By Ryan Kh
Gender equality in the technology industry has been a heated topic for debate over the past few years. The conversation became more intense than ever last summer after James Damore published a manifesto highlighting some of his views on diversity at Google. Google terminated his employment, but contentious debate about his publication gained more momentum for the coming year.
Companies like Google have been working harder to increase diversity in their workplaces. Unfortunately, many of the steps that they have taken have not always helped deal with the root of the problem. Some of them have been outright counterproductive.
Here are some of the common mistakes that well-meaning Silicon Valley companies have made as they strive to improve gender diversity. Other technology companies should familiarize themselves with these mistakes.
Trying to make the workplace more inviting based off of assumptions about gender preferences
One study published by a professor of gender studies made a rather silly argument. She said that recruiters from technology companies talk too much about “geeky” topics during recruiting seminars.
The biggest and most obvious problem with this assumption is that the author believes that women are incapable of being interested in these types of hobbies and discussions. She obviously had not spent any time with many women outside her own social circle, because a large number of women share the same kinds of interests that men do. This is a surprisingly sexist assumption for a woman who prides herself on being a feminist. Women account for the majority of gamers today and a large number of them have a strong interest in role playing games (RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder), attending Comicon and other hobbies that would surprise the author.
Not making fighting harassment a priority
Most of the solutions that contribute to the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley focus on providing better incentives and changing the nature of the hiring process. Far less discussion is paid to issues like sexual harassment. Unfortunately, they ignore some of the biggest problems that need to be addressed. This is not to say that issues like equal pay aren’t very important to talk about, but the talk about harassment shouldn’t be put last.
Polls have shown that female employees in the technology industry face sexual harassment experiences at a rate of around 50% higher than women in other industries.
Focusing on quotas over merit
A growing number of Silicon Valley companies are trying to impose hiring quotas to improve representation of in the field. One former Google manager left to start her own startup. She stated that the ways that technology companies handle they’re hiring process is backfiring on them. She admitted that she initially tried hiring women without regard for qualifications to boost her gender diversity ratios. She also admitted to offering compensation for female employees to bolster their share of that workplace.
This obviously created a number of problems. First of all, female employees that were onboarded were not met with the same aspect they would’ve received if they had been hired organically. Many male employees believe that they were only hired because of their gender. Since this was a deliberate policy, they have a very good point. A number of the employees also were unable to do the jobs they were hired for.
The offer pointed out that the real problem was the pipeline issue. A lot more needs to be done to encourage women to be interested in pursuing a career and technology long before college. If they make up a small percentage of applicants, then there is very little that the company can do to bolster diversity.
This does not mean that there aren’t more immediate steps that individual companies can take to try to increase the pipeline of female applicants. They can attend historically female colleges and reach out to women in engineering groups at college campuses around the country. The steps should help draw more female applicants.
Ryan Kh is an experienced blogger, digital content & social marketer. Founder of Catalyst For Business and contributor to search giants like Yahoo Finance, MSN. He is passionate about covering topics like big data, business intelligence, startups & entrepreneurship. Follow him on twitter: @ryankhgb.