Reflections on the Tech Superwomen Summit
By Sarah Beldo /
17 Feb 2015
Recently, I attended the San Francisco-hosted Tech Superwomen Summit on behalf of Sift Science. Normally, I’m not one to be easily moved by a conference. This event, however, felt different. The diversity of qualified viewpoints and the questions from the audience made for inspiring discussions, and I’m excited to share my takeaways from the day.
What better way to start a women-in-tech conference than with a conversation centered around entry into the field. The day kicked off with a panel discussion entitled, “The pipeline, does it leak?”. Well, the pipeline of female engineers does in fact leak — by an alarming 52%.
The pipeline’s source itself is also in a troubling state. In the first panel, I learned that when Julie Elberfeld, CIO of Capital One, graduated from college in 1985, 37% of Computer Science undergrads were female. By 2012, that number had dropped to 18%. History shows us that engineering was once an attractive field for women. However, the intervening years saw tech and gadget ads targeted at men, with little female presence shown in the making or enjoyment of personal computers, games, and software. Women felt alienated from tech and its products, reflected in the marked decrease of their engagement and enrollment. How do we make tech a popular, diverse field once more? I’ll get to some solutions shortly.
Is Pipeline the Right Word?
One conference participant challenged the very metaphor of “the pipeline”. Despite various sources, pipelines generally carry a homogenous product. Thus far, the engineering pipeline has delivered one population expertly: caucasian males. Sarah Millstein went so far as to describe the pipeline as, “white men [who] will always continue to fall from the sky”. To recruit individuals of diverse backgrounds, knowledge bases, and ethnicities, we need to look to non-traditional sources. Subject experts, conferences, and under-utilized job boards may be easy resources to find diverse candidates. Additionally, with our job postings, we must be wary of language and avoid inadvertently repelling diverse candidates. Check out these useful tips!
We can’t make long-term, meaningful change alone. I learned that Capital One’s women in tech program takes an interesting approach. They host a class series, open to anyone company-wide, about “microaggressions.” These classes educate people about the “insignificant” things that people might say or do that wear women/others down. Sometimes something as simple as the tone we take or the words we choose can have a profound effect on others.
I suspect that, in most cases, it is a combination of factors that compel minorities to exit engineering. The onus is on everyone in tech to uphold the respect and dignity that all people deserve. The most highly sought-after companies are those that create a culture where multi-directional, open, and honest feedback is welcome.
To be honest, I didn’t love the name of this conference. I’m confident that no one at Sift Science would think of themselves as either Supermen or Superwomen. I took the job at Sift Science because when I spoke with Sifties, I was learning from them, rather than being taught. We’re committed to continually growing together. After 10 months here, that still remains the case. Sifties do amazing work, but we rarely flaunt it.
Do we celebrate our accomplishments? Heck yes! Do we have a culture of feedback, both positive and negative? Absolutely. Feedback makes us stronger. But any Siftie with his or her nose up in the air would lose respect quickly.
Diverse Perspectives in All of Tech
I’m not an engineer. I am, however, one of 12 women at Sift Science and one of 40-some Sifties passionate about creating a work environment where all people of diverse perspectives and backgrounds feel welcome and appreciated every day. It’s far too easy to create a tech culture where those who don’t code are less valuable than those who do. Those who recruit Sifties, maintain our office, create processes and procedures, plan Sift events, support our customers, negotiate partnerships, market Sift, and sell Sift Science are just as important to Sift Science’s success as those who build and improve our product. I firmly believe that we can make ourselves more productive employees by learning from each other.
What is Sift Science doing?
Sift Science is a startup. We’re young, and by no means experts at building a diverse workforce. But that’s no excuse. I’m proud of our accomplishments as Sift 360 and Sift Science as a whole work to grow and maintain our diverse and awesome culture.
Here’s an overview:
- Our Marketing and People Ops teams are revamping our jobs board to highlight our awesome culture and emphasize our commitment to diversity.
- Sift 360 and People Ops instituted Sift Culture Credit, which gives Sifties the opportunity to designate 4 work-hours per quarter to making a cultural investment in Sift Science. Whether it be volunteering with other Sifties at a local charity or attending a diversity-oriented meetup on Sift Science’s behalf, we’re encouraging greater involvement with our internal and external communities.
- Sift 360 will soon sponsor a brown bag lunch series, during which we’ll have literature/article-driven discussions about themes relevant to Sifties, such as Professional Development At A Startup and Silicon Valley Bro Culture.
This is ******* hard
However, to create large-scale change, organizations must create cultures that are welcoming to diverse talent. While we at Sift Science are eager to make change, undoubtedly there are others in tech who think otherwise and prefer the status quo. To that audience, I would echo many conference speakers: diversity is a competitive advantage. Diverse perspectives make for a stronger and more thoughtful team, while homogeneity creates weaker outputs.
So let’s work together to create change.
Have feedback on what we’re doing? I’d love to hear from you! 🙂