After tech giants like Google and Facebook released their entirely unsurprising (yet disappointing) employee gender statistics, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg weighed in on the problem of gender parity in the tech industry, claiming there are simply not enough women available to hire for tech positions — a problem that begins with the education system. “We all understand that we have to increase the numbers going into the funnel,” she said.
The so-called pipeline problem has been pointed out by many observers: despite efforts to encourage more women to pursue computer science degrees, Sandberg and others have noted that less than one in five current computer science college majors is a woman. “We can't go much above 18 percent in our coders if there's only 18 percent coming into the workplace,” said Sandberg.
Perhaps. But 18 percent of all majors is still a fairly large pool of talent, especially as the major has grown in popularity. Demand for computer science degrees has surged in recent years, at universities from Harvard to Stanford to the University of Washington. A report by the Computing Research Association noted more than 1,000 female graduates got computer science bachelor degrees in 2011 and nearly 700 more attained computer engineering or information technology degrees. And the total number of women in computer science and related programs was expected to be even higher this year.
Sure, the ratio could be better. But as some tech companies proved this week, it’s quite possible to fill out the ranks from the available talent and improve the ratio in the workplace.
Popular crowd-funding site Indiegogo, for example, revealed that 45 percent of its staff is female, 33 percent of technology positions are filled by women and, most notably, 43 percent of senior leaders are women. Women also make up nearly half of the staff at Pandora, a music streaming service, and close to 39 percent of its leadership roles are filled by women. China-based powerhouse Alibaba also shared new data about its leadership ahead of it’s U.S. IPO (scheduled for next month), revealing that nine of its 27 partners are female — a ratio that’s almost unheard of in the tech industry.
Meanwhile, at Facebook, LinkedIn and Google, women only make up between 30 and 40 percent of all employees and that figure drops to about 20 percent in leadership roles.
How is it that companies like Indiegogo and Pandora have been able to fill its ranks more easily than Sandberg’s Facebook and other tech giants have? Do they have access to some secret cache of tech-savvy women that no one else knows about?