WEST forms to address gender gap in Silicon Valley

Facebook, Box and Pinterest team up for a new mentorship program aimed at women in tech

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
October 8, 2014
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(Correction: this article previously stated that Chris Wanstrath had resigned, instead of Tom Preston-Werner)

Say it with me now: Silicon Valley has a women problem. That became clear earlier this year when a slew of tech giants, including Yahoo, Google, Twitter and Facebook, all released diversity reports, and found that each company was made up of at least 60% men.

The gender breakdown in the tech world is not a secret; in fact it has been written about ad nauseam, to the point where you just want something to freaking be done about it already. Square took a step in the right direction by launching Code Camp, a program aimed at young women who are interested in computer science, and now a few more companies have gotten together to help turn the tide as well.

Facebook, Box and Pinterest announced on Wednesday that they have gotten together to launch a new mentorship program called WEST (Women Entering and Staying in Tech). The idea is to get more women interested in computer science, and to help them be prepared for the tech jobs of the future.

In 2011, only 19% of those who took the AP Computer Science exam were women. As it was pointed out today, computer science will be a fast growing industry, with 1.4 million jobs in 2020, yet the number of women in tech jobs has actually been on the decline since the 1990s.

WEST will feature women who have technical jobs at all three companies, who will serve as one-on-one mentors. They will meet with mentees individually and as a group, in-person and online, over the course of a year.

The ideal mentors will be "early to mid-career women in the Bay Area." The initial focus will be on women in engineering, operations, product, design, and web development roles.

"Mentorship can be incredibly influential in a woman’s career, and we’re excited to be tackling this challenge together. We believe that by working together and providing more direct support, advocacy, and space for community development, we can create an impactful, scalable, one-on-one mentorship program to help women build and grow meaningful careers in tech," the blog post said.

The program will officially launch in pilot mode in 2015.

The role of women in Silicon Valley

When it comes to the overall gender breakdown at big tech companies, Google and Twitter were tied for worst, with both having 70% men, and only 30% women. Facebook was just the tiniest amount better, with 69% men and 31% female employees.

The best of all of them is Yahoo, with 62% men, and 37% women. That's still a paltry number, but it would likely be even worse if the company did not have a female CEO.

All of the companies, except Google, broke down their numbers by type of job, and that's where it becomes even more depressing. Part of the problem with the gender gap in Silicon Valley is not just the number of women who work for these companies, but the types of jobs they have. And that is what WEST is looking to address. 

At Twitter, tech jobs are 90% taken up by men, and leadership jobs are 79% men. At Yahoo and Facebook, its a just little bit better: tech jobs are 85% men, and leadership is made up 77% men.

The only place where women have any kind of parity is in what are called "non-tech" jobs, and even there they are barely a majority. At Twitter, its split down the middle; at Yahoo is 52% women and at Facebook its still 53% men.


Let's be honest here, though: while the goal is Code Camp and WEST is admirable, it does not address one of the crucial reasons that there are so few women in tech jobs: sexism.

This has been a pretty bad year for Silicon Valley, with CEOs and co-founders of various companies having found themselves caught up in scandals, usually involving misogyny or sexual harassment of some kind.

There was the sexual harrassment claim made against GitHub, which forced the resignation of co-founder and former CEO Tom Preston-Werner. There was also RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal who was forced out by the company's board of directors after he pled guilty to two misdemeanors for domestic violence and battery, paying a $500 fine after he was caught, on videotape, beating his girlfriend 117 times.

Rap Genius co-founder Mahbod Moghadam resigned his position after he made a series of tasteless annotations to the text to the manifesto left behind by Elliot Rodger, the man who shot and injured 13 people, while killing seven others, including himself, in Santa Barbara. One of the notes made reference to Rodger's supposedly “smokin’ hot" sister who, according to Moghadam, must have played a part in him wanting to kill a bunch of people.

And who could forget the leaked e-mails from Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel from his time in college, in which he refers to women as "bitches" and "sluts." A sample e-mail read, "“LUAU FUCKING RAGED. Thanks to all of you. Hope at least six girl [sic] sucked your dicks last night. Cuz that didn’t happen for me.” Signed affectionately, “fuckbitchesgetleid. Spiegel.”

Individually, each of these incidents would be depressing enough. Lined up together, it paints a portrait of a culture that really, really needs to get its act together.

And no amount of mentorship is going to fix that.

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