The Tech Industry's Real Problem With Diversity Is Clear. It's Not The Pipeline.
Tech apologists claim there are insufficient numbers of qualified women to hire. Which conveniently overlooks the hostile work environments now known to be pervasive.
For women in Silicon Valley, 2017 has been a watershed year. We’ve seen women technologists share their stories of sexual harassment and bias, shocking industry outsiders and even many male colleagues. Susan Fowler’s blog post blew the lid off of Uber’s sexual harassment issues and hostile culture. Soon thereafter, a crew of female entrepreneurs turned a spotlight on blatant sexual harassment in the venture capital world. Neither of these stories surprised women or minorities who work in tech, but—finally—people were listening.
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The antidiversity screed penned by ex-Google engineer James Damore isn’t so surprising, either. As women and members of minority groups speak out and make gains, it’s inevitable that we’ll see pushback from those who benefit from the existing system. The points that Damore made in his now-infamous manifesto aren’t supported by the facts and are profoundly offensive to many, but in today’s world of "fake news" they’re fair game as “free speech.”
Let’s be real: Women technologists and other minority tech workers face consistent, entrenched bias every single day. Damore’s screed is proof of that. Who wants to work with someone who clearly believes that gender makes them less qualified? Who wants to have that same person weighing in on their performance review? And who wants to be prejudged based on their gender before they’ve even walked in the door? I think we can all agree that every worker deserves to work in a harassment-free environment where they are evaluated based on their skills, abilities and accomplishments.
Women leave technology careers at a rate twice as high as their male counterparts due to exactly this sort of bias, harassment and cultural hostility. Scandals like the Google memo make it doubly hard for girls and women to feel welcome as they pursue jobs at tech companies.
Women at Google are in a bind: Speaking out puts them at risk of being targeted. But now is exactly the right time for women and other marginalized technologists to tell their stories and make clear the daily human toll of bias and harassment. They need to talk about what they’ve achieved, and the reasons why they live and breathe for engineering and computer science. They need to share their dreams because, counter to prejudicial notions, women actually are ambitious, smart and, yes, even aggressive. They also must confront the bias they live with, along with a stunning lack of opportunity, advancement and recognition.
We all need, now more than ever, to celebrate the women in our midst who are changing the tech world every day. Women and minority technologists will overcome these challenges by staying strong together, and forging stronger connections to the community. Together we can build a world where the people who create technology represent the societies that use it.
Elizabeth Ames is SVP of marketing, alliances and programs at the Anita Borg Institute. She has held management positions in marketing and strategy at Apple, Verifone, Netcentives, Vontu, Certive, Plastic Logic, and RETHINK Partners, where she was founder and CEO. Ames received her BFA from the University of Hartford and her MBA from the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University.