It’s Been A Bad Week For Inclusion In Tech

“We love women, but we only hire men” is a norm that needs immediate change in tech culture.

It’s been a bad week for inclusion in tech. One of Google’s engineers wrote a manifesto with the misguided notion that women can’t do tech for “biological” reasons, such as being prone to anxiety disorders. While Google took initiative and fired the employee, sexual harassment and unfounded bias abounds in Silicon Valley. With such caustic sentiments voiced within the company, it’s not a surprise that Google has not made much progress on its diversity goals even after a promise to focus on inclusion, with only 19% of its workforce being women and only 2% African American.

Also this past week, tech-focused Wired magazine was called out by journalist Christie Aschwanden on Twitter for publishing yet another issue in which the feature stories were written by men. That’s nothing new, but in this one the editor thanks the women who help get Wired to print in a ridiculous thank you note to “token” female leaders: Michelle Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsburg—even the “moms” working at the local Vietnamese sandwich shop. It’s great to recognize that women participate in the world around us, but it’s unacceptable to offer empty, offensive platitudes.

We love women, but we only hire men” is a norm that needs immediate change in tech culture.

It’s not as if women don’t make tech or don’t like to write about it: Cisco, Flickr, and Slideshare were founded by women. Great sites like Boing Boing were co-founded by women. Well known blogs such as the Women of Silicon ValleyWomen Love Tech, and She Geeks show that thoughtful female tech influencers are out there looking to be heard. And you wouldn’t have car heaters, Kevlar, electric refrigerators, or code compilers without women inventors.

For women in tech, often leadership means going around the establishment. I started my own publishing house when game publishers—even of old-fashioned board games—wouldn’t publish my game, because it was too “feminine” and “activist”—assumptions not based on playing the game itself, but talking to the inventor. Women leaders in the games and tech space are often forced outside established venues and do it on their own. Heck, it was even suggested that I change my name to a man’s name to be more competitive on paper.

Sad advice, made particularly sadder because of the grain of truth. Little has changed since 1980s psychology experiments on bias, where evaluating one’s reputation through such things like resumes is skewed toward men. A recent study by a Skidmore professor found that identical resumes for a lab manager position were judged very differently depending on if it bore a man’s name or a woman’s.

We’ve got equity issues in gaming, too. Although 41% of all game players are women, only about 23% of game industry professionals are women. Most of those working in the game industry are white, straight, childless, and able-bodied.

Much attention has focused on the gender gap in Silicon Valley, both in funding and venture capital and in the actual work of making software. The game industry is no exception in needing tech expertise. By 2018, 1.4 million computing jobs will have opened in the U.S. but only 29% of those are going to be able to be filled by qualified people.

This perception that there “just aren’t enough qualified women,” however is patently false. Persistent social biases, coupled with unconnected social networks that tie successful men and women in the field together, and the neglect in seeing the incredible value of diversity are key reasons that get in the way of noticing qualified and talented female writers, artists, and scientists who stand right before our eyes. It’s a “perceptual gender gap,” and it starts early.

A repeated argument across all of these cases is that “there are no women” in a given field to hire, to read, to include. The same argument is used for people of color, or any other “different” group. But thankfully, difference is the new normal. So it’s time to catch up.

Enough clichés. We love women, so let’s hire them and pay them equally. Now.

Support clubs like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code, who encourage girls’ engagement at a young age. Boards can help set norms and role models by prioritizing diversity, if only for their own profits. Also—to the male leaders out there. Have more daughters! Researchers have found that parenting more daughters leads to more female hiring, and better deal making.

If we really want to innovate, we need to think broadly about whose minds we are hiring, and go for teams who approach things with different perspectives. Innovation should be revolutionary. It therefore will sometimes be uncomfortable and unfamiliar. That’s where the excitement comes from.

Mary Flanagan is the Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College and runs the research lab. She also founded the publishing company Resonym.

Other Links: