I had the opportunity of speaking with Nithya Ruff, Senior Director, OS Practice, Comcast and member of the The Linux Foundation Board of Directors during the Foundation’s Open Source Summit recently. We discussed diversity in the tech industry, in particular the reasons behind the female gender gap, and how these issues are being addressed.
I asked Nithya to share her thoughts on the issue of gender diversity in the tech industry. She believes that women are feeling much more empowered to speak out about the challenges and issues that they face and are now beginning to reach out for the support they need.
From my own research I’ve read and heard of many reports in the media about women encountering sexism, sexual harassment, gender pay gaps and toxic working environments in very male dominated tech and venture capital organisations in Silicon Valley. Hitting the headlines in 2017 these reports have resulted in investigations into what’s described as a bro culture in tech. They have been instrumental in the resignations of co-founders, CEOs, board members and other high ranking males in companies such as Uber, Binary Capital, and 500 Startups to name just a few.
I asked Nithya to explain more about the issues of diversity and the gender gap in companies in Silicon Valley. She told me that Facebook, Google and others have been publishing their diversity numbers since 2013. This information can now be analysed, tracked and measured. However, the bad news she explained is that numbers relating to changes in the gender gap haven’t moved that much.
They’re very close to the tipping point, and moving in the right direction, but far too slowly for me.
She believes that every top leader must have a diversity strategy; that companies need to implement and support their own diversity plans. Nithya added that this approach is causing a backlash in Silicon Valley with some people thinking that inclusive hiring strategies and in-house diversity training programmes have gone too far.
We talked about the different views that women may have about working in tech and how these might be challenged. Nithya mentioned a documentary series she is involved in where women share their stories about the gender pay gap, online harassment, female entrepreneurship, decisions about whether to leave or stay in tech, and the role of male allies.
The Chasing Grace Project
The Chasing Grace Project is an important initiative that will bring women and men together to learn through story and to create change in our industry. The time is now.
Jim Zemlin: Executive Director, The Linux Foundation
More information about this project can be found on the chasing grace project website.
Other initiatives that are in place to encourage women and girls into tech are educational programmes and company partnerships.
Over the last 11 years Maria Klawe, President of The Havey Mudd College in Los Angeles has been encouraging and helping female students to enter STEM related industries through her computer science programme. Maria Klawe recognises that more work needs to be done and also urges other colleges to do the same.
Companies and Education Partnerships:
Nithya told me how companies are now investing in early learning technology development programmes for girls from elementary school onwards. This helps to build a pipeline of female students interested in working in STEM. She believes that it’s better to do this at an early stage rather than waiting until college graduates complete their computer science and engineering studies and then realising that there aren’t enough female graduates to enter the tech industry.
Here are just a few examples of many of these partnerships:
Vodafone: Encouraging more girls to #codelikeagirl
Salesforce: Supporting STEMettes
STEMettes: We’re showing the next generation that girls do Science, Technology, and Engineering & Maths (STEM) too at our free, fun, food-filled experiences
Rails Girls: Aims to give tools for women to build their ideas
Girls in Tech: Women. Technology. Entrepreneurship.
Technovation: Girls for a change. Learn. Build. Change.
- (See links below for more Irish Tech News related STEM articles)
Personal Reflections and Takeaways:
It’s very clear to me that the ‘bro culture’ and toxic working environments in the tech and associated industries must be challenged and change. This needs to be done from the top down to include venture capitalists, board members, CEO’s, senior management and HR departments.
From the bottom up, the good news is that more girls are being encouraged into STEM and STEAM, through the provision of positive role models, positive leaders such as Nithya, and educational and company partnerships.
I believe it’s imperative to attract more girls and women into tech and that their working environments must be welcoming, safe and secure. We must ensure that they will be supported, treated with respect and paid equally, enabling them to flourish and thrive in an industry that touches every part of our lives. Doing this will foster balance and allow innovations to emerge that will benefit everyone on the planet now and for future generations to come.
We live in a diverse world, so doesn’t it makes sense to have an all-inclusive and diverse workforce in tech and across all other industries?
See also other related Irish Tech News Articles:
- The Linux Foundation Open Source Summit: The Importance of a Diverse Community
- Interview with Mark Stanley, VP Web Marketing & Marketing Operations EMEA, Salesforce Supporting STEMettes
- Women in STEM: A Movement Gathering Momentum