by Dani Cooke
I am not a science or math person; I have no interest in becoming a software engineer or computer programmer. In terms of gender expectations set in academic fields, I fall pretty firmly into the pigeonholed “woman-interested-in-humanities-and-only-humanities” category. There are times when I’ve wished that I didn’t so easily fit these stereotypes—I’m writing this while wearing a soft pink sweater, sitting with my legs crossed delicately, feeling like part of the problem—but despite my best efforts, my academic interests veer strictly toward the liberal arts and other wordy endeavors often associated with femininity. However, visiting Google’s Boulder campus with the Gender, Media, and Technology class, the conversation of women and minorities in the tech industry unavoidably piqued my interest.
The computer programmer who gave our class a tour cited two schools of thought when it comes to why only 20% or so of software engineers are women. “It’s easy,” he explains, “to blame it on a ‘pipeline issue,’ saying that fewer women want to become software engineers or work in STEM.” The truth, in his experiences, is that unconscious bias and deep-seated toxic masculinity have pushed women out of STEM fields, sometimes before they even get the chance to begin exploring them.
Google, a tech giant which is unavoidable in our everyday lives, has taken a number of initiatives to avoid this bias. They have removed given names from the initial application process so that the gender of the applicant is not immediately apparent when their qualifications are being evaluated. In project teams, members and managers are constantly reevaluating their processes to create a culture where issues of identity can be brought up and the true representative nature of teams can be questioned. Outreach initiatives like “Girls Who Code” seek to empower and recruit women in the field. Employee Resource Groups like “Women at Google,” “Gay-glers,” and the “Black Googlers Network” seek to connect and support employees at Google who may identify with minority groups and implement some of these transformation ideas.
So, why should companies like Google care? Why does it matter that women aren’t as represented in the tech industry? Put simply by a member of the panel of “Googlers” with whom we spoke, “There is hard research that says diverse teams make better products. If we have everyone represented at the table, we will build products that are more accessible to everybody.”
There is no denying that women are underrepresented in the STEM workforce. While women receive about 50.3% of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees, they make up only 29% of the science and engineering workforce (National Girls Collaborative Project). From both social justice and purely productivity-based standpoints, many agree that more inclusivity in the tech industry can only be a good thing.
The push to include women in STEM is, of course, not isolated to Google alone—it’s a global movement. Some organizations set the lofty goal of “50/50 by 2020”—50% of people in the industry being women. Whether or not that goal is met, the future of women in tech is headed in a positive direction and gaining momentum by the minute.