31 May 2014

Google: good for tech, but bad for women?

So, it turns out only 17 per cent of Google’s tech staff in the US are women.

A tiny 1 per cent is African American, 2 per cent Latino, and a more respectable 23 per cent is Asian.

For all its funky brand making, Google does modernity, but not diversity. The tech giant came out this week with the bad news, admitting the reason it hadn’t spoken earlier was it knew the figures would make the company look bad.

But there’s been kudos from industry observers who say now it’s done, Google can make things better. The vice president of one Washington DC start-up spoke of others now declaring the ethnic and gender make-up of their companies, in copycat confessionals.

Amid all this “coming clean” is the demand for action. The academic and researcher, Nikki Usher, warns that as the role played by technology grows across all sectors, so does its gender and diversity footprint.

She cites the example of prized programmer-journalist roles in digital newsrooms taken almost exclusively by men. She argues that has a direct impact on how we learn about the world online. And she laments the shortage of venture capital for start-ups helmed by women.

But Shana Glenzer, who is vice president of marketing at the app, Social Radar, is not so troubled. She admits Google’s figures aren’t good, but puts much of the blame on pipeline problems. Shana says an increase in the number of women graduating with good computer science degrees from prestigious universities should alleviate the problem in the next years.

When it comes to workplace culture, she describes a camaraderie among women who do work in the industry, and a sense of passion for their craft which unites them with their male colleagues.

As if to underscore the forces pushing against the advancement of women, the website Gawker has treated us to some historic emails from Silicon Valley. Brash boy-executive, Evan Spiegel, who runs Snapchat, sent them in his frat days at university. He’s apologised for their content. I won’t go into them here – they’re widely viewable.

There can be little doubt of the cultural and academic barriers to anyone who’s not white, and who’s not male, working at the top of the tech tree.

Now the problems are clear, the industry needs to do what it does well, and come up with a fix.

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