Does elegant code have a gender? Are mega data-sets XX or XY? Of course not. Maths is pure abstraction, and engineering skills can be learned... so why aren't more women and girls getting into tech?
The issue of gender diversity is rightly front-and-centre, not least because of the efforts of leading executives including Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg. With Sandberg's Lean In as a backdrop, here's how one Silicon Valley shop--RichRelevance, where I'm chief marketing officer--meets the challenge of gender parity. Our executives are committed to the conversation--but, like many tech companies, we have a way to go. Our company's leadership is 20 per cent female and our total employee statistics skew more male than female (79 women, 170 men). We plan to double in size this year and we want to attract the best and brightest irrespective of gender, but right now, male applicants far outnumber female applicants, leading me to ask the obvious question, how do we attract more women?
Of course, gender balance in tech doesn't mean that coding styles or sales quotas will or should change. For me, gender diversity is about striving to have the widest-possible pool of opinion and experience on hand to spark innovation: the 'ah-ha!' chat over coffee, a new way of looking at a problem, or identifying an unexplored market opportunity. Of course, an obvious first step here is that we need to ensure that skills and experience speak louder than gender across the board inside the company, from hiring through to appraisals and promotions.
We also need to tackle the perception that jobs in tech are geeky. Lauren Smith, programme manager at Credit Suisse, made an interesting point at a recent 'women in technology' roundtable: "Technology was not considered as geeky in the 1970s. There were far more women programmers then, but the media has contributed to its geeky image." We need to reverse this perception by calling out and celebrating the amazing women doing incredible things in tech. We need to further highlight that it is possible to rise to the top at companies like HP and Facebook and we need to better underscore how technology - from app design to ecommerce - can turn great ideas into businesses.
Most importantly, we need to start young and ensure that science, technology, engineering and math education is as engaging as possible... more girls pursuing these careers will mean a more diverse pool of talent. Happily, this is already well in progress through national initiatives like the Big Bang science and engineering fair and RaspberryPi bringing coding into the classroom to encourage girls to challenge traditional shibboleths about their interests and capabilities.
Not-for-profits, governments and educators are doing a great job at getting more talent to think about tech. As an industry, let's work harder to shake off our 'only geeks need apply' perception and bring forth shining examples of women in tech that might just inspire a girl to add technology to the 'maybe'--no, make that the 'definitely'--list.
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