What’s Wrong With Women in Tech?

Entrepreneurship ForumInterview questions about the zombie apocalypse and superpowers are no way to hire women.

They “fortify the male-dominated, frat-boy culture that Silicon Valley is increasingly being criticized for,” according to Vivek Wadhwa.

Writing in VentureBeat, he said poor interviewing practices hurt women and disadvantage companies by limiting their employment pool.

Wadhwa’s was writing about Dropbox. With a valuation now approaching $10 billion, it is hugely successful.

But only 6.3% of Dropbox’s engineers are women. And it has lost senior female management in the last year.

One former female Dropbox employee told Wadhwa:

I was interviewed in a room called ‘The Break-up Room,’ by a male. It was right next to a room called the ‘Bromance Chamber.’ It felt weird I would be interviewed in such a strangely named conference room.

Industry wide in tech, Tracy Chou found the percentage of women at 12.38% as of Feb. 25, 2014.

In start-up land, with its emphasis on tech, there is seems to be an even more lopsided dynamic. The Irish government, trying to promote the country as a start-up hub, recently got slammed by Irish Central for releasing the picture above.

The photo was taken at the release of a report on entrepreneurship commissioned by the government. I wrote about the report itself here.

In a word play on an infamous anti-Irish hiring practice, the publication ran a piece called, “Startup Ireland – Where No Women Need Apply.” On the men-only picture, it said:

Think about the message you send to the world and to aspiring young female entrepreneurs: ‘Ireland is a place where we are going to promote male-led companies,’ and ‘we only care about men’.

Once hired, meanwhile, women and other non-stereotypical techies face micro-inequities that impede their professional progress, according to Philip Guo in Slate.

Freely admitting he benefited from positive perceptions as a programmer because he is an Asian male, Guo wrote:

Ask any computer science major who isn’t from a majority demographic (i.e., white or Asian male), and I guarantee that he or she has encountered discouraging comments such as “You know, not everyone is cut out for computer science.”

Two years ago, President Obama’s council of advisors on science and technology produced a strategy on how to produce 1 million extra science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates over the next decade.

Lego ad in 1981 versus 2014

Increasing the retention rate from 40% to 50% would generate three-quarters of the numbers needed, according to the report.

But long before that point, it might be an idea to look at the marketing messages being sent to children.

The site, Women You Should Know, ran a story comparing Lego toys in 1981 and 2014.

In 1981, Lego’s ad showed a little girl with a house she had built. The marketing message said, “Younger children build for fun.”

By 2014, Legos had been split in to boys and girls sets. The girls are offered a TV news van. So far, so good. But the advertising blurb says:

Break the big story of the world’s best cake with the Heartlake News Van! Find the cake and film it with the camera and then climb into the editing suite and get it ready for broadcast. Get Emma ready at the makeup table so she looks her best for the camera. Sit her at the news desk as Andrew films her talking about the cake story and then present the weather to the viewers.

It’s worse we’re improving.