Measurement alone isn’t enough.
Earlier this week, Silicon Valley’s gender problems made headlines—again—when a former Facebook engineer told The Wall Street Journal that female developers received 35% more code rejections than their male peers, and waited 3.9% longer for approvals. Facebook leadership quickly questioned the data’s validity, but a spokesperson admitted “the current representation of senior female engineers both at Facebook and across the industry is nowhere near where it needs to be.” On that point, we can all agree.
Of course, Facebook is far from the only tech venue where gender bias looms large. Last year, a group of researchers analyzed open source software contributions on GitHub, one of the industry’s largest code-collaboration sites. Their data showed women’s code changes were accepted more frequently than men’s (78.6% vs. 74.6%), so long as their site profile was gender-neutral. Even more impressively, a quarter of women with ambiguous profiles maintained a perfect acceptance rate, compared with just 13.5% of men. But when it came to profiles with a feminine name or photograph, peers rejected their code at significantly higher rates than code submitted by men (71.8% vs. 62.5%).
Measuring diversity in the workplace is a critical first step toward solving the tech industry’s most visible issue. As management consultant Peter Drucker’s oft-quoted axiom goes: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
But recruitment is far from the only concern. Women technologists exit the industry at twice the rate of men, primarily due to negative corporate culture and a lack of advancement opportunities. In the unorthodox environment of tech, the path to promotion is often unclear; this is especially true for women. Although many organizations are working to remove bias from the recruiting process, very few have focused similar efforts toward career advancement. Many women are pushed into softer, less-technical roles—regardless of their personal interests and technical capabilities—further reducing their opportunities for management roles.
There are several key attributes that organizations that successfully retain and advance women and other underrepresented minorities in technical roles share:
- A top-down commitment to addressing cultural bias
- A regular, disciplined review of the numbers of women employed in all career stages, as well as comparative analysis to similar organizations
- An explicit focus on retaining and promoting women
- An all-hands-on-deck approach to formal training on the value of gender diversity.
Everyone benefits from having a more-inclusive work culture, and companies must acknowledge that women and underrepresented minorities cannot solve this problem alone. The companies that make measurable advances toward diversity goals do so because they have paid attention—across the entire organization—to implementing these solutions.
Companies looking to make strides toward a more equitable workplace can start by measuring the factors that truly matter. Companies that benchmark their current successes offer a framework for measurable improvement, and can recognize workplace changes that let women technologists thrive.
But—as Facebook’s recent PR woes so aptly illustrate—measurement alone isn’t enough. It’s critical for executives to fearlessly assess what data are actually saying. If companies are reluctant to own the uncomfortable realities that studies reveal, they will limit their progress toward true workplace diversity.
Elizabeth Ames is the senior vice president of marketing, alliance, and programs at the Anita Borg Institute.