Home What’s Different For Women In Tech Now: They’re Taking Action

What’s Different For Women In Tech Now: They’re Taking Action

In two weeks, the industry’s seen two very different panels discussing women in tech. One was a setback—while the other pointed the way forward.

I’m not sure if I should even count the Salesforce-sponsored Women’s Innovation Panel at last week’s Dreamforce conference as an occasion where people discussed women in technology. Lauren Hockenson from the Next Web has already deftly eviscerated the event, which included the weird, insulting scene of Oprah sidekick Gayle King questioning the paternity of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki’s children.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2015’s Diversity In Tech panel.

A very different panel unfolded at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco Wednesday, where the publication’s former coeditor Alexia Tsotsis spoke with Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou, who pushed the tech industry to publish statistics about the gender and race of its workforce; Joyus CEO Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, who created Boardlist as a “marketplace” to find qualified women to join corporate boards; and Isis Anchalee Wenger, a platform engineer at OneLogin whose appearance on a recruiting billboard prompted her to start the “#ILookLikeAnEngineer” movement.

Changing The Picture

The reality is that women still face an unwelcoming environment at many tech companies; many choose not to pursue careers in tech in the first place, apply for tech jobs, or stay in them once they get there. Even companies embracing new policies, like Chou’s employer, Pinterest, are finding it exceedingly hard to make progress on improving their diversity picture.

“Before, I took it for granted that things wouldn’t be equal,” Chou said of her awakening. That changed as Chou began speaking up—and taking concrete action, like publishing tech companies’ gender ratios in engineering departments.

Cassidy, too, was spurred to create the Boardlist in an effort to eliminate the “pipeline” excuse, arguing that the problem in boards isn’t a lack of women—it’s a lack of women in the personal networks of overwhelmingly male tech founders and venture capitalists. In other words—to use the popular tech parlance—it’s a “discovery” problem. 

Wenger’s story was more personal: Her company asked her to be photographed for a recruiting billboard, which resulted in a lot of abusive online commentary directed at her by people who felt her picture somehow didn’t “represent” engineers. Her response was to start a movement around a hashtag, #ILookLikeAnEngineer.

In a Medium post discussing the episode, Wenger noted the online commenters’ lack of empathy. At TechCrunch Disrupt, she repeated the call for empathy as a way to solve the problem of women leaving the tech workforce.

“Helping to create community and a culture that fosters empathy are incredibly important at creating retention,” she said. 

Cassidy agreed that retention was key: “One large opportunity is for companies to keep women in the workforce, to keep that talent as opposed to losing it.”

Action Against Sexism

What was compelling for me about the Disrupt panel—in contrast to the Dreamforce disaster—was that Cassidy, Chou, and Wenger have all taken action using the tech industry’s own tools and language to change things. Those efforts—and not a 20-minute chat—are what will have lasting impact on the industry.

The numbers are still bad, and the stories that women share about their contemporary experiences in the workplace are still depressing. But there’s a lot of reasons for hope—and reasons to think there may be a day, sooner than we expect, when we don’t need to discuss diversity in tech, because it’s just a welcome reality.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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