Square and Pinterest’s newly released employment data reveals a lack of diversity in top ranks – Recode

More tech industry numbers:

Square, a rising payments company, had only one person of color — an Asian man — in its 11-member executive ranks as of last year, according to newly available data.

Founded and run by Jack Dorsey, the company has a market value of $12.5 billion and had a total net revenue of $1.7 billion last year.

At another end of Silicon Valley, four of the eight executives at social media company Pinterest were people of color — two Asian males and a man and woman each of two or more races.

23andMe, a DNA testing company, was the only firm of approximately 20 top tech companies that have recently released such data that had an executive lineup near gender parity. Eight of its 17 top employees were women. Even so, only one of the 17 was a minority.

The lack of diversity among the upper ranks of these companies is consistent with other tech companies, and highlights the ongoing issue within Silicon Valley of bringing in leadership that isn’t white and male.

This new data comes from an ongoing project by the nonprofit Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. The project aims to create transparency about gender and race among Silicon Valley companies

The study shows for the first time the diversity stats for seven Bay Area tech companies: Square, Pinterest, 23andMe, Clover Health, MobileIron, Nvidia and View.

Using the data collected by Reveal, Recode looked at the top ranks of tech companies that have made their government diversity data public. We analyzed the racial and gender composition of executives or senior level managers, defined as people who “direct and formulate policies, set strategy and provide the overall direction,” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (Note: The Reveal data and analysis doesn’t include the Seattle-based Amazon, but we’ve added it in. We left out Clover Health from our analysis due to a possible mistake in their data.)

The data from these companies reflect the lack of racial and gender diversity elsewhere in Silicon Valley.

Twitter, for example, had no blacks or Latinos among its 47 executives. Of Amazon’s 105 executives in 2016, just one was Latino and none were black.

Facebook’s 496 executives were some of the most diverse, with 7 percent, or 35 people from underrepresented minorities, specifically executives who are not white or Asian.

Companies with more than 100 employees are required by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to fill out an annual survey that identifies the race and gender of their employees in 10 different employment categories, from laborers to chief executives.

Source: Square and Pinterest’s newly released employment data reveals a lack of diversity in top ranks – Recode


Tech’s Troubling New Trend: Diversity Is in Your Head – The New York Times

While agree that racial, gender and religious diversity will not necessarily result in cognitive diversity (minorities may conform to the dominant workplace culture), Williams is right to note that it could be used as a smokescreen:

Discussing her work at Apple at an event last week about fighting racial injustice, Denise Young Smith, the company’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, said, “There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men in a room and they’re going to be diverse, too, because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation.”

That’s right: a dozen white men, so long as they were not raised in the same household and don’t think identical thoughts, could be considered diverse. After a furor erupted, Ms. Smith clarified her comments in an email to her team that was obtained and published by TechCrunch. It reads in part, “Understanding that diversity includes women, people of color, L.G.B.T.Q. people, and all underrepresented minorities is at the heart of our work to create an environment that is inclusive of everyone,” and “I regret the choice of words I used to make this point.”

But Ms. Smith wasn’t the first to endorse the view in her initial statement. Those of us in the tech industry know that the idea of “cognitive diversity” is gaining traction among leaders in our field. In too many cases, this means that, in the minds of those with influence over hiring, the concept of diversity is watered down and reinterpreted to encompass what Silicon Valley has never had a shortage of — individual white men, each with their unique thoughts and ideas. This shift creates a distraction from efforts to increase the race and gender diversity the tech industry is sorely lacking.

This overlaps with the sentiments expressed in a screed by a Google software engineer that critiqued the company’s race and gender diversity efforts and ascribed the unequal representation of women in tech to “biological causes.” It included the line, “Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity.”

If our focus shifts to cognitive diversity, it could provide an easy way around doing the hard work of increasing the embarrassingly low numbers of blacks and Latinos in the ranks of employees, in leadership roles, as suppliers and vendors, and on boards. The leadership of Apple, where Ms. Smith works, was only 3 percent black and 7 percent Hispanic in 2016. A recent report by Recode found that women made up at most 30 percent of leadership roles and no more than 27 percent of technical roles at major tech companies. The percentages of black and Latino employees in leadership was even more dismal, ranging from 4 percent to 10 percent.

