Avoiding the ‘Brogrammer’ Bias

Imagine a recent female college graduate’s reaction to this advice on how to land her first job: While attending a panel session at a South by Southwest Interactive conference, she heard: send prospective bosses “bikini shots” from a “nudie calendar,” and avoid “gangbang interviews” where prospective employees are screened by committee.

This is how technology executive Matt Van Horn said he got his first job at Web-aggregator site Digg. Tasneem Raja, a Mother Jones digital interactive editor who attended that panel, relayed the incident in the magazine’s April 2012 issue. Van Horn has since publicly apologized.

Then there was the recruiting poster at a 2012 Stanford University career fair with the words, “Want to bro down and crush some code? Klout is hiring.” There was a March 2012 advertisement by daily deals aggregator Sqoot for a Boston hackathon, with the enticement, “Need another beer? Let one of our friendly (female) event staff get that for you.” Sqoot has since publicly apologized.
These missteps led the media to coin the phrase “brogrammer” to describe the sexist mentality that exists within pockets of the technology industry.

Some tech firms such as Go Daddy rebuff sexist criticism and continue to post provocative ads. The Web registration firm posts banned Super Bowl ads on its website, including one with women in bikinis surrounded by fog titled, “The Cloud — Too Hot for TV Internet Only Version.”

While the sexist brogrammer mentality may be an exception, there is “a pervasive unconscious bias against women that really exists in the tech industry,” said Denise Gammal, director of research and corporate partnerships at the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.

Battling Unconscious Bias
In its 2008 report, “Climbing the Technical Ladder: Obstacles and Solutions for Mid-Level Women in Technology,” the Anita Borg Institute identified a lack of influence and visibility as one of the biggest barriers for technical women.

“Women in technology companies tell us over and over again that they feel as if they are invisible when they are in meetings in which they are the only women in the room,” she said. “They put out an idea and nobody responds to it, but then several minutes later a guy suggests the same idea and, all of a sudden, management lauds him for being a hero. They are up against that kind of behavior day after day, and it can be exhausting and frustrating.”

Further, she said many women in technology firms don’t believe they are paid the same as their male counterparts in similar positions, or have the same advancement opportunities within their organizations. Yet research shows that having a more balanced workforce — particularly within executive ranks — increases a company’s performance.

According to the April 2009 study, “Does Diversity Pay?: Race, Gender, and the Business Case for Diversity,” by University of Illinois at Chicago researcher Cedric Herring, 62 percent of businesses with high levels of gender diversity are more likely to report higher than average percentages of market share and higher than average profitability than those with low or medium levels of gender diversity.

“Diversity is important to meet the quickly growing need for skilled technical talent and to add value to each company’s bottom line,” Gammal said.

Other research, including the April report, “Unlocking the Full Potential of Women at Work,” by McKinsey & Co., shows that balanced organizational cultures can occur once companies reach a tipping point of 30 percent representation of women, Gammal said. A number of technology companies are striving to meet those goals, in part by actively encouraging more female college students — and more K-12 female students — to major in math and computer science.

Technology companies also can foster a more welcoming environment for women once they are hired. This increases the chances they’ll actually stay, said Sasha Galbraith, a partner at Jay Galbraith Management Consultants Ltd.

Companies should ensure that women have similar talent development and compensation programs to those offered to men, Galbraith said. Diversity executives also can create female-dominant groups within a company to foster support and encourage women to speak up more in innovation meetings and lobby more effectively for comparable salary increases and promotions.

“Women are excellent negotiators, but only if they are not negotiating on their own behalf, so diversity leaders and these types of support groups can help women negotiate better for themselves,” she said.

High-potential women also should be given mentors and sponsors at high levels of the organization, Galbraith said. These sponsors typically coach the women and help them become more visible in the organization and in important networks.

Xerox Corp. has an advocacy group for its female employees, The Women’s Alliance, and a subgroup within that, the Xerox Innovation Group’s Women’s Council.

“They identify key projects to improve the work experience of men and women in research and represent the interests of the employees, especially women, to senior management in each of our global research centers,” said Ernest Hicks, corporate diversity manager at Xerox.

Female employees can convey concerns to leaders within these groups, who in turn refer their comments to the diversity office, or women can call the office directly. “We also have an open door policy in which they can go to their boss or if that doesn’t work, their boss’ boss,” he said.
In addition to standard diversity and sexual harassment training for new employees, new managers may need additional training in acceptable behavior toward women.

“But sometimes not everybody behaves the way they should, and they are disciplined accordingly, which also serves as a sign that senior management does not look the other way and will not tolerate behavior that is not reflective of our values,” Hicks said.

Where Are the Women?
Xerox’s chief executive, Ursula Burns, is the first Fortune 500 female CEO to succeed another female CEO, Anne Mulcahy. Currently 29.9 percent of Xerox’s U.S. vice presidents and above are women, and 36 percent of all new hires are female. The firm’s recruitment efforts for women include running ads with the National Association for Female Executives, as well as giving scholarships and internships to college women who major in math and computer science.

