Inside the annual event that partners with giants like Google and Apple to increase gender diversity in tech and draws 30,000 attendees from around the globe

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“I see a lot of hope and opportunity, and a new future, being built out of the work that we do,” Wilkerson, CEO of ABI, said. “And I’m so excited for it.”

  • Women are drastically underrepresented in the tech industry. 
  • They make up less than 35% of the workforce at the five biggest tech giants, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Just 14% of software engineers are women, and 25% are in computer science-related jobs. 
  • The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI) works with over 100 major tech companies and hosts its annual Grace Hopper Celebration which is running from September 29 to October 3, 2020.  
  • The organization’s aim is to help promote women in technology. 
  • Business Insider spoke with Oona King, Snap Inc.’s vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and ABI CEO Brenda Wilkerson to learn a bit more about the event, which is one of the largest for women in the industry. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The tech industry has historically been male-dominated.

Just 14% of software engineers are women, and 25% are in computer science-related jobs. That’s a stark difference compared with the the overall percentage of employed women in the US, which usually sits at 47%, according a 2018 study from the Pew Research Center

It’s challenging for women working in tech to get ahead. They face biased algorithms in the application screening processes and technical interviews that unfairly advantage white men. Once they’re hired, they may face implicit bias, or unconscious stereotypes held toward certain groups of people – for example, the unfounded idea that women are less cut out for STEM fields. 

But the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI) is hoping to change that. Anita Borg, a computer scientist, founded the organization in 1987 with the aim of getting more women into the industry.

Every year, the organization hosts the The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), an annual gathering of more than 30,000 women technologists across the globe. The event is one of the largest in the US for women in technology and is running from September 29 to October 3, 2020.  

Grace Hopper partners with more than 100 tech companies like Twitter, Google, Apple, and IBM to support women technologists in a field where they’re usually the minority.

Women make up less than 35% of the workforce at the biggest five tech giants (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft) and many of these companies are working with ABI to increase the number of women on their staff. 

For example, Google has been working with ABI since 2006 and is now focused on finding new opportunities for women who have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.  

“Events like Grace Hopper are a critical way for women technologists to connect with their peers and forge a path in the technology industry,” Melonie Parker, chief diversity officer at Google, told Business Insider in an email. “For us, it’s an opportunity to meet the next generation of Googlers, and we’re looking forward to virtually connecting with women around the globe.”

Snap Inc. began working with the organization in 2015. The company released its first ever diversity report in July which showed that only 32.9% of staff identified as women and about 10% identified as Black or Latinx. 

“In terms of gender, it’s quite clear that we need to do far better, both at Snap and in the industry at large,” said Oona King, Snap Inc.’s first vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

There’s undoubtedly more work that needs to be done — and the Anita Borg Institute isn’t the only organization focused on it. For example, Girls Who Code and the National Center for Women & Information Technology have a similar mission.

Business Insider spoke Snap’s King and ABI’s Wilkerson about some of the changes that need to happen for the tech industry to become more inclusive. 

Redefining tech company culture

The GHC is focused on hiring more women into tech jobs and making long-term culture changes at big employers. 

Nearly three in four women in tech have considered leaving their jobs, signalling a broader gender diversity problem in the industry, Business Insider previously reported. There’s also a lack of women in leadership positions. Only 25% of women surveyed in a 2019 IDC study said they thought it was likely they’d be promoted to senior leadership, and many noted a lack of support and mentorship as holding them back from a promotion. 

King said that hiring more women at Snap is only part of the company’s partnership with ABI. It’s also focused on creating a culture that celebrates women. In addition to their goal of doubling the number of women and minorities on staff by 2023, the company has also launched employee resource groups designed to empower underrepresented groups at the company. 

“The first goal is hiring and bringing more women into tech,” King said. But “the second is celebrating the women who are already in tech, in product and engineering roles. The third is a long-term effort so that people understand Snap as a company and what our culture is.”

Finding new opportunities for women during the pandemic

COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted women.

Layoffs in April affected more women than men, marking the first time since 1948 that female unemployment has reached double digits. Women have also been saddled with more unpaid caregiving work since the onset of the pandemic. 

“We were always the primary caregivers as women,” Wilkerson said. “We were always doing multiple jobs. COVID has just turned an amazing light and increased stress on those disparities.” 

The GHC career fair is virtual this year, and will prioritize women who are out of work or furloughed, with up to three hours a day dedicated exclusively for these women to connect with over 100 tech employers.  

King said that the partnership with ABI is allowing Snap to expand the way they approach diversity.

“We’re taking this responsibility for improving diversity out of the hands of people like me,” King said. “In other words, you can’t just hire one person in a company, give them a title, and think that they are going to turn the company around.” 

Taking an intersectional approach

A one-size-fits-all approach will not solve tech’s diversity and inclusion problem. To truly understand how women are impacted you have to look at race, gender, and other markers of identity. 

For instance, while women hold approximately 25% of computing roles in the US, Asian women make up 5% of that number. Black women make up 3% of that number, and Hispanic women account for 1%, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology

“This is where the real work begins, when we really start to talk about the data in its dis-aggregated state. When we fight those -isms – ageism, racism, ableism – we are focused on educating, because most people haven’t thought in this way before,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson said it’s important to champion companies who have been transparent about their hiring data. In 2017, for example, ABI cut ties with Uber after allegations surfaced about the rideshare company’s treatment of female employees. 

ABI itself received criticism in 2016 for a lack of racial diversity within its organizing team. The 2015 GHC didn’t feature a single Black woman as a headline speaker, and instead had two white men as guest speakers. 

But there has been some progress. Wilkerson came into her role as CEO of the organization in 2017, acknowledging their lack of internal diversity and announcing new measures the company would take to monitor and promote intersectional diversity. ABI has since hired its first HR director to work on DEI and inclusive hiring. 

ABI offers free conference registration to women of color who are underrepresented in the tech industry as well as scholarships for women from alternative tech programs, like bootcamps and coding schools. 

Wilkerson says that the GHC’s corporate sponsors have also taken steps in recent years to become more inclusive of women across different intersections of identity. 

“Our top companies’ support has gotten much more rigorous over the last few years,” Wilkerson said. “We’ve added questions that address not only the data at the intersection and folks that are non-binary, but also address the types of support that the companies are putting in place to be able to support the various folks at their intersection.” 

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