The shift toward focusing on viewpoint or cognitive diversity may trace its roots back to the 1978 Supreme Court decision Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which set the stage for schools to consider race in admissions because of the educational benefits of diversity, rather than to redress prior discrimination. It is understandable that because the public discourse around affirmative action shifted along these lines, some came to believe that any kind of diversity — including cognitive diversity — must be equally valuable. But that means that the most meaningful ways through which this is formed (cultural, religious, sexual orientation, socioeconomic, ability and especially gender and racial differences) may be forgotten.

If this happens, we could lose an important check on the tendency of people who work at tech companies to hire more people like themselves. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, employee referrals accounted for over 30 percent of all hires in 2016. Employees typically recommend people similar to them in racial identity and gender, so it requires dedicated effort to recruit and hire people who don’t already have identities that match up with those of current employees. Counting up variations of “viewpoints” — however one might do so — won’t achieve that. And, to potential applicants from underrepresented groups, statements about “cognitive diversity” will send an unwelcoming message about a company’s real priorities for inclusion.

As my former Facebook colleague Regina Dugan said recently, even if cognitive diversity is a company’s ultimate goal, “we can’t step away from the idea that diversity also looks like identity diversity.” The effort to hire people with different points of view must not come at the expense of hiring members of actual underrepresented communities who add tangible, bottom-line value — and who deserve to work in tech as much as anyone.

Ms. Smith said in the email clarifying her remarks, “Our commitment at Apple to increasing racial and gender diversity is as strong as it’s ever been.” That kind of diversity — the old-fashioned kind, that still remains elusive — is what I hope my industry won’t abandon.

Facebook’s chief security officer let loose at critics on Twitter over the company’s algorithms – Recode

Interesting and revealing thread regarding some of the complexities involved and the degree of awareness of the issues:

Facebook executives don’t usually say much publicly, and when they do, it’s usually measured and approved by the company’s public relations team.

Today was a little different. Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, took to Twitter to deliver an unusually raw tweetstorm defending the company’s software algorithms against critics who believe Facebook needs more oversight.

Facebook uses algorithms to determine everything from what you see and don’t see in News Feed, to finding and removing other content like hate speech and violent threats. The company has been criticized in the past for using these algorithms — and not humans — to monitor its service for things like abuse, violent threats, and misinformation.

The algorithms can be fooled or gamed, and part of the criticism is that Facebook and other tech companies don’t always seem to appreciate that algorithms have biases, too.

Stamos says it’s hard to understand from the outside.

“Nobody of substance at the big companies thinks of algorithms as neutral. Nobody is not aware of the risks,” Stamos tweeted. “My suggestion for journalists is to try to talk to people who have actually had to solve these problems and live with the consequences.”

Stamos’s thread is all the more interesting given his current role inside the company. As chief security officer, he’s spearheading the company’s investigation into how Kremlin-tied Facebook accounts may have used the service to spread misinformation during last year’s U.S. presidential campaign.

The irony in Stamos’s suggestion, of course, is that most Silicon Valley tech companies are notorious for controlling their own message. This means individual employees rarely speak to the press, and when they do, it’s usually to deliver a bunch of prepared statements. Companies sometimes fire employees who speak to journalists without permission, and Facebook executives are particularly tight-lipped.

This makes Stamos’s thread, and his candor, very intriguing. Here it is in its entirety.

  1. I appreciate Quinta’s work (especially on Rational Security) but this thread demonstrates a real gap between academics/journalists and SV.

  2. I am seeing a ton of coverage of our recent issues driven by stereotypes of our employees and attacks against fantasy, strawman tech cos.

  3. Nobody of substance at the big companies thinks of algorithms as neutral. Nobody is not aware of the risks.

  4. In fact, an understanding of the risks of machine learning (ML) drives small-c conservatism in solving some issues.

  5. For example, lots of journalists have celebrated academics who have made wild claims of how easy it is to spot fake news and propaganda.

  6. Without considering the downside of training ML systems to classify something as fake based upon ideologically biased training data.

  7. A bunch of the public research really comes down to the feedback loop of “we believe this viewpoint is being pushed by bots” -> ML

  8. So if you don’t worry about becoming the Ministry of Truth with ML systems trained on your personal biases, then it’s easy!

  9. Likewise all the stories about “The Algorithm”. In any situation where millions/billions/tens of Bs of items need to be sorted, need algos

  10. My suggestion for journalists is to try to talk to people who have actually had to solve these problems and live with the consequences.

