Latest News & Current Events

Women being squeezed out of the innovation economy

In 1985, 37 percent of computer science undergraduate degree recipients were women. By 2011 this proportion had dropped to 18 percent. This comes despite so called STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) initiatives to try and get more females into these fields. Most technology firms refuse to release gender and diversity numbers so it is left up to organizations such as Anita Borg Institute, which is working on getting more women to study computer science and have more women fully engaged in creating technology, to dig deeper into what is really occurring.

For years tech companies have used questions such as “why are manholes round?” to gain insight into a candidates thought process. However they don’t necessarily lead to better hiring outcomes. Google senior vice president for people operations, Laszlo Bock, said last June in an interview with New York Times, “…we found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time. How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane? How many gas stations in Manhattan? A complete waste of time. They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

Many Silicon Valley companies ask such questions. For example if you apply for a job at Dropbox, which provides online storage, you could be asked “If someone came in right now and announced that the zombie apocalypse had just started outside, what would you do in the next hour? What is something that you’re geeky about? What is a superpower you would give to your best friend?” These are the types of questions that you could be asked. Just look at the demographics of the superhero movie attendance and you can see why the superhero concept for example, resonates much more with men. There are plenty more elements surrounding the Sci-Fi and video world that contribute to women self-selecting out of technology jobs.

Companies have to consider the message that they send to potential female employees when they have no females in leadership positions and they conduct their interviews in rooms with names like ‘The Break-up Room,’ or the ‘Bromance Chamber.’

Anita Borg Institute‘s research shows that such behavior and interview questions such as these cause women to get screened out more often than men. The problem is that such questions are fun only for people who understand the jokes — and who can think like the young men doing the interviews.

While these hiring practices disadvantage women and reinforce the male dominated frat-boy culture that Silicon Valley is increasingly being criticized for, they also hurt the employer by limiting the talent pool and ultimately restricting companies’ ability to fully address more than half the market out in the real world.


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