Gender disparity in Silicon Valley is topic du jour. So when a few days ago, the Wall Street Journal posted a piece titled “Facebook Blames Lack of Available Talent for Diversity Problem”, nobody was surprised. According to the post, Facebook has come to the conclusion that their diversity problem is due to there being too few underrepresented people who have the necessary tech skills to work for them. So instead of looking for better talent, they are shirking responsibility and conveniently blaming the public education system.
The public outrage at their statement is immense.
A woman studying CSE at Dartmouth blogged about the article, and here’s how she responded:
“When I saw this article I had to fight back tears. I thought about all the work I’ve put into to get to where I am today and wondered will it even matter when I start my job search in a few months. According to most tech companies, if I can’t pass an algorithmic challenge or if I’m not a “culture fit” I don’t belong. I haven’t even started my first full-time job yet and I’m already so tired of feeling erased and mistreated by the tech industry.”
It’s a white man’s world!
Facebook is not the first company shortchanging minorities, and it won’t be the last. Google is still 70% male and 2% black. Twitter’s leadership is 72% white, 28% Asian. At Facebook, again only 16% of Facebook’s tech team is comprised of women.
Minorities in Silicon Valley have always got the short end of the stick. At first, they are grossly underrepresented, and if somehow they manage to claw their way in, they have to deal with overt sexism, the ol’ boys’ club, and a toxic atmosphere.
In fact, in 2014, when Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, wrote a blog post about sexism and diversity (or lack of it), men at Silicon Valley disagreed. “I got a bunch of guys who were saying to me, ‘It’s not a real problem’,” Sam said.
Another case in point: when found guilty as charged, investor Dave McClure of Startup@500 quit and apologized publicly, but a fellow investor came to his rescue with a defensive blog post that put the onus on women; conveniently side-stepping the original issue of the bias.
Excerpted from a blog post by Chris Sweis, Bitcoin investor, where he makes it pretty clear as to who he blames.
This under-representation continues in funding trends.
As per a recent study by Pitchbook, it was found that Venture capitalists invested $58.2 billion in companies with all-male founders in 2016. Meanwhile, women received just $1.5 billion in VC money last year. This massive disparity is due both to the differences in the number of deals and the average deal size by gender.
“There is a disconnect between perception and reality,” Aubrey Blanche, Atlassian’s global head of diversity and inclusion, said in the report. “Despite good intentions to support diversity, when it comes to looking at what’s happening within their own companies, half of employees think everything is fine and no improvements need to be made on gender, race and other key areas — despite a mounting pile of evidence that tech is very much not a meritocracy.”
Going beyond Sexism
Things get worse when you look at discrimination beyond gender and into racial and ethnic heterogeneity. For example, while Blacks and Hispanics constitute about 13 and 16 percent of the American workforce, at no major tech firm do they make up for more than 5% of employees.
“Silicon Valley is still too white, too male, and too focused on solving the problems of the young, single, and wealthy,” agrees Owen Grover, the senior vice president and general manager of iHeartRadio.
There’s a bigger issue: the culture.
At present, all attempts at solving this problem aim at educating more women and minorities to make sure they stand shoulder to shoulder and challenging hiring practices. While these are important initiatives, the underlying issue stays untouched.
The truth is that gender and racial bias is so ubiquitous in the tech industry, and so resistant to change, that a lot of talented female and minority employees give up sooner than later and leave.
To validate this idea, Kieran Snyder, a former manager at Microsoft and Amazon and now CEO and co-founder of Textio, interviewed 716 women who held tech positions at 654 companies across 43 states. On average, these women worked in tech for seven years and then left. Kieran asked these women specifically why they opted out.
Some 192 women (27%) cited discomfort working in these companies. The overt or implicit discrimination was a primary factor in their decision to leave tech. That’s just over a quarter of the women surveyed. Several of them mentioned discrimination related to their age, race, or sexuality in addition to gender and motherhood. They also stated that lack of flexible work arrangements, the unsupportive work environment, or a salary that was inadequate to pay for childcare all contributed to their decision to leave.
The picture is grim. But things are a-changin’. We started myStartUpCFO, a financial and accounting services company, with the objective of closing the stark gender gap and keeping them in the workforce at all costs.
But more on this the next time.