Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani at ReimagineHR in London (Gartner)
Across a variety of industries, the demand for talent with digital skills continues to outstrip the supply. In recent years, many companies have realized that one way to fill this skills gap is to address the significant gender imbalance in roles like software engineering, where men outnumber women three-to-one in the US and by even larger margins in other countries like the UK and China.
This hasn’t always been the case; women were the first programmers in the early days of computing, before coding was seen as a prestigious and lucrative profession. Yet the real shift toward programming being such a male-dominated profession is even more recent, Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani pointed out in a keynote address at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event in London on Wednesday: In 1995, women made up almost 40 percent of the computing workforce in the US, whereas today, they make up less than 25 percent. And at a time when there are roughly 500,000 unfilled positions in computing in the US and as many as 700,000 in the UK, Saujani argued, the issue isn’t a question of gender parity for its own sake: companies need women in tech just as much as women deserve the opportunity to do these jobs.
So why are so few women taking jobs in computing? For one thing, the tech industry has developed a reputation as an unwelcoming work environment for women: Sexism and sexual harassment scandals have emerged at several major tech companies in the past two years, while women in tech say they are often pressured to cut short the leave they take when they start families, even as tech companies continue to offer world-class parental leave policies. To that end, bringing back women who left the workforce to raise children or care for aging relatives is one way companies are looking to close their tech talent gaps.
Yet a more fundamental obstacle, Saujani explained, comes much earlier in women’s lives.
Girls and underrepresented minorities made up a larger proportion of US high school students taking the Advanced Placement exam in computer science this year than ever before, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi announced in a Medium post on Sunday:
In 2018, a total of 135,992 students took the AP Computer Science exam, a rise of 31% from last year. Female students and underrepresented minorities showed the greatest increases from last year:
- Black or African American students — 7,301 participants, up 44%
- Hispanic or Latino — 20,954 participants, up 41%
- Female students — 38,195 participants, up 39%
- Rural students — 14,184 participants, up 42%
Last year, these figures grew even more rapidly, increasing by 135 percent among girls and 170 percent among underrepresented minorities between 2016 and 2017: a spike Partovi credits to the launch of Code.org’s Computer Science Principles course. According to Code.org a nonprofit organization that focuses on expanding access to computer science, 70 percent of students in CS Principles classrooms say they want to pursue computer science after graduation, so the organization expects these growing numbers of students to translate into more diversity in the tech workforce down the line.
A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group and MassChallenge, a global network of startup accelerators, takes a close look at how startups founded by woman compare to those founded by men, both in terms of how much venture capital financing they receive and how well those investments pay off. Looking at five years of investment and revenue data from the startups MassChallenge has worked with, the study found that those founded by women consistently attracted less investment, even though they actually tend to generate more revenue:
Investments in companies founded or cofounded by women averaged $935,000, which is less than half the average $2.1 million invested in companies founded by male entrepreneurs. Despite this disparity, startups founded and cofounded by women actually performed better over time, generating 10% more in cumulative revenue over a five-year period: $730,000 compared with $662,000. In terms of how effectively companies turn a dollar of investment into a dollar of revenue, startups founded and cofounded by women are significantly better financial investments. For every dollar of funding, these startups generated 78 cents, while male-founded startups generated less than half that—just 31 cents.
The findings are statistically significant, and we ruled out factors that could have affected investment amounts, such as education levels of the entrepreneurs and the quality of their pitches. … The results, although disappointing, are not surprising. According to PitchBook Data, since the beginning of 2016, companies with women founders have received only 4.4% of venture capital (VC) deals, and those companies have garnered only about 2% of all capital invested.
This gender bias may be costly to venture capitalists as well as entrepreneurs: The study calculated that VCs could have made $85 million more over five years had they invested equally in the startups founded by women and by men.
The researchers went one step further and spoke to founders, mentors, and investors to understand the origins of the gender gap in VC funding. Consistent with various other research showing that women are more likely to be challenged, questioned, and criticized in the workplace than men, they found that women founders and their presentations receive more pushback from investors than their male peers. Men are also more likely to talk back to investors when their claims are scrutinized, and to make bold, blue-sky projections in their pitches:
Investors in Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, voted down all proposed resolutions at on Wednesday’s shareholder meeting, including one that would have made the compensation of senior executives partly dependent on the company making progress toward specific diversity and inclusion goals. The proposal was opposed by Alphabet management, Reuters reported on Wednesday, which sank the resolution as insiders have effective voting control of the company. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin hold supervoting shares in Alphabet that enable them to defeat any shareholder resolution they don’t approve of. Google insists that its existing commitments to diversity are sufficient:
Eileen Naughton, who leads Google’s HR operations, said the company remains committed to an internal goal to reach “market supply” representation of women and minorities by 2020, which could help bring hiring in line with the diversity of the candidate pool.
