Freedom of Fertility: Improving Diversity at Tech Giants

Graphics by James Horohoe
Gender Demographics in Google Technology Jobs

Gender Demographics in Google Technology Jobs. Click to see Interactive visualization.

With the dramatic rise in tech and internet oriented companies, the lack of transparency regarding race and gender demographics have become more obvious. Software engineering and similar professions have been, and remain, historically male dominated. Google recently released internal diversity statistics, which revealed that eighty three percent of its tech employees are male. This is not only detrimental for Google users, half of whom are female, but also to Google as an organization. Women earn more college degrees, female high school students take more Advanced Placement tests, yet only 14% of computer science degrees are earned by women. While there are countless examples of male success stories in the Silicon Valley, few people can name influential women in tech other than Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s president and Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook.

Unsurprisingly, the field is dominated by white and asian males—individuals more likely to have access to the tech training or start up funds to launch their success in the Silicon Valley.  Yet in a state like California where 38% of the population is hispanic and 14% asian, Google’s tech workforce is composed of 34% asian and only 2% hispanic.

The root of these unequal representations are due to the historic advantage white males have. Technological, computer science genre professions require technical training, higher level education, and exposure to technology. As this level of education is a privilege, very often people from low income and minority households  may not have been informed of the opportunities in computational and information sciences, individuals would have to know about the opportunities within these fields to be prompted to pursue them. White and asian individuals have greater access to the education and knowledge required to be successful in the tech world. The opportunities afforded to these individuals have set the industry back in terms of diversity. But for women, especially educated white and asian women, it is less obvious why they may not be choosing these careers.

In addition to the racial and gender setbacks, women are also subject to society’s expectations of motherhood and raising children, unlike men, women are confronted with the choice to pursue raising a family or having the chance at a successful career and professional life. From their youth, many women are led to believe that motherhood is their destiny, ingrained in them through their toys and games. These lucrative, satisfying and independent careers are not marketed to girls in high school, which is why although girls are earning college degrees in higher numbers, they are not being exposed to computer sciences as their male counterparts are.In fact, in 2010 women accounted for 57% of undergraduate degrees, but only 14% of computer science degrees.

The film “The Social Network” about the creation of Facebook depicts Silicon Valley as the new “boys club.” The film represents the lack of diversity, with every main character being an educated male (almost exclusively white and asian) while the female characters in the movie played a love interest. Perhaps in hopes of keeping talented women working to benefit the companies, the option of egg freezing changes the decision between children and a career. Covering the cost (upwards of $20,000) of extracting women’s eggs, storing and freezing them for the future would allow for women to more easily climb the corporate ladder without worry or regret about having kids, because their eggs would be ready for fertilization whenever they want to begin a family. Women have already been marrying and having kids later in life, these policies could help normalize this trend which would allow women to pursue college, graduate degrees, gap years, work abroad and dozens of other opportunities that could have previously threatened their shot at motherhood. It is impressive, however, that these companies are making great efforts to help female employees while business like Hobby Lobby are trying to limit the reproductive rights, and therefore career potential, of female employees.

The lack of diversity is also a major business problem, diversity promotes new ideas and better understanding of the consumer. Not only do women account for half of the internets users, women are the most economically influential consumers–accounting for “$4.3 trillion of total U.S. consumer spending of $5.9 trillion” (Khanna). Even more pressing to tech companies, a Parks Associates report revealed that women download more movies, music, do the majority of game-playing across some platforms, and have higher “purchase intentions” than men do (Khanna). This is an obvious incentive to keep women in technology and encourage more women to pursue jobs in technology.

It’s concerning when the world’s largest economic force is earning degrees in higher numbers yet does not have greater representation in an industry that is growing exponentially. Luckily, there have been some recent attempts to promote women’s involvement, among these are camps and scholarships to help women realize their potential in technology and encourage more female computer science majors. In addition to encouraging women to engage in computer science, the industry should make an effort to diversify the racial demographics.

For such a creative industry, it seems obvious to increase diversity for the generation of new ideas and to hear different perspectives. The inclusion of black and hispanic individuals could lead to tremendous improvements for future generations access to education and jobs as tech industry jobs are both lucrative and stimulating. Moreover, while the current demographics are disparaging, there is vast potential to expand and diversify the growing industry. Doing so can only improve both the tech world and help reduce inequality between genders and races.


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