8 Initiatives That Show Tech Wants to Solve Its Diversity Problem
Two years ago, Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou famously asked, “Where are the numbers?” referring to the number of women in the tech industry. Since she asked that, we’ve seen the numbers. They’re pretty dismal.
It’s no secret that the tech industry has a diversity problem. Everyone from Google to the White House is talking about it. Facebook recently released a diversity report on itself, which shows a company that is 55 percent white and 68 percent male. Other tech companies have released similar reports, which are more or less as grim.
Where is the hope? Or, more to the point, is there hope? Thankfully, there is. While some companies don’t seem to be doing much besides acknowledging that there's a problem, others are tackling the issues head on. The following list showcases several companies in the tech industry that are actively working to make their workplaces more accessible for employees of all backgrounds.
1. Pinterest’s Inclusion Labs.
Pinterest has set some huge goals to increase diversity internally, and perhaps the most exciting part is that they plan to make their numbers public as they try to reach their goals. For 2016, the company hopes to increase hiring rates for full-time engineering roles to 30 percent female and 8 percent under-represented ethnic backgrounds. They plan to increase hiring rates for non-engineering roles to 12 percent under-represented ethnic backgrounds, as well as interview at least one person from an under-represented background and one female candidate for every open leadership position. Because the company will actually release its data, interested parties will be able to see how Pinterest really lives up to these goals.
Related: Tech Companies Deserve More Credit for Their Diversity
2. Intel’s Diversity in Technology Initiative.
Intel’s recent initiative sets an ambitious new hiring and retention goal to achieve full representation for women and under-represented minorities at Intel by 2020. The company plans to make itself more representative of the talent available in America, from new hires up to senior leadership. To accomplish this goal, Intel announced that it will invest $300 million to create a pipeline of female and under-represented engineers for hiring purposes. The company will also increase its engagement with primary education programs that focus on underserved areas.
3. Toptal Global Mentors Program.
Toptal, a global network of freelance software developers, recently launched its Toptal Global Mentors Program, a large-scale initiative to address what it calls the root of the problem: unequal access to technical education opportunities. Developers in its network have volunteered to tutor software engineering students at General Assembly (GA), an educational organization that provides tech training for low-income or underprivileged students. Through its mentors program, Toptal says it has committed the equivalent of $1 million in mentorship time. The company has also donated $100,000 to GA’s Opportunity Fund to create fellowships for disadvantaged students.
4. Google’s NextWave.
The Google NextWave program provides financial support and other resources to equip and nurture entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities. With this initiative, Google hopes to inspire and educate the next generation of entrepreneurs, no matter where they come from. The first project to come out of NextWave is CODE2040’s Residency program, which provides entrepreneur-in-residence fellowships to African American and Latino founders for one year.
Related: When Will Tech Get Smart Enough to Stop Being 'Men's Work'?
5. Etsy and Hacker School.
Etsy was a little ahead of the curve, pledging $210,000 to Hacker School in 2014. With the money, Hacker School has provided needs-based living expense grants to minority and female programmers. This opportunity allowed the New York City group to bring together a diverse graduating class capable of landing jobs at Etsy and elsewhere. Etsy itself works to prioritize diversity internally by not only analyzing numbers, but also by fostering a company culture that gives everyone a voice.
Asana is one of the few tech companies to start working on improving diversity before being called out for a lack of it. When Asana CEO Dustin Moskovitz was confronted on twitter for the company’s small number of black employees, he responded that the company of just 140 people was already in the process of hiring a diversity lead. Asana is also working with Paradigm, the consulting startup used by Pinterest and Slack to help foster diversity initiatives.
Although Airbnb reports similar numbers to other tech companies when it comes to under-represented ethnic backgrounds, it is actually much closer than most companies to closing the gender gap in tech. Women make up 47 percent of Airbnb’s overall U.S. staff, and 49 percent of its worldwide staff. Additionally, 43 percent of its tech and 39 percent of its leadership positions are filled by women. Airbnb credits these numbers to the strong pipeline it has built. The company also has created an internal team that monitors diversity progress and is working with CODE2040 to connect with even more minorities in tech.
That’s right, the average Internet user has been doing a great deal to bring the topic of diversity front and center in the tech industry. Twitter campaigns such as #ILookLikeAnEngineer are challenging existing stereotypes about what it means to actually look like one. Twitter users have also been tweeting at CEOs and making their voices heard when it comes to disadvantages for certain communities in tech. Especially if you are in a position of leadership, look at your own team and address what needs fixing. After all, the entire tech industry will benefit when everyone gets an equal opportunity, regardless of background.
John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.