For women in tech, New York City is calling

by Taylor Majewski
December 1, 2016

Last year, McKinsey published a report outlining how $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 if appropriate measures are taken to advance women’s equality in both society and the workforce. As systemic gender disparities are rooted in business at-large, that goal is easier said than done.

Tech’s diversity problem has been a hot-button issue over the past several years, particularly following a collective decision by industry titans to bare all when it comes to the gender and racial makeup of their employees. As of 2015, a paltry 30 percent of leadership jobs and 20 percent of technology jobs belong to women at the biggest names in tech. In New York City, 60 percent of employees in the local tech sector are male.

To be sure, gender diversity problems aren’t exclusive to the technology sector by any means — it’s a business problem that pervades the economy from the pay gap to "bro culture" to investing.

But if there’s something the tech industry is good at, it’s using innovation to foster empirical and societal change, which is what’s needed to achieve equality for women in the workplace.

In New York City, a hotbed for this type of disruption is brewing. New York’s population of women entrepreneurs have surpassed other major tech hubs, including Silicon Valley and Boston. Along the same vein, New York leads the nation in garnering the highest amount of venture capital dollars for women-led startups.

Instead of simply wanting to become gender inclusive, New York companies are taking the necessary steps to actively be inclusive by directly addressing the problems that women have traditionally faced in tech.

Changing the environment

It’s often cited that the lack of women in STEM-centric jobs can be attributed to a larger pipeline problem entrenched in the tech industry. While organizations like Girls Who Code are working to empower girls with technical skills from a young age, the aforementioned diversity reports show that men are still vastly outnumbering women tech workers.

In response, coding programs are popping up in New York designed with diversity in mind. Nonprofit Girl Develop It was founded in 2010 to teach women of all backgrounds and ages how to develop web and mobile applications at an affordable cost. Last year, Grace Hopper Program, a partner school to Fullstack Academy, launched to create a more productive learning environment in an all-women classroom. The school leans on Full Stack’s existing curriculum, teaching methods, deferred tuition model and alumni network to align the success of the school with the success of its all-female graduates.

Student and Instructor at Grace Hopper Program

“Environment is the main draw for a lot of students who have possibly taken a computer science class in the past and, for one reason or another, decided it’s not for them,” said Shanna Gregory, Dean at Grace Hopper Program. “One of the main reasons women opt-out of those classes, and you see a drop-off of women in tech, is because of representation in the classroom and in the tech industry. If you don’t see anyone in your class that’s anything like you, such as a bunch of men or white people, it’s really off-putting. So we’re creating this separate environment that doesn’t currently mirror anything like what the tech industry looks like, but creates a supportive learning environment.”

Closing the leadership gap

When in comes to learning and development, women’s leadership programs tend to be one-offs. Often, these groups take shape as women come together for a conference or meetup to loosely network and gather information. Everwise, a digital platform for mentor-matchmaking, recognized that this system lacked actionability and created EverwiseWomen to tackle the problem.

EverwiseWomen is a 12-month program that uses prediction and recommendation technology and matching software to connect senior-level women to the resources and connections they need to accelerate their careers. The program also layers in one-on-one mentoring, peer groups and in-person events. 

“We recognized that there was an opportunity for us to better support women leaders, especially given that we focus on soft skill development and that’s an area where women tend to get more gendered feedback,” said Elizabeth Borges, Senior Manager at EverwiseWomen. “So we set out to develop a program that would be different than what is out there in the Learning and Development landscape.”

EverwiseWomen is targeted at women with seven to 15 years of professional experience and is currently running nine cohorts across the country, including two in New York City.

Creating more access

Historically, access is an obstacle for any marginalized group. Though the battle for competitive technology talent persists and recruitment technology continues to combat efficiency issues, access to jobs in the tech sector is especially daunting.

But better job access is needed to create radical culture change. New York-based Andela is one of the startups working to alleviate this problem, as it provides companies with the top one percent of tech talent across Africa. Another New York company, Stack Overflow, has ingrained the philosophy that "diverse teams build better products" directly into its culture. 

Employees working at Stack Overflow 

“We make our talent sourcing targeted to ensure we are reaching women by posting jobs on female-centered job boards, circulating opportunities among women in tech communities, and partnering with organizations like the Grace Hopper Program and 2020shift to speak at and host office visits,” said Casey Ashenhurst, Manager of Diversity & Engagement at StackOverflow. “As the leading programmer community in the world, we have a responsibility to both our users and our employees to elevate standards regardless of any race, color, religion or gender.”

Reassessing how we measure diversity

When Silicon Valley’s leading companies first publicized their diversity numbers in 2014, peer-to-peer marketplace Etsy followed suit in New York. The company’s percentages for women in leadership roles and women in technical roles mirrored West Coast companies’ dismal numbers, and the company pledged to defy conventions.

And it did. In a company blog post published in April, the company outlined how it no longer represents gender in a binary way. In fact, Etsy employees are given the opportunity to voluntarily self-report their gender from among more than 60 options.

“This reflects our belief that gender lies on a spectrum, and follows operational changes we’ve made in the last year, such as converting our bathrooms to be gender inclusive,” wrote Juliet Gorman, the Director of Culture and Engagement at Etsy, in the post.

Etsy employees at a craft party in Brooklyn 

While 40 percent of employees at the average New York tech company are made up of women, people who identify as women comprise 54 percent of Etsy’s staff. Additionally, 50 percent of leadership roles at the company belong to women, a 35 percent increase from the previous year. This year, the company also released statistics specific to its engineering team in a recognized effort to address where diversity is most needed.

The future

As New York’s tech space has quickly matured over the past decade, an oft-repeated question lingers: Will New York City be the next Silicon Valley?

When it comes to space, New York City’s outer boroughs enable the industry to scale in a way that San Francisco proper does not. When it comes to diversity, New York City is a metropolis already built on an ethos of inclusion, and the tech sector is deeply ingrained into the city’s existing industry capitals.

Put simply, this spirit of inclusiveness manifests itself in the fact that New York City has a higher percentage of women in tech than the Valley. In turn, this has pushed local companies to invent and reinvent when it comes to diversity, doing away with the old boy’s club for good.

Know of a company that deserves coverage? Let us know or tweet us @builtinnewyork.

 
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