tolerated, it articulates to female staff that they are supported and empowered in the workplace.
One company, Pinterest, is currently highlighting its commitment to gender diversity. Executives publicly shared their hiring goals for women and minorities, along with details of the programs and initiatives implemented to support these goals. These programs include hiring from an increased range of different universities, mandatory training for employees to prevent unconscious bias, training and mentorship programs, and working with an external strategy firm to set up ‘Inclusion Labs’ to experiment with new diversity tactics. Hopefully, this is evidence that Pinterest is choosing to lead by example, and will put pressure on other tech companies to follow suit and seriously pursue diversity efforts.
By having to work with various age groups, cultures, and sexual orientations, one’s perceptive filters expand.
Indeed, other top Silicon Valley companies have now started following in Pinterest’s footsteps: Google, Facebook, Apple, and Twitter have all publicly declared their commitment to diversity. In addition, Facebook has introduced an internship program for underrepresented minorities while Twitter has implemented inclusion training for all employees and is looking into their hiring practices.
Both Facebook and Google will be holding workshops and seminars on unconscious bias to help employees understand the importance of their actions and how stereotypes can affect diversity. No one expects these initiatives to correct the underrepresentation of women in tech overnight, but they can empower current female staff in a supportive and inclusive environment. That, in turn, will encourage other talented women to follow.
A lot of Canadian tech companies are doing their part to bridge the gap. As Bob Vaez, CEO of EventMobi explains, “One of EventMobi’s biggest differentiators is our care and empathy for our clients. In my experience, diversity naturally breeds empathy. By having to work with various age groups, cultures, educational backgrounds, and sexual orientations, one’s perceptive filters are bound to expand which will not only benefit the workplace and interaction with customers but our communities as a whole.”
Another leading example is Ben Zifkin, CEO and founder of Hubba, and founding partner of Ladies Learning Code, a not-for-profit organization that helps women and youths to learn hands-on technical skills. He has shown that you don’t need to be a top Silicon Valley tech firm to be making a difference. Other companies need to follow suit and get behind the mission to eradicate gender and racial stereotypes and enhance workplace diversity. As former Twitter employee Mark Luckierightly states: “Tech companies must reflect the communities they serve. If not, they risk alienating the users most responsible for their success.”