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Women Who Code: ‘We Have To Start Making Commitments’ On Diversity

Silicon Valley tech companies have started to be candid and transparent about the lack of women in their ranks, especially in engineering, and say they’re trying to do something about it. But diversity advocates say that’s not enough. Companies need to set goals and stick to them, they argue.

“As an industry, we have to start making commitments,” Hearsay Social cofounder and CEO Clara Shih said Wednesday on stage for a “Women Coders Speak Out” panel at theBloomberg Code conference in San Francisco. “Let’s start having people —  heads of recruiting, CEOS — sign up for numbers they can achieve.”

Shih was joined by Tracy Chou, a Pinterest software engineer who has become a vocal diversity advocate within Pinterest and the whole industry and has helped push tech giants like Google GOOGL +0.01%, Facebook and Apple AAPL -0.66% to disclose their diversity numbers last year. Chou also agreed that leaders need to be held accountable for creating change at their workplace, not just giving it lip service. “Without commitments and without tying people’s performance to reaching those commitments, it’s hard to see change,” she said.

But the two were also wary of diversity quotas and other stiff requirements. Quotas can lead to deep-seated backlash and self-doubt for both current employees and job candidates. “When you have quotas, even when a woman is qualified for the role, too often the assumption … is that the woman got the role because of her gender,” Shih said.
Instead, they suggested that companies pledge to take more steps to broaden their applicant pool. Hearsay looks for nontraditional candidates and offers an in-house coding academy to any employees who want to learn programming without paying for expensive months-long bootcamps.

Chou suggested that companies follow the “Rooney Rule,” where they always consider at least one minority candidate for every role, a tactic used by the NFL to increase diversity among its coaches. Pinterest also is evaluating which colleges it dedicates recruiting resources to, Chou said, prioritizing more diverse campuses like the University of Maryland and the University of Texas at Austin.

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