Tech Needs An Intervention: Stopping Systematic Gender Bias, Part 1

On Behalf of | October 24, 2014 | Gender Discrimination, Harassment

Women are underrepresented in tech. The numbers of women in technical jobs at major tech companies speak for themselves:

The problem is also apparent in compensation – a recent study found that on average, women in tech earn $6,358 less than their male counterparts each year and “women with at least one child earn $11,247 less than everyone else.” (Check out Maya’s post about the Sarah Silverman PSA and how bias and discrimination continue to leave women paid 78 cents on a man’s dollar across industries.) The first female CEO of a major computer chip company will be paid less than her male predecessor.

This is a shame since, “Many studies show that companies with gender and ethnic diversity tend to be more creative and more profitable because varied perspectives help them design products and services that appeal to a diverse, worldwide audience.”

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

How could it be that the numbers reveal such inequity? To the extent that Silicon Valley insiders recognize that a problem exists, they seem hesitant to see it as the result of systematic bias. For example, Marc Andreesen, the Netscape creator and prolific tweeter, was recently asked what he thought of the critique that tech has a diversity problem. He identified what accounted for the numbers – that tech employees are 90 percent male and 50 percent white – as driven by inequality of education and lack of access.

He’s not wrong, but something seems to be missing. When Andreesen was asked specifically about gender diversity and systematic bias, the most he could say was that he “would not second guess Sheryl [Sandberg, author of Lean In] on anything that she has said.” He’s basically saying, I agree that she says there’s systematic basis, but he doesn’t say I accept that there is systematic bias. Andreesen isn’t alone in this inability to wholeheartedly recognize the problem – see Jenn’s recent post on Microsoft’s Satya Nadella’s recent boneheaded comment about women and pay.  And, even when there is some recognition, the advice is focused on changing the woman, instead of the bias: lean in, just ask for a raise, take more tech classes, we would hire you if you would just apply….

So, the first thing tech needs to do is (1) recognize that systematic bias against women is real and (2) take responsibility for making a change in the system. On Monday, I’ll talk more about what tech companies who step up to the plate and actually recognize and own their responsibilities can do.