Pinterest Engineer Tracy Chou is Breaking the Silicon Ceiling - Vogue
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Women
I went back and re-read Tracy's Vogue article again. Very inspiring how much one person could change Silicon Valley by requesting employment transparency for their hiring practices.
Tracy Chou had a brilliant idea with that Medium post.
At only 27, Chou has emerged as a star problem-solver, a programmer who, having started out as an intern at Facebook and Google before taking on a foundational role at Quora, can now do with a line of code what a master brain surgeon can do with a rongeur. More recently, though, she’s led an effort to solve one of the tech industry’s most nagging problems: a striking dearth of women, especially within its engineering ranks. For years, she’d been acutely aware of complaints. Last fall, at an annual gathering of female technologists called the Grace Hopper Celebration, she decided to do something about it. “The general sense I was getting was ‘There aren’t enough women; the numbers are really bad,’ ” she says. But where was the proof?
Chou is a computer scientist. Truth, in her eyes, is a numbers game. “When we build consumer products at any of these companies—Pinterest, Google, Facebook—a ton of data is tracked. How many people show up on the landing page? How many hit the sign-in form?” she says. “It felt hypocritical that we were being so disciplined about using metrics in building our products, yet not at all with workforce demographics. If we didn’t even know what the baseline was, how could we know if some new strategy to improve diversity was helping or not?”
So Chou wrote a blog post on Medium.com. In it, she announced a call for data. “Every company has some way of hiding or muddling the data on women actually in engineering roles,” she wrote, referring to numbers padded with nontechnical roles. She defined exactly which jobs ought to be counted. At smaller companies, employees willingly submitted figures: Often, they just had to look around the room. At larger ones, the request went up the chain of command. As of this writing, 185 tech companies have submitted numbers to Chou’s database. Other firms, like Google and Facebook, subsequently released data on their own: giants of the field taking stock alongside a young woman just a few years into her job.
The numbers were bad. Mozilla’s engineers were less than 9 percent female. Women made up just 17 percent of the tech team at Google as of January. At Facebook and Yahoo, that number was 15 percent. Some companies employed no females on their tech teams at all. Even Chou’s own Pinterest, whose users are reportedly nearly three-quarters female, had only 12 percent. Yet the numbers did what nothing else had done: They set a ground from which upward motion could be tracked.
Part of the power of Chou’s call for information was its simplicity. Part of it came from her budding industry celebrity. Coding software is not unlike writing: It requires both a careful, fluent eye for small-bore syntax and imaginative attention to overarching form. By this standard, Chou, who was included in a recent “30 under 30” Forbes tech roster, stands as a sort of Dorothy Parker in the field. “I knew of her before I knew her,” one female programmer tells me. At the Grace Hopper conference last year, she was like a rock star: “All these girls wanted to take their photo with her,” a colleague recalls.
As Chou blends in with the climbing crowd this evening, though, she heads toward a medium-level course. The rocks studding the climbing walls have been fixed in constellation-like arrays, each route designated by a color. “Guys have more strength, so they can muscle through a lot of their routes,” Chou says. She offers the hint of a grin. “I have less strength, so I have to strategize.”
She's a climber - total badass :-)
(I'm admittedly biased)
You're biased because you like Pinterest?
Biased because I like rock climbing :-)
Ah, makes sense!
The article has several stories about casual sexism in the tech industry.
It’s a common story. “From what we’ve learned, it starts very young, and it starts with stereotypes,” Robin Hauser Reynolds, a filmmaker working on a documentary called Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, tells me one afternoon in the Battery, a San Francisco members’ club. When teenage girls are asked to imagine a programmer, she says, they usually describe a lonesome, hoodie-wearing boy. One high school–age programmer at Girls Who Code, a New York–based organization with clubs in 20 states, tells me she’d been formerly counseled to take Latin instead of computer science, the better to fit with colleges’ preconceptions of a high-achieving female. Girls Who Code’s founder, Reshma Saujani, got the idea while visiting schools during her unsuccessful 2010 run for Congress. “They have no one to point to that looks like them, where they can say, ‘I can do that, too,’ ” she says.