  11. And to be careful of their own biases when making leaps of judgment between facts.

  12. If your piece ties together bad guys abusing platforms, algorithms and the Manifestbro into one grand theory of SV, then you might be biased

  13. If your piece assumes that a problem hasn’t been addressed because everybody at these companies is a nerd, you are incorrect.

  14. If you call for less speech by the people you dislike but also complain when the people you like are censored, be careful. Really common.

  15. If you call for some type of speech to be controlled, then think long and hard of how those rules/systems can be abused both here and abroad

  16. Likewise if your call for data to be protected from governments is based upon who the person being protected is.

  17. A lot of people aren’t thinking hard about the world they are asking SV to build. When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers.

  18. Anyway, just a Saturday morning thought on how we can better discuss this. Off to Home Depot. 

Source: Facebook’s chief security officer let loose at critics on Twitter over the company’s algorithms – Recode

People of color — especially women — aren’t being promoted in tech as fast as they should be – Recode

The latest diversity study:

While women and people of color are employed at tech companies in larger numbers than they used to be, their upward mobility at those companies has stagnated.

A study by the Ascend Foundation, an organization for Asian professionals in North America, examined tech professionals over a period of eight years using government data, and found that white men were consistently promoted at a higher rate relative to their non-white, non-male peers.

From 2007 to 2015, white men consistently composed a higher share of executive roles than professional roles at tech companies, the study found. It’s the reverse for Asians, Hispanics and blacks, especially if they’re women.

The study looked at Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data from 2007-2015 for manufacturing and information companies with more than 100 employees based in San Francisco and San Jose areas. This is used as a proxy for major tech hardware and software companies, which tend to be based there.

More than 1,000 Bay Area tech companies were included in this review, providing a wider lens than the data released by individual tech companies.

Some key findings:

  • Though Asian men and women were more common in entry-level professional jobs, white men and women were twice as likely as Asians to become executives.
  • Asian women were the least likely among any cohort to become executives.
  • Black and Hispanic professionals are much less likely than their white peers to become executives.
  • The number of black executives had increased by 43 percent in the time period examined. At the same time, there has been a decline in the number of black managers and black female professionals (which could spell trouble for the future executive pipeline).
  • Hispanics remained only 3.5 percent of all executives but declined from 5.2 percent to 4.8 percent of all professionals (also not promising for future promotions).
  • White women are now more likely to be executives than professionals, but they are still underrepresented generally — an issue with recruiting rather than promotion.

Source: People of color — especially women — aren’t being promoted in tech as fast as they should be – Recode

Apple, Facebook, Google and scores of businesses are imploring President Trump to protect the Dreamers – Recode

Yet another example where Trump is forcing corporations to take a stand:

The chief executives of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google joined roughly 300 business leaders urging President Donald Trump late Thursday to continue protecting children brought illegally to the United States from being deported.

Since 2012, the U.S. government has allowed those children — young adults now known as Dreamers — to continue living in the country as long as they obtain and renew work permits under a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

But Trump on Friday is expected to eliminate that legal shield entirely. Months after promising to approach the issue with “great heart,” the president reportedly is expected to order the government to cease granting work permits for undocumented young adults to stay. Meanwhile, the roughly 800,000 currently registered in DACA would not be allowed to obtain additional work authorizations once their current approvals expire.

The move would fulfill one of Trump’s most controversial promises from the 2016 presidential campaign — yet it already is prompting a wide array of businesses to issue a collective rebuke of the White House.

“Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy. With them, we grow and create jobs,” wrote the corporate executives in a joint letter. “They are part of why we will continue to have a global competitive advantage.”

The missive was organized by FWD.us, the immigration reform group backed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Other signers include the leaders of Airbnb, LinkedIn, Lyft and Netflix, as well as Laurene Powell Jobs, the founder of the Emerson Collective, and some executives outside of the tech industry, like Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors.

In a post on his own Facebook, meanwhile, Zuckerberg himself stressed: “We need a government that protects Dreamers.”

“Today I join business leaders across the country in calling on our president to keep the DACA program in place and protect Dreamers from fear of deportation,” he continued. “We’re also calling on Congress to finally pass the Dream Act or another permanent, legislative solution that Dreamers deserve.”

