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Google’s Gender-Diversity Push Is Paying Off

Google is putting an increased focus on diversity initiatives both in its own company and the tech community at large. Based on attendance at this year’s annual Google developer conference in San Francisco, its efforts are paying off. 

See also: Google’s Diversity Transparency Is Great—But It’s Still Just A Start

More than 1,000 attendees—roughly 20% of the total—at Google I/O this week will be women, up from just seven percent last year, according to the company. It’s a sea change at an event where, just two years ago, Google took heat for not even offering shirts in women’s sizes.

Google is making a concerted effort to change the ratio of women and minorities represented in the tech industry. Last month it made a landmark decision to release workplace data that illustrates that the company has a long way to go before women and minorities are properly represented in the workforce. (Of note is the fact that just 17% of Google’s technical workforce is female.)

Google’s push to increase diversity transparency inspired other tech companies to follow suit, including Yahoo and LinkedIn. 

Event Features—For The Ladies

While ramping up to Google I/O this year, the company partnered with different organizations including the Anita Borg Institute, Girl Develop-It, and Hackbright Academy to attract more women to the event. And not just to fill seats at sessions.

“We’ve worked with partners … to cast a wider net and attract under-represented groups,” Google spokesperson Krisztina Radosavljevic-Szilagyi said. “We still have a long way to go, but it’s exciting to see progress.”

On Tuesday night, Google I/O conference staff planned to continue a tradition started a few years ago by taking all female attendees out to dinner at restaurants throughout San Francisco. The informal event aims to let women meet other female attendees and Google executives prior to the event itself. 

Google will also provide childcare services at the event, and expanded it this year by allowing older children to participate in hands-on activities that focus on science, technology, engineering and math. For mothers who are still breast feeding, Google is providing a “Mother’s Room” so women can pump breast milk as they normally would throughout the day.

See also: How Many Women Has Apple Put On The WWDC Stage Since 2007?

Because attracting more women to technology depends in part on the visibility of women at events like I/O, Google is highlighting both female Google employees and other developers at the event. Twenty-three percent of all the speakers at I/O will be women, Radosavljevic-Szilagyi said. 

I/O Is Just One Part Of Google’s Plan

Google won’t make technology an open, diverse industry just by welcoming women to its events, but it’s a start. Apple, for its part, could follow Google’s lead, even by welcoming more women on the keynote stage at its own developer conference. 

To encourage more young girls to become interested in technology, and abolish the stereotype of tech- or science-based careers as appealing only to boys, Google launched Made With Code, an initiative that aims to encourage girls to get interested in programming.

Google isn’t stopping with classrooms—the company is trying to change the narrative in Hollywood, too. 

Anyone who has seen Disney’s Phineas and Ferb television show knows that the only time a girl appears is to disrupt the boys’ crazy science experiments. It’s just one representation of an industry portrayed by dudes, with girlfriends, sisters, or moms appearing mostly as sidekicks or buzzkills to the male hackers and makers.

Google is working with the Geena Davis Institute to improve representation of girls in the media—like with kids’ shows that perpetuate the boys-only narrative—and change the Hollywood theme that men are the only ones who can code. 

A 20% female attendance rate at I/O is still far smaller than the percentage of women who use Google products and services. But Google is pushing the envelope on women’s initiatives, which helps signal to other companies—big corporations and startups alike—that technology can’t just be a boy’s club anymore.

Lead image courtesy of Fumi Yamazaki on Flickr

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