Another resolution aimed at getting Google to provide investors more information about its efforts to moderate user-generated content on the platforms it owns, including YouTube, was also voted down on Wednesday.
The proposal related to diversity was put forward by the activist investment fund Zevin Asset Management and supported by a group of Google employees who have expressed concern about how committed the company really is to being an inclusive environment for everyone who works there. One of those employees, engineer Irene Knapp, addressed Wednesday’s shareholder meeting with a statement that stressed the urgency of addressing ongoing problems in Google’s culture:
A recent survey from Indeed, reported last week at Recode, finds that despite the sector’s relatively generous parental leave policies, many women in the US tech industry are afraid to take full advantage of those benefits out of concern for their jobs or future careers, or due to overt pressure from their managers and coworkers:
Survey participants gave different reasons for why they felt pressured to return early:
- 34 percent said they were directly pressured by colleagues or managers.
- 32 percent feared losing their jobs.
- 38 percent cited a fear of losing credibility or value. …
“Frankly, women are afraid they’ll lose their jobs. We’re worried we’ll be forgotten while we’re gone. Out of sight, out of mind,” said Kim Williams, director of experience design at Indeed, in an email to Recode. “Things move so fast in tech, projects move forward and you wonder: Once the team gets used to working without you, will they decide they no longer need you?”
Previous surveys of women in tech have turned up similar findings, as well as that women are widely subjected to questions about their family lives in job interviews and that women are held back from promotions based on misguided expectations by their employers that they will eventually leave the workforce to start a family. These are by no means exclusive to the US tech sector: A recent survey of UK employers, for example, found that a majority believed that a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant to a prospective employer, while many said they believed mothers to be less interested in career advancement than their peers.
Around 40 venture capital firms have joined a new project called MovingForward, which “gathers VC commitments to foster a diverse, inclusive, and harassment-free workplace.” Participating venture firms are sharing their own policies against sexual harassment and discrimination, contact points for entrepreneurs to ask questions and report problems, and statements on their efforts to combat harassment and promote diversity and inclusion.
Although not all the participating firms are making both their internal and external policies public, Recode’s Theodore Schleifer reports, the creators of the initiative say they have encouraged several VCs that did not have anti-harassment policies to create them:
Most venture capital funds do not have human resources departments, and even if they have an internal policy that defines and punishes harassment, it generally has only applied internally to their firm — not to the entrepreneurs that they interview and fund. …
“This effort has created a movement within the VC partnerships to do something,” [co-creator Cheryl] Yeoh said, telling Recode that she believed she has set off a “scramble” within venture capital firms to craft policies or identify a contact. She claimed that around half of the firms did not have policies applying to entrepreneurs or publicly identified points of contact before she pitched them.
Google announced last week that it had conducted an internal gender pay equity audit and found no statistically significant differences in pay between its male and female employees. The report, however, only covered 89 percent of the company’s global workforce of over 70,000 people, with Google saying it had excluded employees in groups on which it could not perform a rigorous statistical analysis:
Our analyses covered every job group with at least 30 Googlers total and at least five Googlers per demographic group for which we have data (e.g., at least five men and at least five women). These n-count minimums ensure statistical rigor (e.g., higher statistical power, narrower confidence intervals) and allowed us to include 89 percent of Googlers (n=63,153) from entry through executive levels. We did not find statistically significant pay differences for 62,925 Googlers, but did for 228 Googlers across six job groups. We therefore increased compensation for those 228 Googlers, totalling ~$270k USD, before finalizing compensation planning and paying any Googlers.
Like other recent pay equity audits at tech and finance companies, Google’s came in response to a shareholder proposal put forth by the activist fund Arjuna Capital. Yet because 11 percent of the Google community, including executives at the senior vice president level and above, were not accounted for in the study, the investment firm tells Bloomberg that it is unsatisfied with the report and will not withdraw its resolution as it has at other companies that completed gender pay audits: