The bros want to be bros, so we ignore this side of “women in tech” discussions

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We tend to think of “women in tech” issues as a pipeline problem — namely, there are not enough girls in STEM programs and summer camps, so there must be a “skills gap” and we can’t find the bad-ass women we need.

Turns out that’s probably largely bullshit.

New research on the women in tech issue

Stanford researchers studied a series of tech job information sessions, and…

In the sessions, the researchers found, presenters often peppered their remarks with references to geek culture favorites like Star Trekand The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, focused conversation on only the highly technical aspects of the job, or referred to high school coding experience. These topics often excluded women, who on average join the field after high school and can feel excluded from the images depicted in geek culture. Also, men overwhelmingly led the sessions, and when companies sent female employees, their roles most often consisted of discussing company culture or setting up food in the back of the room.

To me, the worst line in that whole thing might be “setting up food in the back of the room.”

There’s also this:

“A lot of the worst content came when the presenter was speaking off-the-cuff comments, trying to be relatable to students and funny,” Correll says. “You wouldn’t want to take a very talented woman who’s getting her degree in computer science and is coming to an info session for your company and do things like this. It’s just counterproductive.”

Both large and small companies showed the same patterns of lauding geeky, fraternity-house culture.

A large elephant just walked into this room.

The pipeline reasoning is an excuse

Tech companies love themselves some “bro-y” culture. That’s the game. I’ve never worked really in an explicit tech company, but every executive these days thinks his company is a tech company, so … I have in some respects. A few years ago, I worked with a team who literally had to define themselves this way: Nerf guns, rolling chairs, sweatshirts, late-night “product rollouts,” all that. That stuff probably mattered more to them than the paycheck, honestly.

So the pipeline problem is something we invent. In reality, we want these cultures to be an extension of the frat house. We want to never leave that womb. So at job info sessions we talk about “bro-y” stuff and we alienate females, or, ya know, we bring them along to the session only to set up a bunch of sandwiches in the back.

“It’s a pipeline problem!” is just an excuse for “We want to live in the SAE house forever, or at least until society tells us it’s time to get married and do all that.”

How do we fix this?

How about a few of these ideas from Stanford’s team?

  • Bring along female engineers as part of the recruiting team. Have them present core technical content during the event, not just set up the refreshments, pass out T-shirts, or speak about company culture.
  • Feature the company’s technical work in a way that emphasizes its real-world impact, rather than describing the engineering staff as a group of people who sit in a darkened room all day. While some consider this the definition of hard-working tech-world glory, female students are less likely to feel this way.

Some of my own adds?

  • Show females who have been successful in tech roles at the company.
  • Offer examples of diversity and inclusion programs.
  • “Day in the life” videos, etc. with more than just bros popping off Nerf guns.
  • Invest in HS programs in your HQ area so you’re putting money where mouth is on the “pipeline issue.”

As with most business issues, the first step in all this stuff is usually “Try to care about it,” followed by “Get the right people on the bus,” followed by “Come up with an action plan,” followed by “Execute on that plan.” Unfortunately, the “care” step is where a lot of this dies — because, look, work is a place we spend a lot of time. So was the frat house. We felt comfortable there, even if we weren’t a brother. We felt comfortable around this vague idea of male community. So we want that. We need more of that. And that’s why we do the bro-y shit that keeps the females out (NO GIRLS ALLOWED), and then we cover our ass by claiming it’s all the fault of American public education.

It’s not. It’s our fault too. Let’s care more and change the behavior we exhibit towards potential female employees.

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