Not long ago, in a post she penned for Medium, entitled “Where are the numbers?”, Pinterest engineer, Tracy Chou, challenged the tech industry about not only the striking dearth of women working especially in engineering roles, but also the lack of transparency when it came to actually collecting data on workforce diversity. This seemed especially counterintuitive, given the nature of user data collected by the vast majority of tech companies that implement growth and other data-centric initiatives.
Chou wondered: If we want to recruit and retain more female engineers in tech, how can expect to do so if we don’t have accurate metrics to against which to measure our diversity initiatives? She wrote:
While companies do talk about their initiatives to make the work environment more female-friendly, or to encourage more women to go into or stay in computing, there’s no way of judging whether they’re successful or worth mimicking, because there are no success metrics attached to any of them.
Often, in the past, even when data was collected, it has been skewed, as women in roles other than engineering were counted as holding “tech” jobs.
Every company has some way of hiding or muddling the data on women actually in engineering roles...The actual numbers I’ve seen and experienced in industry are far lower than anybody is willing to admit. This means nobody is having honest conversations about the issue.
Chou set out to collect her own data, and in so doing, announced a call for accurate collection from other tech companies. other than engineering were counted as holding “tech” jobs. Chou defined exactly which jobs ought to be counted when it came to engineering roles, and encouraged other companies to publicly register those women “who are writing or architecting software,” and are employed full time.
At smaller companies, employees willingly submitted data. Often, it was a matter of simply taking a look around the room. Larger firms have subsequently released data on their own, and the numbers have been disappointing. With the reported results, Chou and Ri Lou from Pitch Interactive, compiled the information into a spreadsheet and converted it into an infographic, titled “We Can Do Better.”
Some of the notable numbers: Mozilla’s engineers were less than 9 percent female. Women made up just 17 percent of the tech team at Google as of January of last year. At Facebook and Yahoo, the number was 15 percent. Some companies employed no females on their tech teams at all. Chou’s team at Pinterest, whose users are reportedly nearly 75% female, was also comprised of only 12 percent women.
Although the numbers are disappointing, the data reported did what nothing else had done before: it set a baseline from which upward motion could be tracked. If anything, the numbers can serve as a point of reference when discussing future initiatives aimed at attracting women in tech.
Did you know that women largely pioneered the field of computer science?
Women played a large role in pioneering the computer field. For instance, in the mid-1800s, Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, did much of the work behind Charles Babbage’s proposed “analytical engine,” writing what’s now widely considered the world’s first computer program.
Grace Hopper, after serving as an architect of the watershed Mark I, invented the “compiler,” a basic infrastructural program, and coined the term debugging after finding a moth in one of the machines.
Although Lovelace and other women like her were among the earliest visionaries and pioneers in computer science, the gender imbalance in computer science has grown significantly over the years. The U.S. National Center for Education Statistics reports that women made up just 18 percent of undergraduate computer science majors in 2010-2011. As recently as 1983-1984, that number, however, was 37 percent. In fact, the proportion of female computer science majors rose steadily along with the proportion of women enrolling in programs for law school, medical, and the physical sciences through the early 1980’s.
As NPR points out in its recent story, “What Happened to Women in Computer Science?” the percentage of women in computer science plunged in 1984 — just look at the graph that NPR’s Planet Money created to get a sense of the dramatic drop. (Iceland saw similar results, although the numbers have fluctuated over time.)
So, what happened? Although the answer isn’t straightforward, there are a number of factors that have been attributed to the sharp decline. For one, says NPR, computers entered the category of “boys’ toys”:
This idea that computers are for boys became a narrative. It became the story we told ourselves about the computing revolution. It helped define who geeks were and it created techie culture.
According to this theory, having access to and a familiarity with these computers gave boys an early advantage in their university computer science classes. While women in these entry-level programming classes learned programming for the first time, men were simply sharpening skills they had been developing for years.
Data suggests that this may have had a snowballing effect, which has in turn, has led to less women serving as role models and mentors to younger women who are on the outskirts of their career pursuits.