It’s ironic, given that computer science was founded largely by women. In the mid-1800s, Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, did much of the work behind Charles Babbage’s proposed “analytical engine,” writing what’s now hailed as the world’s first computer program. A century later, Grace Hopper, after serving as an architect of the watershed Mark I, invented the “compiler”—a basic infrastructural program—and coined the term debugging after finding a moth in a machine. (Many female pioneers finally get their due in Walter Isaacson’s new book, The Innovators.)
One theory holds that things changed as egos—and money—got involved. Another is that technical women lack role models in pop culture. (The number of in-house female engineers in the new HBO show Silicon Valley? Zero.) A recent MIT study found that when men and women made identical start-up pitches for more than 500 participants, the men were chosen nearly 70 percent of the time.
“The excuse that companies and venture capitalists are making is that it’s a pipeline issue,” Wadhwa says. When Twitter went public last year, he expressed shock that a company with so many female users would have an all-male board. He was told that schools weren’t graduating enough women into the field. “But you look at the board, and you have two flunkies”—college dropouts—“a psychology major, an English major, French literature! The majority of them don’t have computer-science degrees, so why should women?”
In the course of reporting this piece, I spoke with a score of female engineers and founders, most of whom described difficulties they’d faced in the field. Gillian Morris, the founding CEO of Hitlist, noticed that when she would start talking to someone about her start-up, they’d often say, “That is so cool. . . . When did he start it?” When she explained that, actually, she was the company’s CEO, their eyes would glaze. Mara Lewis, the managing director of Upstart, an incubator for women, spent her 20s as a serial entrepreneur. Getting funding as a woman was hard, but finding a mentor, a crucial thing for young tech stars, was even harder. She was hopeful when the head of a $4 billion company reached out to her. “He called me ‘determined and resilient,’ ” she recalls. “We were meeting for lunch!” At a conference, the CEO, who was married, invited Lewis to a dinner of powerful Valley figures in his suite. When she got there, though, it was just him and an order for cold champagne. She fled.
In San Francisco this fall, some 400 people gathered for Women 2.0, a two-day event that included keynotes by prominent women in the industry. “We live in the future here,” Shaherose Charania, the CEO of Women 2.0, said at the conference. “Everything we do here will trickle down to the rest of the world.” Lewis says she sometimes worries about “solving tech’s woman problem” becoming a fashionable but vague ideal, which is why everyone agrees that information like the data for which Tracy Chou pushed is crucial.
At Pinterest, early in October, Chou and some of the company’s other female engineers meet to prepare for this year’s Grace Hopper conference. It’s a bright morning, and light floods the windows of Pinterest’s SoMa headquarters—a former industrial space, with accoutrements like a Lego wall and ctrl, alt, and del throw pillows. Promptly at 9:30, the women start to convene in a conference room. Comic-book covers are framed on the walls. (It is known as the “Action Figures room.”) Kate Fiedelman, a technical recruiter, lays out packages tied with ribbons: two Pinterest T-shirts, some notebooks, and statistics for reference. The engineers’ mission is to recruit more female engineers.
“We hired three people last year,” Fiedelman tells the group. “We would like to do six this year.” A four-color booklet features head shots of “All the Pinterest Ladies”—its female engineers and data scientists—and touts its employee-lifestyle perks, like Lululemon Day and the company’s sports clubs. Since Chou published her Medium post last year, Pinterest’s engineers have gone from 12 percent to 17 percent female—a long way from parity but a step closer.
We as an industry can do better. We MUST do better.
HBO Silicon Valley executive producer Alec Berg on gender criticism of the show:
The show has received criticism for not having enough women in it. This year, however, you've added two additional women, Suzanne Cryer and Alice Wetterlund. How much of that decision was a response to those critiques?
None. I think people who have complained about the lack of women of the show will see it as, “Aha! I complained and they listened and addressed my complaint, and I have controlled the course of the show.” But the fact is we don’t have any gender-biased directive on the show. There was no agenda in the beginning to make everyone male. I totally understand the criticism, but at the same time this is a show about guys who do something that 87 percent of the time in Silicon Valley is done by a man. We didn’t invent that gender bias. That’s real. I do think we’ve gotten some flack for not having a lot of women characters, but guess what? The tech business doesn’t have a lot of women characters, so I think we’re depicting an actual gender bias. We’re not making it up.
How to change Silicon Valley's culture of casual sexism is also front of mind thanks to Ellen Pao: