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Our Insights 21 Nov 2014

On Our Radar: Women in Tech – Transparency Grows and Solutions Emerge

By Melanie Colburn

Flickr image by d2s

This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

California’s Silicon Valley, a global epicenter of the high tech industry, is becoming the central focus of a national debate around the representation of women and minorities in technology companies.

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For years, most Silicon Valley tech giants remained secretive about the composition of their workforce and resisted stakeholder and media requests to disclose diversity data. A number of leading tech companies – such as Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Twitter – have now changed course and disclosed workforce diversity numbers. The data confirmed the underrepresentation of women and minorities that many had already observed. Several companies also announced new initiatives to address the issue. Google, for instance, has devised an experimental strategy to identify critical turning points and processes that stifle female promotion.

Shifting stakeholder expectations continue to build urgency around the issue. The Open Diversity Data project publicly calls out companies that do not release diversity data. Other NGOs – including Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code – are coming forward with innovative solutions to address systemic causes and increase the numbers of female computer engineers.

While tech companies have long struggled with the lack of female graduates, this is not just a pipeline issue – it is a matter of corporate responsibility. The well-documented machismo in the tech industry contributes to pushing out over half the qualified female talent between ages 25 and 30. Media pundits and feminist rights activists have become more outspoken about ‘brogramming culture’ and the misuse of cultural fit as an excuse for discrimination.

Shifting the balance of gender representation will require tackling deep systemic causes. Though there is a long road ahead, the tech community has broken the vows of secrecy and is looking to work on solutions.

What to look for: Critique of tech companies will become more pronounced. At the same time stakeholder collaboration with the firms can be expected to grow and evolve. For instance, a documentary Big Dream, in part underwritten by Microsoft, will chronicle the personal challenges faced by girls entering STEM fields.

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