Grace Hopper & the gender gap in tech

Women in Technology

In anticipation of the 20th annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Arizona this week, GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving penned an insightful article that digs into the problem of gender inequity in the tech industry. Published today in Fortune, Blake’s piece makes a strong case for the link between diversity and innovation and the insight that female technologists bring to the table.

“Of course, we’ve long intuited that diversity of thought leads to novel solutions, but more and more the diversity theory is being backed by hard data. In a study released in May by the University of Castilla la Mancha, Spain, researchers analyzed the make up and results of more than 4,000 R&D teams around the world and found that gender diverse groups can lead to greater creativity and better decisions. However, the tech industry has an equally important reason to court women developers and tech leaders: women are the majority consumers of tech. Despite the long-running stereotypes to the contrary, women purchase and use more technology than men. Women purchase more tablets, laptops and smartphones; download more music, movies and games; make the majority of household technology purchasing decisions; and utilize devices and services, from games to social media, more than their male counterparts, according to research over the past two years from the market intelligence firm Park Associates.

With the rise of wearable technology following the same patterns, this gap only promises to widen. We experience this directly here at GoDaddy, where we focus on cloud services for small business. More than half of small businesses in the U.S. are owned and run by women, and those ventures have disproportionately adopted cloud services like email marketing, SEO & SEM services and online billing and bookkeeping services. As with consumer technology, it’s clear that women’s opinions matter deeply to the success of the small business cloud services industry.

Understanding how women adopt and utilize technology are two of the most important insights the tech industry can glean—and there’s no better way to do that than to have women build and lead product development.”

A systemic problem

So why are our industry’s gender diversity numbers lower than ever before, with women holding only about 18 percent of computing-related jobs in Silicon Valley? And why do a mere fraction of the 74 percent of high school girls who report an affinity for STEM subjects pursue such degrees in college? Sure, it might have something to do with gender stereotypes or lack of role models or fear of failure, but Blake suspects the biggest culprit is the culture of the tech industry:

“Of all the causes that could narrow the pipeline of women in tech from 74% to 20%, I suspect the principal contributor is that the environment we’ve created in tech is simply off-putting to most women.

Juxtaposed by the steady stream of stories women have shared about their bizarre/creepy Higher Ed and Silicon Valley experiences, rationales like ‘lack of role models’ and ‘subtle biases’ quickly lose explanatory power. In both venues, we have built environments where men can be highly performant—and made the assumption that because men flock there, women will want the same. They clearly don’t. What’s worse, the more women who leave tech or opt never to enter, the more unwelcoming the environments potentially become. The compounding effect of this negative feedback loop is anything but subtle, and it’s keeping our industry behind the curve on this issue.

The new trend of demographic transparency in tech marks a possible turning point in the industry — not for the transparency itself, but because it makes clear that all of the diversity recruitment goals and ‘special initiatives’ at most tech companies aren’t enough to reverse the negative trend we’re combatting. Transparency makes clear that the unacceptably low numbers of women in tech are a systemic issue. If we fail to address the problem systematically we’ll continue to fail overall—and innovation will suffer as a result.”

Supporting women in tech at GoDaddy

Although we’ve still got a long way to go on the diversity front, GoDaddy is striving to create a more welcoming workplace for both sexes. We’ve overhauled our brand and ads to focus on our customers’ entrepreneurial spirit. We’ve recruited top female talent, including Chief Technology Officer Elissa Murphy (bringing the percentage of women in senior leadership roles at GoDaddy to 30 percent). And we’ve balanced our Agile development teams with 50 percent women. “Even in small teams, I’ve seen that when men work in equal numbers to women, coarse male behavior wanes almost universally,” Blake writes. “Women on those teams describe their environment as more inclusive, more respectful and more satisfying.”

We’re also a proud supporter of initiatives such as the Grace Hopper Conference. GoDaddy is sponsoring conference attendance for more than 100 female students from California Polytechnic State University and Harvey Mudd College. Are these efforts enough to turn the negative gender trend in tech? Of course not. But they’re a start. And, as Blake emphasizes in his article (be sure to read the full post here), the Grace Hopper Celebration offers an ideal backdrop for the tech industry’s small group of leaders “to pause and evaluate if they are doing enough (and doing it systematically) to effect real change.”

What do you think?

Image by: mbeo via Compfight cc

Andrea Rowland
A former small business owner and newspaper journalist, and a published nonfiction author, Andrea Rowland helps craft compelling communications for small businesses and web pros through her work as managing editor of the GoDaddy Garage. When she's not writing or editing, she likes to experiment with baking, travel, read, and dip her toes in the ocean.