Hicks said these methods would backfire if Xerox did not pursue women and minorities.
“Today’s younger generations are [more] socially diverse and … accepting than any other generation before them,” he said. “They expect that employers value diversity, and if you don’t, they won’t come work for you.”

Lenovo Group Ltd., a Chinese company that bought IBM’s personal computer division in 2005, has a workforce composed of nearly 40 percent women, and it is aiming to increase the percentage of women in its executive ranks, said Yolanda Conyers, vice president, global HR operations and chief diversity officer. In 2007, Lenovo had less than 10 percent of women in senior executive-level positions globally; that has grown to 16 percent.

“We encourage our leaders to identify a slate of both men and women candidates for open positions,” Conyers said. “While some executives are not necessarily trying to discriminate against women, sometimes they do have male proteges they have in mind for open positions. I’ve even been guilty of that myself; we tend to source people whom we worked with before.”

The company has a women’s talent development initiative called Women in Lenovo Leadership and profiles female leaders in internal communications. Conyers and her colleagues also hold roundtables in Lenovo’s global markets. There women discuss challenges women face and best practices on how to overcome those challenges.

To attract more women, Lenovo recruits at colleges that have a substantial female population, participates in organizations such as Women in Technology International and the Society of Women Engineers, and funds scholarships for women in math and science.

“We also use social media, both to source candidates and to promote how important women are to our organization,” Conyers said.

In 2007 global security firm Symantec Corp. made a commitment to address gender disparity within its organization, said Ellen McLatchey, director, diversity and inclusion. Women make up 27 percent of Symantec’s workforce, and promotions for men and women are equal at 15 percent. The firm’s goal is to have 27 percent representation of women in leadership; it’s now at 25.6 percent. The firm also has increased the percentage of female hires for entry-level software engineering positions by 3 percent.

“We want to fully leverage the investment we have made in existing women at the company by making Symantec a place where they can grow their careers,” McLatchey said. “We want to gain a competitive advantage by enhancing our ability to successfully compete for female technical and leadership talent and, finally, we want to ensure diversity of perspectives in business planning and product development.”

To demonstrate this commitment, Symantec wrote a statement of support for the U.N.’s Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP). A firm representative also sits on the WEP Advisory Council, and Symantec has established an internal committee to ensure WEP principles are followed, such as making sure the average number of training hours each year is the same for women and men.

The firm has 18 Symantec Women’s Action Networks chapters across the globe. The networking and mentoring groups also sponsor Toastmasters meetings to build self-confidence and enhance public speaking skills.

Symantec also donates funds to seed initiatives at the National Center for Women & Information Technology, and the firm participates in the Anita Borg Institute’s Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

“We are encouraging men to be involved not just in our recruiting efforts, but also in our women’s initiative overall,” McLatchey said. “For next year’s International Women’s Day on March 18, we are interviewing several men who have supported women in advancing their careers. By doing this, we hope to build awareness of the role men can play in helping Symantec attract, develop and retain talented women.”

Symantec hosts an annual Geek Girls Festival, where young girls work with Symantec volunteers to learn about programming and computer labs. The firm also participates in local activities that support women in technology.

Leveraging Internal Ambassadors
As American Express Co. transitions to a digital services focus, the financial services firm is actively recruiting more female technology professionals, particularly those from Silicon Valley who have more of an entrepreneurial orientation of shepherding a product from inception, through development, all the way to market launch, said Jennifer Christie, chief diversity officer.

“We have a business office in Silicon Valley and are leveraging our own women, who are the best ambassadors for recruitment; they can tell their story better than anybody,” Christie said.

The firm also has several internal support groups for women, including a newly established network called Women in Technology.

“As the company has traditionally been geared more toward marketing and business, those career paths are more transparent, but tech women want to know what their career path will look like,” she said. “They also want mentoring programs, making sure they are getting the right feedback to be able to continue developing their tech careers.”

The Anita Borg Institute has awarded American Express for its 30 percent representation of women in its workforce and among its senior ranks, and for providing internal gender intelligence workshops under the direction of inclusive leadership, cultural and gender intelligence expert Barbara Annis.

“We talk about the science behind how men and women’s brains are wired to understand why sometimes they talk past one another, and how to overcome that,” Christie said. “We’ve had workshops with senior leaders and are now cascading this throughout the organization. The senior leadership believes it is really important to have these gender intelligence workshops, to make sure there is gender balance in the different ways we go about thinking together.”

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a California-based journalist with more than 20 years of experience. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.

The Business Case for Gender Diversity
According to the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, gender diversity delivers:
• Innovation: Higher patent rates, better decisions and greater innovation.
• Productivity: Better team productivity and better problem solving.
• Access: Greater profits and market share, better products, better market understanding and diversity linked to shareholder value.

Hurdles on the Tech Career Ladder
• The typical technical gender ratio is 79 percent male, 21 percent female.
• There is unequal distribution across levels.
• Men are three times more likely to be at the senior level than women.
• Women are more likely to be in senior management than senior individual contributor roles.
• Primary barriers affecting technical women include isolation, low influence and visibility and work-family conflict.

Source: Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, 2012