Broadly, Trump’s expected announcement may only worsen his already strained relationship with corporate America. In August, a number of high-profile executives opted to stop advising him on economic issues because of his comments on a different matter: The neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Va.

In Silicon Valley, though, the move toward ending DACA adds to a special, longer-running strain between tech titans and the Trump administration. Immigration is an issue of immense personal and professional importance to the tech industry, which employs a number of foreign workers and long has sought to hire more. Other tech engineers have families abroad, and some of the region’s founders and executives themselves are immigrants who have tried, unsuccessfully, to sway Trump in recent months.

Previously, the likes of Apple, Facebook and Google had opposed the White House as it advanced policies to rethink high-skilled visa programs, limit legal immigration and halt incoming immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority countries. And even before Trump announced his plans to end DACA, tech leaders pleaded with him to reconsider.

Earlier Thursday, Microsoft estimated that 27 of its workers — from engineers to sales associates — would be affected by the change to DACA. The company’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, even tried to issue an early plea to the White House: “We care deeply about the DREAMers who work at Microsoft and fully support them,” he said. “We will always stand for diversity and economic opportunity for everyone.”

Uber, meanwhile, similarly came to the defense of the Dreamers, noting in a statement that their “contributions make America more competitive and they deserve the opportunity to work, study, and pursue the American dream.” The defense of DACA comes days after Uber appointed a new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, who himself is an immigrant from Iran — and a fierce critic of Trump’s approach to those issues.

Trump’s expected announcement comes partly in response to 10 state attorneys general, which threatened to take the administration to court over DACA if it did not eliminate the program by Sept. 5. Going forward, though, Congress can still codify the program into law, but lawmakers long have struggled in that aim.

“The 800,000 people, and dreamers like them, they deserve a permanent legislative solution,” stressed Todd Schulte, the leader of FWD.us, in an interview late Thursday. He said lawmakers had a choice — pass a law or risk become “a nation that says we’re going to see hundreds of thousands of people pushed out of the workforce.”

Initially, Trump himself appeared to waver on the issue, a fierce opponent of DACA during the campaign who later said, as president, he would approach the Dreamers with “great heart.”

Ahead of the decision, tech executives had been some of the more vocal, aggressive lobbyists on behalf of preserving DACA. In June, for example, Apple CEO Tim Cook specifically urged Trump to show compassion for the Dreamers. The private comments came at a reception to conclude the first day of Trump’s “tech week,” a five-day focus on ways to modernize the government with the industry’s help.

Source: Apple, Facebook, Google and scores of businesses are imploring President Trump to protect the Dreamers – Recode

In Silicon Valley, data trumps opinion — even with gender parity – Recode

Jewelle Bickford, Ellen Kullman and Sandra Beach Lin of Paradigm for Parity make the diversity case:

In Silicon Valley — and in corporate America generally — data trumps opinion, making gender diversity a no-brainer. As the controversy at Google illustrates, turning diversity goals into positive business realities is hard — but it isn’t as hard as one would think, even in Silicon Valley. As with any initiative that improves the bottom line, paying lip service to diversity isn’t enough. You need a plan.

Despite the fact that the tech industry remains overwhelmingly male, Silicon Valley is actually uniquely suited to transform rhetoric into results. For instance, Silicon Valley companies understand that happy employees deliver better business results — and are willing to make the necessary investments. These companies have free food prepared by nutritionists and famous chefs, wellness centers offering employee massages, and even employee housing. Why not add free child care to the nearly endless menu of benefits? When women have support from employers in the form of affordable child care, they are more likely to stay in the workforce and progress to senior leadership roles.

Additionally, engineering is actually a field that is particularly well-suited for women. Engineers often function independently and they are able to do their jobs successfully in or out of the office. The flexibility that engineers get is exactly the type of flexibility that allows women to rise up and reach the highest levels of corporate America — and reach them more frequently.

When we started the Paradigm for Paritycoalition in 2016, we recognized the need for undeniable, measurable results and for clear, implementable steps to get there. While many organizations support gender equality and call for enhanced diversity in the workplace, the Paradigm for Parity coalition is unique in that it outlines a specific set of concurrent actions a company can take to achieve gender parity across all levels of corporate leadership by 2030, including measuring targets and maintaining accountability by providing regular progress reports. Today, we represent 56 member companies with approximately five million employees in every corner of the U.S. and around the world.

