Google Algorithms for Women in Tech

Google aims to attract and retain more women.

Google aims to attract and retain more women.

Google uses algorithms to recruit and retain more women. Does it work?

Women are significantly underrepresented in technology, and especially in leadership positions at technology companies, and they shouldn’t be. “Having women leaders is not just a question of equity or somehow ticking the box,” said Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who studies gender diversity and business at Columbia University and is president of the Center for Talent Innovation. “Particularly at technology companies, it really does contribute to innovation and a company’s ability to exploit new markets.” (1) The scarcity of women, not only in top leadership roles, but the businesses themselves,  reflect what is, over all, a male-driven engineering culture.

Google’s efforts discovered four points of concern according to the NY Times Article 8/22:

  1. Some women who applied for jobs did not make it past the phone interview. The reason was that the women did not flaunt their achievements, so interviewers judged them unaccomplished. Google now asks interviewers to report candidates’ answers in more detail.
  2. Google also found that women who turned down job offers had interviewed only with men. Now, a woman interviewing at Google will meet other women during the hiring process.
  3. Once hired, technical women were not being promoted at the same rate as men. At Google, employees nominate themselves for promotions, but the data revealed that women were less likely to do so. So senior women at Google now host workshops to encourage women to nominate themselves, and they are promoted proportionally to men.
  4. Another time Google was losing women was after they had babies. The attrition rate for postpartum women was twice that for other employees. In response, Google lengthened maternity leave to five months from three and changed it from partial pay to full pay. Attrition decreased by 50 percent.

As a result, Google claims more women are being hired and retained. This is good news, but it begs the question: will the “male-driven engineering” culture change? What are companies doing to influence and change the implicit biases that pervade our society and especially the tech industries? Can we use algorithms to target and improve the tech culture from it’s historically androcentric focus to an equitable environment? Maybe that is next on Google’s agenda.

Alan Eustace, senior vice president for knowledge at Google, says: “I wish we could say we’re amazingly successful and closing in on 50 percent women, but it’s not true.” Though I am glad to hear Google is making an effort, we all still have a long way to go in solving this problem.

(1) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/technology/in-googles-inner-circle-a-falling-number-of-women.html?pagewanted=all

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