Take on the harder problem, Google

This just in:

Girls love to make bracelets, right?
Girls love to make bracelets, right?

Google, who recently announced their very disappointing statistics for diversity within their company are trying to remedy that with a $50 million dollar initiative targeting the usual suspects:  Girls.

This is not just me pointing fingers at Google.  I am actively working to create a program that targets adults and supports them getting deeply involved in tech without blinders to the realities of that environment as it stands now.

They have $50M to put into this? Great.  They should, however, have enough brains in their organization to KNOW that ‘fixing’ the issues of lack of women in tech is demonstrably not done by just getting to more girls. Loss of women in tech happens with drop offs during CS courses & majors in college and then also out in the tech workforce because it’s a toxic and imbalanced place for them to spend their time and energy.

All this money thrown at adorable girls, creating projects for them will not help if they are being set up just to go into that existing environment. While we should do outreach and attempt to build educational parity for girls (but more importantly kids of color, kids living in poverty) so that there is exposure and understanding of the technology the REAL problem to solve is how to get adult women (and other underrepresented people) re-trained, supported and encouraged to take on roles in technology NOW.

While we’re at it, stop acting like only a CS degree is what makes someone a valuable asset on tech (pro-tip: many people working in tech came to it via liberal arts degrees). Make the current adult tech world a welcoming place for everyone – then you can send in the next generation and so on without losing them in the leaky pipeline a few years in.

13 thoughts on “Take on the harder problem, Google

  1. I agree with you Lukas; I’ve been saying this for years and it usually results in people looking at me like I have three heads. One root of the problem is in how starting “girls learn to code” programs replicates existing power structures. It is easier to go and teach 11 year olds if you already don’t know how to relate to (and behave with) women who are adults, your peers, and already in your field. As I continue to look for the women older than I am who are still developers the field continues to narrow. Feeding more middle school kids into the hopper that leads to the same damn problems is not going to fix things. But “code for girls” is the first thing anyone thinks of (and funds) when diversity comes up. It’s great to do but people should be very suspicious of it as a solution.

  2. Also I wish someone would go teach boys and young men how not to be jerks to their peers who are girls. That would help more than telling little girls to lean in. Teach the boys not to exclude the girls from their hacking and coding and making things. That is where the problems starts: with how boys are trained in misogyny. The day THAT gets funded I’ll be a happy camper.

  3. Loss of women in tech happens with drop offs during CS courses & majors in college and then also out in the tech workforce because it’s a toxic and imbalanced place for them to spend their time and energy.

    This point can’t be emphasized enough, and it makes things like Google’s program boil down to “What can we do to solve this problem, provided it doesn’t involve asking ourselves any hard questions or taking responsibility for the culture we’ve created.”

    Cate Huston makes this point very well – if an engineer was told that 40% of their data or oil or parts or anything was inexplicably falling off the side of some critical process and their proposed solution was just pouring more into the front end, that person would immediately be fired. But somehow, that’s what’s happening here, and nobody bats an eye.

  4. To be honest, I’m not surprised that Google’s suffering from this particular type of willful blindness.

    Last time I looked, their job postings gave a pretty strong impression that anyone without a computer science degree need not apply.

    (Though I’m guessing they’re probably more flexible when they send recruitment e-mails to people who are already maintainers of successful open source projects.)

  5. Commenting on Google’s eng recruitment practices in particular, I did not find it either helpful or encouraging that the pre-interview advice is basically to study everything you did in undergrad CS, in the event the screener quizzes you on some algorithm you’ve long since forgotten the name of. No matter how many years, projects, or roles you’ve seen since then.

    And then, after you have successfully run the gauntlet, then they might discuss what sort of thing Google could be interested in having you work on. I’m not just out of school, and I have no need for a big corporate name on my resume to advance my career. I have time for this nonsense how? Certainly not to be someone’s diversity candidate.

  6. I was hoping someone would make this point, Lukas. Thanks so much for bringing it up.

    Mary Gardiner wrote on the Geek Feminism blog a couple of years ago that while “people love to support geek girls, they are considerably more ambivalent about supporting geek women.” I see this as another example of that.