Quantitative evidence shows us why diversity is imperative: You can’t have economic growth unless everyone is included. We must work with clearly defined quantitative targets, like those outlined by the Paradigm for Parity coalition, to make diversity in business a statistical reality. In more ways than one, Silicon Valley has succeeded in making the world a better place, and we are confident it can succeed in making it a more equal one too.

Source: In Silicon Valley, data trumps opinion — even with gender parity – Recode

Should tech companies be able to shut down neo-Nazis? – Recode

Good discussion of some of the issues involved which IMO lay out the need for some government leadership in setting up guidelines and possibly regulations:

In the aftermath of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., where dozens were injured and one counter-protestor was killed, the battle moved online.

The four-year-old neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer was evicted by web hosts GoDaddy and Google after it disparaged the woman killed in Charlottesville, Heather Heyer. And then web infrastructure company Cloudflare, which had previously been criticized for how it handled reports of abuse by the website, publicly and permanently terminated the Stormer’s account, too, forcing it to the dark web.

But should a tech company have that power? Even Cloudflare’s CEO Matthew Prince, who personally decided to pull the plug, thinks the answer should be “no” in the future.

“I am confident we made the right decision in the short term because we needed to have this conversation,” Prince said on the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. “We couldn’t have the conversation until we made that determination. But it is the wrong decision in the long term. Infrastructure is never going to be the right place to make these sorts of editorial decisions.”

Interviewed by Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, Prince was joined on the new episode by the executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Cindy Cohn. Although the two organizations have worked together in the past, Cohn co-authored a public rebuke of Cloudflare’s decision, saying it threatened the “future of free expression.”

“The moment where this is about Nazis, to me, is very late in the conversation,” Cohn said, citing past attempts to shut down political websites. “What they do is they take down the whole website, they can’t just take down the one bad article. The whole Recode website comes down because you guys say something that pisses off some billionaire.”

“These companies, including Matthew’s, have a right to decide who they’re doing business with, but we urge them to be really, really cautious about this,” she added.

You can listen to the new podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Prince and Cohn agreed that part of the long-term solution to controversial speech online — no matter how odious — may be establishing and respecting a set of transparent, principled rules that cross international borders.

“I believe deeply in free speech, but it doesn’t have the same force around the rest of the world,” Prince said. “What does is an idea of due process, that there are a set of rules you should follow, and you should be able to know going into that. I don’t think the tech industry has that set of due processes.”

Cohn noted that there is a process for stopping someone from speaking before they can speak — prior restraint. For most of America’s history, obtaining such an injunction against someone has been intentionally difficult.

“We wouldn’t have a country if people couldn’t voice radical ideas and they had to go through a committee of experts or tech bros,” she said. “If you have to go on bended knee before you get to speak, you’re going to reduce the universe of ideas. Maybe you’ll get some heinous ideas, but you might not get the Nelson Mandelas, either.”

Source: Should tech companies be able to shut down neo-Nazis? – Recode

The uproar about the anti-diversity memo may turn out to have been a good thing for Google – Recode

Good business perspective on diversity and tech by Steve Herrod, a managing director at General Catalyst:

The outpouring of emotional responses to a now-fired Google engineer’s internal memo about diversity and hiring practices can be painful to read. But contrary to what you might think, this controversy may turn out to have been a good thing for Google — and for every engineering team. I’m glad it’s calling out the myth that only coding prowess matters, and that backchannel gripes about diversity in tech are now out in the open.

I helped grow VMware’s stellar engineering team from 30 to more than 3,000, and I’m now an investor in the next generation of startups. Scaling a team is a complex, nuanced process. It requires diligence, perseverance and open discussion of ideas.

Today’s engineering teams are nothing like the old stereotype — a bunch ofloner nerd boys who grew up playing video games and tinkering with code by themselves in their parents’ basements. To build successful products, you need a diverse group of personalities: People with strong customer empathy, others who can innovate on user experience, still others with the “brown thumb” for finding bugs before they ship, and those who take pride in fixing those bugs for good. And the personalities you need to hire will change as you grow to 10, then 100, then 1,000 engineers.

