Getting Beyond Hiding Your Gender: Paths For Women To Work In Tech

Women who want a career in tech should obscure their gender online, says a provocative Wall Street Journal column.

John Greathouse, an investor and serial entrepreneur who teaches at the University of California-Santa Barbara, was writing about the power of online first impressions in hiring. He called many people in the business community “intellectually dishonest,” saying they do not embrace cultural and gender diversity as they claim to. The answer, he suggested, was for women to strip their online profiles of gender-identifying information, going photo-free and using initials instead of names.

The post sparked outrage from all quarters. Readers took to Twitter to decry his suggestions, which one described as an “online burka” and another suggested was “effectively telling all women, including impressionable young girls, to be ashamed of their gender online.”

Criticism of having to hide who you are to get ahead is understandable — but does Greathouse’s advice open up conversations about better paths to progress?

The tech industry’s gender equity problem is well-documented. The number of women graduating with computer science degrees has gone down dramatically as the tech industry has grown: While 37 percent of graduates were women in 1984, today they make up just 18 percent of the total. Just 4 percent of college freshmen are interested or involved in computing programs.

Some of these struggles are societal: Young girls may be taught that engineering isn’t for them, or an absence of role models may make a computing career seem too far out of reach.

Other issues are institutional. A study of open-source software-development website GitHub found that women are more likely to have their work accepted than men — but only if their gender is unknown.

Among tech industry leaders, diversity is slowly increasing — a 2015 study from the University of California-Davis found that women held 15.5 percent of the seats on corporate boards in the software industry. Coding clubs like Girls Who Code and mentorship schemes such as she++ help get women into tech and support them in the industry, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Karis Hustad reported in 2014.

Broader systemic change is needed, argued Cathy Belk, president of JumpStart, Inc., a Cleveland-based nonprofit that supports small businesses and encourages job creation. Writing in Fortune, she criticized Greathouse’s suggestion that women obscure their identities, saying that “the onus falls on the person or the institution responsible for the bias” to change their attitude. She pointed out that bringing women on-board enhances a company’s bottom line: According to Google For Entrepreneurs, “Women-led tech companies achieve 35% higher return on investment, and, when venture-backed, bring in 12% more revenue than male-owned tech companies.” If businesses see diversity as being in their best interest, it will happen over time, she wrote.

Read the full story at The Christian Science Monitor.