  7. I completely agree with the point you’re making, and am excited to hear about your work with Ascend, but I think it’s a little unfair to paint the Made With Code program as the only thing Google is doing on the diversity front.
    – They were the first large company to reveal their diversity stats
    – They run unconscious bias training which 50% of staff have taken (http://www.google.com/diversity/at-google.html#the-science-of-inclusion)
    – From the VP level, managers are encouraged to nominate women for promotion (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/04/02/google-data-mines-its-women-problem/) and promotion statistics are tracked
    – They run scholarships worldwide for women studying computer science at university level (and have done for years) (http://www.google.com/anitaborg/)
    – They also run specialised internships aimed at fostering talent in traditionally underrepresented groups (https://www.google.com/about/careers/search/?src=Online/TOPs/NA%20Tech%20University#!t=jo&jid=3823002) (I’m hosting an EP intern right now and she’s awesome)
    – They also support many non-profits working in this space, including The Ada Initiative (http://adainitiative.org/2014/05/announcing-google-as-adacamps-first-platinum-level-sponsor/) and GNOME OPW (https://wiki.gnome.org/OutreachProgramForWomen)

    I’m the last person who’s going to disagree that more could be done, but all of the above is on public record, and pretty unusual in this industry, so can we give some credit where it’s due?

  8. $50M could seed fund 200 women-led startups with $250,000 investments.

    $50M could pay for 1,667 new developer paid internships for 6 months.

    Or mix it up. 100 startups and 833 internships. $50M is a lot of money and could directly benefit a lot of women who want to work in tech, today.

  9. My big passion project is teaching librarians to code, which is inseparable from the problem of teaching adult women to code (the field is 80% female, and mostly second-career people).

    I find the problems I spend most of my time on are “how do you carve out learning time for people who already have jobs and, often, children” and “how do you make an immediately applicable, hands-on curriculum for people who generally don’t have strong math backgrounds” (I.e. very few existing curricular materials work) and “how do you build affective skills and community among geographically dispersed cohorts”.

    All of which are hard problems, rarely addressed by most learn-to-code initiatives. Sighhhhh.

  10. > Google, who recently announced their very disappointing statistics for diversity within their company

    I wouldn’t qualify their statistics as very disappointing. AIUI, they are average. As in, they have about the same percentage of women in their tech staff as there is generally in the field. What *is* very disappointing is the general state of affairs, but Google stats themselves aren’t. Mozilla’s are.

  11. Great post, Lukas. I agree 100%. My mantra, as many of the above comments also note, is that we must Change STEM Culture. I spoke about this same topic on Saturday at a Rails Girls Workshop here in Galway, “More Than 15%” http://www.slideshare.net/cicronin/more-than-15-girls-and-women-in-it-stem

    We have been asking the 15% (women in computing, engineering, STEM) to do the bulk of this work, e.g. via role model and mentoring programmes. And we’ve been targeting girls only. These initiatives put the onus (and additional workload) on women in STEM; do not challenge the stereotypes held by boys; and leave the 85% (men in STEM) unchanged and unchallenged. This approach will not change the masculine culture which exists in most computing/engineering/STEM academic departments, classrooms, labs, workplaces, conferences, etc. We have over 30 years of research and data to back this up.

    Putting in place (more) mentoring programs is easy. Changing culture is hard. But this is what we must do if we are serious about addressing the persistent and progressive under-representation of women in computing, engineering and other STEM fields. Thanks again for a great post.

  12. @glandium: “AIUI, they are average. As in, they have about the same percentage of women in their tech staff as there is generally in the field.”

    not to pick on you — you’re far from the only one contending this — but this is what Google wants everyone to believe. however, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data is extremely uncharitable to them (and, for what it’s worth, Yahoo): http://i.imgur.com/2PN0KAj.png

    and, in terms of race, they’re doing even worse: http://i.imgur.com/Dske8a2.png

    (source data: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B424TueKgJ8OMFJ3TnliV2ZqQkE/edit?usp=sharing, which has links to the BLS/Google/Yahoo data I used.)

    whatever filter is turning computer programmers into Google and Yahoo technical employees, it’s mildly sexist and markedly racist in practice.

  13. Someone I distantly know works for Google, and he collared a young woman at a recent social event we both attended to make a speech about how Google has found that diverse teams (including women and “minorities”) make better products and she should go into computer science. I was thinking “but what’s her experience going to be like if she does?!” Also, if you’re going to try and recruit for diversity, try not singling out the only person of color in the room for your speech.

    Maybe he’s in the 50% that hasn’t taken the unconscious bias training…

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