Debugging the Gender Gap: Filmmaker Warns of Economic Crisis in Tech

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regardless of the individual IQs of a team of men, if you add one woman to that team, regardless of her IQ, the collective IQ of that team rises. Add a woman to your team, and productivity rises, efficiency rises, profitability rises. So there are actual reasons to incorporate women on to your team.

You could probably bring the same logic over to diversity … if you’re designing products. There’s some great applications that have been made by the average 27-year-old white guy that dropped out of Stanford. What are we missing? How many more Snapchats do we need? They have an enormous user base and they’re phenomenally successful, and that’s great. What about apps for good? What about apps that help people find clean drinking water? Or help a woman who is a single mother living in a housing project to be able to put together a bunch of applications for new housing and do one common application? Could your average white male from Silicon Valley think about that need? Probably not. It’s just not in his wheelhouse, not in his perspective. So, by diversifying socio-economically, gender, race—you’re going to have all these different ideas coming to the table that can create much more innovative products.

X: Have you come across any areas of tech or companies that are more inclusive than others?

RHR: The example we use in the film is Etsy. It’s New York-based, actually in Brooklyn. It’s an online marketplace. One might say, “Well, that’s because it’s shopping, women do the shopping.” Interestingly enough, Airbnb for example, the user base is predominantly female, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the engineering department is predominantly female.

Etsy is almost 31 percent women in their engineering department. What they did is diversified their interview team. It’s human nature that we tend to hire people like us. That’s who we’re comfortable with, that’s who we can identify with, that’s who we feel safe with. So, if you diversify your interview panel … it really helps you in the discussion of bringing on more diversity.

Then it’s also about retaining women once you have them—creating a support structure within the company so if a woman wants to voice a concern, it’s important she feels like she’s being heard. I’ve heard a lot of women say they felt like they were the object of, not even discrimination, but sort of nuances—death by 1,000 cuts. It’s irritating things where you feel like you can’t sit down and do your job because people are hitting on you … or sending porn around.

It’s a matter of, if you have a complaint or constructive criticism, being able to go somewhere in the company and feel like your voice is being heard.

X: Are companies starting to implement that support structure?

RHR: I know that Etsy has, and it seems to have made a difference. I would hope to think that companies are. I have not been inside a lot of companies, and it’s been several months since we finished filming, so these are ways we’ve learned that companies have begun to make a difference.

Here’s the thing that’s interesting though: having a diversity and inclusion department, even having this discussion about gender equality, about where the diversity is in the company, that implies that you’re at a point where you have the time and wherewithal to actually consider that. Most startups are just scrambling. Most startups are working so hard that they’ve said to me, “I really, honestly don’t care if it’s a man or a woman or somebody in between coding, I just need coders.” They’re trying to keep up with the demand, racing against the clock with their startup idea.

Expedia in the last month or two started an inclusion and diversity team. Think about how old Expedia is now and how successful they’ve been. I applaud them for what they’re doing now. They’re doing a great job. This last week, up in Seattle, they held their diversity week. But they’re now at a point where they have the ability to do that. And it’s great. They need to do it, and it’s wonderful. And it brought a lot of men into the audience, and a lot of them were receptive to this.

But I understand why, and if I could tell a group of four guys that are just coming up with an idea and brainstorming in their parents’ living room, “You guys, right now, go find a woman—a totally capable woman. Bring her onto your team, not as a secretary, but as programmer, designer, lead marketing, whatever. If you do that now—bring a lot of socioeconomic diversity on your team now—you’re going to benefit and profit.”

Plus, it’s much easier to continue to bring in diverse teams and more women if you already have someone on there. It’s really hard to hire your first woman.

X: Do you blame these small startups for being so focused on surviving that they’re not so cognizant of diversity? How do you view that?

RHR: I think blame is a strong word. Do I blame them? No. Do I understand what’s happening? Yes. Do I think it’s right? No. I think my judgment about this as a documentarian is more just exposing it’s happening. Clearly, I’m convinced diversity is better for your company.

I had a woman actually stand up at a conference in Silicon Valley, in Santa Clara. And she said, “My team of engineers are all men. And we are over 50 percent ahead of where we thought we were going to be, our goals. We are killing it. I don’t want to disrupt that groove. I don’t want to feel the pressure to have to hire a woman or [increase] diversity on that team because we’re killing it as is.” One woman from IBM on the panel said, “What you’re saying is just wrong.” She went after her on a humanitarian level.

[Editor’s note: Hauser Reynolds was also speaking on the panel.] I said to her, “Here’s the problem: you have no idea where it could go. You think this is great? Throw a woman in there, the right woman.” Women don’t want to be hired because of the status quo, they want to be hired because of … Next Page »

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Jeff Bauter Engel is Deputy Editor, Tech at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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