No engineer works in solitude today — even a code ninja is part of a team. That’s why you also need people who can keep track of product priorities and schedules, who can make difficult trade-offs, and who have the people skills to keep team members focused on the goals and deadlines that matter. Technical teams also need people who can interface with marketing, sales, operations, human resources, customers and everyone else so that the company, as it grows bigger, stays headed in the right direction. “Soft skills” are just as critical as coding chops.

For a company to scale successfully, its engineers not only must be the best hires, they need to be given paths to develop the aforementioned skills and to grow according to their abilities and interests. And it’s up to technical management to incentivize that development and to establish the best ways to measure that growth.

You need to make moving the company forward a requirement for individual advance. You might set growth milestones for engineers to reach, including some that get them away from their screens and into more extroverted, public roles — publishing papers, giving presentations at conferences and mentoring new team members.

At VMware, we gave cash bonuses for having a paper accepted to present at a top-tier conference, just as we did for patent filing. The pure technical achievement was given the same weight as being able to clearly define and present those technical ideas to a qualified and questioning audience. We also made mentorship an explicit qualification for promotions up the technical ladder. Individual contributors are important, but those who can effectively share knowledge and help shape the skills of more junior technical staff are just as critical.

As a manager, you must send a strong signal that communication and organizational skills are equally as important as technical skills, especially as the team grows too big to all know one another. Needless to say, you must set a strong example for this balance as well. VMware created a parallel management career track alongside the technical track, and made clear there was no stigma in switching from one to the other and even back again.

Why do communication skills matter so much? Diversity of ideas is what leads to innovation. Software companies in particular — built on new abstract concepts — take pride in encouraging employees to speak their minds, even when their co-workers resent it. “Everything is up for question and debate,” Google’s SVP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, asserted not long ago. Free-speech culture and its blowups — familiar to everyone on open source software projects — are the foundation of great software companies.

But this also requires a culture of mutual respect. The loudest complaints on both sides of the ongoing showdown share common themes: My co-workers don’t respect me. My co-workers don’t take me seriously. My co-workers enjoy saying things they know make me feel unwelcome. The challenge for leaders is to maintain openness and respect in parallel as three engineers become 30, then 300, then 3,000.

A successful team is diverse, driven, communicative, vocal … and often argumentative. Imagine a world where everyone shuts up and does their job as assigned. Where you get ahead by not rocking the boat. Where you learn to nod in agreement with the common wisdom. Where there’s never a workplace spat and “disrupt” is a slogan rather than a verb. Those are the companies that have been run off the Internet, one after another, over the past two decades.

If you want to build the next Google, you’ll need to create a company that fosters this kind of open dialogue — including complaints about the dialogue that results. The larger your company gets, the more it will matter. You’ll need to hire a broad range of people and guide them to grow together — even when they fight.

At some point, we’ll be glad everyone has stopped holding back their feelings about diversity conflicts in tech. Remember when Yahoo’s Peanut Butter Manifesto was considered a scandal? Finally we’re talking about the real issues.

Source: The uproar about the anti-diversity memo may turn out to have been a good thing for Google – Recode

How Tech Companies Lose Women During the Hiring Process – The New York Times

Some good suggestions on how to walk the talk on diversity in the recruitment process:

When my company is approached to help diversify some of America’s most gender-unbalanced tech teams, here’s how it usually goes in the introductory meeting: A well-meaning executive boasts that his company has been financially supporting a number of nonprofit coding organizations that aim to train female engineers. He tells us he’ll have a booth at the Grace Hopper conference, the largest annual gathering of women in tech. He complains about how hard it is to “move the needle” on diversity numbers, especially when a staff is in the thousands.

But what the executives don’t give as much thought to are some of the simplest determinants of how successful a company will be in hiring diverse candidates. Will women have any input in the hiring process? Will the interview panels be diverse? Will current female employees be available to speak to candidates about their experiences? Many times, the answer to each of these questions is no, and the resistance to make simple changes in these areas is striking.

My colleagues and I often see companies work to make themselves appealing to candidates by emphasizing perks like Ping-Pong tables, retreats and policies that let employees bring their dogs to work. Those things can be appealing to candidates of any gender. But one size doesn’t fit all: We have to tell these companies to talk just as proudly about their parental-leave policies, child-care programs and breast-pumping rooms. At the very least, they need to communicate that their workplaces have cultures where women are valued. They need to show they’re not places where attitudes like that of the now-infamous Google engineer who wrote a memo questioning women’s fitness for tech jobs dominate.