Indeed, current statistics do not seem favorable to women in tech. A recent MIT study found that when men and women made identical startup pitches for more than 500 participants, the men were chosen nearly 70 percent of the time. PaperG, a tech advertising company, recently surveyed nearly 100 tech companies of varying sizes, and found that none of the seed-funded companies had a formal maternity leave program for their female employees. The dearth of women in management roles and those sitting on boards of directors of tech companies is obvious, despite research that indicates the value that gender diversity plays in innovation, growth, and collective team intelligence.
How can the tech industry expect to recruit and retain women if it alienates the women that are currently in it?
While recent data suggests that the trajectory is heading upward, it’s clear that the problem hasn’t been fully resolved.
For instance, in the first time in its history, Berkeley noted that women outnumbered men in the school’s introductory computer software class.
Universities in Iceland recently reported a 145% increase in the number of computer science students in general since last year. Since 2009, Iceland has seen a 249% increase in women studying computer science at the universities here. In 2009, there were 99 women enrolled in computer science programs, but now there are 345 women currently enrolled in this field. However, recent graduation rates have fallen.
Here, you can see the trajectory of women studying and graduating with a B.Sc. in Computer Science from the University of Iceland since 1978. (The blue represents the total, orange represents men studying computer science, the yellow represents women studying computer science, green represents total graduating with a B.Sc. in computer science, pink represents women graduating with a B.Sc. in computer science, and turquoise represents men graduating with a B.Sc. in computer science.)
Below are the numbers of women studying and graduating with a B.Sc. degree in Computer Science from Reykjavik University. (The blue represents men and the yellow represents women graduating with B.Sc. degrees in computer science.)
From our findings, there isn't a lot of current data on Icelandic companies' diversity statistics publicly available to report on.
Women of Tempo
At Tempo, we see the value that diversity brings to our workforce, but we also see an opportunity to look for longer-term solutions to the challenges that still lie ahead. As of this writing, with 53 employees on our team, 40 are male (75%) and 13 are women. With 29 members on our scrum teams, 7 of the team members are women (24%). This includes team leads, product managers, and one agile coach. 4 out of 25 (16%) of our software engineers are women. Additionally, 6 women in total work on our marketing, sales, QA/support, business development, and management teams.
What we are interested in — as a team and as a company going forward, are the messages that we tell each other, that we tell other women and others, and that we tell young people who are on the brink of discovering the passions that they pursue in life. We see as a mission to foster and encourage diversity and inclusion, since diversity helps us challenge our assumptions and expectations, gain progress, and grow, both personally and professionally.
Although Chou’s efforts focussed especially on looking at women holding engineering roles in tech, we’re interested in learning about and sharing the perspectives of women who hold a variety of roles on our team; we strongly feel that there are many aspects of our company that benefit from differing perspectives.
Going forward, we want to tell those stories through a new initiative that helps us challenge ourselves and challenge our status quo. We’ll be speaking one-on-one with women on our management, engineering, support, business development, and marketing teams to learn more about how their paths have led them to where they are now at Tempo and to see what they think about the future of tech — and for women in tech, generally. Stay tuned for more!
- Tracy Chou, "Where Are the Numbers?" Medium. Web. Oct, 11, 2013.
- Pioneering Women in Computing Technology
- Dizikes, Peter. “Study: Attractive Men Fare Best in Gaining Venture Capital”. MIT News. MIT News, 17 Mar. 2014. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
- Swinson, Jo. “40% Of Managers Avoid Hiring Younger Women To Get Around Maternity Leave.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.
- Sandberg, Sheryl. “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.” Ted Women Conference. Washington D.C. 7 Dec 2010. Keynote Address.
- Woolley, Anita. “Defend Your Research: What Makes A Team Smarter? More Women.” Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business School Publishing, 6 Nov. 2011. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.
- Steve Henn, "When Women Stopped Coding." NPR. Wed. 21 Oct. 2014.