Google, Silicon Valley must do more to hire female engineers


[Commentary] The technology industry has been fighting hard not to reveal race and gender diversity data -- especially for its engineering teams -- because it has a lot to be embarrassed about.

Data collected on Github showed that the percentage of female engineers at Qualcomm’s development center in Austin was 5.5 percent. At Dropbox it’s 6.3 percent, at Yelp 8.3 percent, at Airbnb 13.2 percent and 14.4 percent at Pinterest. Google just revealed that 17 percent of its technology staff is female. That is impressive compared with the rest of Silicon Valley, but not once you put it in the context of the available pool of female computer scientists.

In 1987, some 37 percent of the graduating computer-science class was female. But, because of the unfair hurdles they face, women are getting discouraged from studying computer science, and the percentage had dropped to 18 percent by 2012. Nonetheless, about a quarter of the pool of highly-experienced software developers is female. A company such as Google -- which has its choice of new graduates as well as of experienced engineers -- should therefore have far greater diversity.

Technology companies need to rethink the way they recruit. They need to look at how jobs are defined so that they don’t exclude women, who have a tendency, unlike males, to pass up opportunities for which they don’t have the exact skills. They need to look beyond the usual recruitment grounds by interviewing from universities where there are high proportions of women and minorities, as well as at conferences that women engineers attend, such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and Women 2.0. They need to insist that, for every job opening, at least one woman and minority member be interviewed, and that the interviewing committee be diverse. And they need to make sure that the hiring is for competency rather than for credentials.

[Wadhwa is a fellow at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University and director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke’s engineering school]

Google, Silicon Valley must do more to hire female engineers