At first, the executives balk at my suggestions and even wonder if explicitly talking about the place of women is sexist. But I remind them that when it comes to gender, they have to play catch-up, after long histories of eroding trust by grilling women about how they’ll be able to do the job with children at home and years of negative stories in the press with tales of how women are mistreated at tech companies. Candidates rightfully want assurances about whether the companies have improved — or whether they even care. Treating everyone the same won’t accomplish that.

Silicon Valley companies are in love with themselves and don’t understand why the love isn’t always returned by the few women to whom they extend employment offers. That’s why they’re so proud of so-called boomerangs — candidates who have left a company for reasons that may or may not be related to how it treats women and, after advancing their careers elsewhere, return. Executives hope these employees will add to their diversity numbers and provide evidence that the company has evolved. But even potential boomerangs are looking for hiring-process hints that they’ll be able to thrive. They want to know, what policies have changed for us? Is the environment more inclusive? Can I have a family without compromising my career? When tech firms in Silicon Valley and beyond decide to proactively answer those questions as part of their regular processes, they have a chance to successfully recruit and hire more women.

I’m often asked which companies are getting diversity and inclusion right in Silicon Valley and across the country. Most aren’t. But some are seeing small successes. Last year, we worked with a company that set a goal that women would make up 50 percent of the engineers on one of its teams. They did it by holding a webinar led by female employees, with 100 female candidates who asked questions about how the organization was changing to become more inclusive to women. They asked recruiters to follow up with the candidates to offer fuller responses and address other concerns. The company realized it needed to take extra time to convince women that it truly valued them.

It worked. The women hired through that effort are all still at the company. Now we’re working with it to bring in even more female engineers. When the next round of candidates show up for interviews, this is one place in tech that will have a story about an inclusive culture that it’s proud to tell.

Tech leaders must stop treating humanity like computer code: Navneet Alang

Good commentary on the broader issues related to the tech industry culture:

The science in question, such as it is, is something better left to experts to debate. But there are nonetheless reasonable questions laypeople can ask. Among them: Even if one were to take the extreme position that genetics neatly determines behaviour, how might the ancient arrangement of nucleic acids so neatly line up with results in a field barely 50 years old – particularly since, early on when it was considered a menial task, computer programming was a field dominated by women?

More to the point, to argue that engineering or coding are simply mechanical or an abstract set of mathematics or logic misses the aim of the field. Software is made for people, to help them accomplish tasks, connect with one another, or filter through massive amounts of information in intelligent ways.

Those goals require a complex set of skills that cannot be reduced to mere coding, but require an understanding of sociology, psychology and no small amount of empathy. Putting aside the dubious assertion that we are hard-wired by gender to favour one of these skills over the other, to argue that engineering or coding should be left to those with the most abstract skill is akin to saying structural engineers should design buildings or that mechanical engineers should market cars. The creation of code and software is ultimately holistic, relying on a broad range of traits that cannot and should not be reduced to one dimension – particularly tired, gendered stereotypes.

But despite this obvious fact, the manifesto does ring true in one way: It represents the tech world’s too-common, incredibly reductive view of humanity that tries to think of humans are just like computer code itself, a complex, but predetermined series of input and output.

This view itself leads to a blind faith in a hyper-rational world dictated by metrics, competitive bro culture and faux notions of meritocracy. It’s reflected in so much in the tech world: in Facebook’s belated concerns about privacy, or their impact on political polarization; in Twitter’s arguably too-late focus on abuse and harassment, in part brought on by prioritizing resources for advertising over the standards team; or Uber’s unending troubles with sexual harassment, driver exploitation or its constant flouting of the law. In each, it was unwillingness to think about the complexity of human reaction in favour of an algorithmic or mechanistic understanding that caused the problem.

It’s a deeply naive view, one that runs roughshod over humanity when a handful of companies on the U.S. West Coast are given enormous power. In trying to create something new, they have simply repeated the past, carrying along beliefs in neutral meritocracy, the capacity of humans to power through all problems with brawn and that we are predestined to be who we are.

That is not the truth of what it means to be alive and we cannot let the tech world insist that it is. If you want a manifesto to line up behind, let it be that.

Source: Tech leaders must stop treating humanity like computer code – The Globe and Mail