Companies Lie About Their Proportion of Female Engineers

Companies tend to inflate the numbers of women in their ranks holding ‘technical’ positions. No corporation wants to admit that their company has little to no female engineers; instead, they create an overarching category of people on technical teams, and then divide by gender.

The statistics a company publishes concerning the number of women hires are often very misleading. Companies often say that women in graphic design or project management are ‘technical’ in nature; they are not typically regarded as so by most engineers. They are artists or human resource and task specialists who schedule, track, and motivate the developers. However, it is convenient to use them to showcase high numbers of women in technical positions in any organization. I wrote a now defunct blog post on my experience asking about this, which was chronicled in Huffington Post.

Here’s the original data I compiled on Klout’s proportion of women in tech at the time. It’s just an infograph (don’t mock my nonexistent graphic design skills), but it illustrates the situation quite well. Click the thumbnail to embiggen.

Klout by the numbers-Large

As a result, most people are not aware of the true nature of the difficulties women face being hired to work in development and programming teams. These are tiny, overwhelmingly masculine pockets of an often quite egalitarian overall corporate culture.

The way to determine the real number of women in technical positions is to ask how many female engineers are on board. That is not a number which can be inflated; ask to meet with one or two in order to find out how women are treated in the organization. If you are concerned with how that might appear, contact the women via social media. You should be able to reach at least one or two…if they exist.

It’s very tough to tell how many companies are inflating their numbers. I know of two large companies at a minimum in the Seattle area which count project managers and graphic designers as “technical” employees, when in reality it is a rare event indeed for a woman to be employed as a software engineer or web developer. Be cautious when companies tout their high integration stats; the truth is that unless the CEO, CTO, COO, and VP Engineering are all female, I would never believe offhand any company that tells me that “42% of our technical workforce is female.”

If you know a company that is seeking female engineers and which would be a great place to work, even if the proportion of technical women in the company is low, leave it in the comments. I can think of several places with low ratios that are great workplaces.  It’s merely the vicissitudes of hiring which have left them low on women, though they work hard on diversity.

A small disclaimer: if you are a project manager or graphic designer and you consider yourself to be technical, I believe you. I am speaking only of the corporate habit of trying to make female engineers believe that they will be on a team consisting of a gender split like unto that which the company publishes as its official gender ration for technical positions.

Parts of this post adapted from “Technical Interviews for Technical Women” © 2011 Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack

How to choose a co-founder for your startup

It’s more intimate, in many ways, to have a cofounder of a startup than a spouse. Your cofounder will know more about you than almost anyone else in your life. In fact, your cofounder will know things about you that your friends and spouse don’t even know.

You can and should feel the need to keep some things hidden from your friends when they’re inconvenient or uncomfortable. Fortunately or unfortunately, your cofounder will need to know intimate details about your life, your health, your relationship, and how you chew your food.

Your cofounder will not judge you about the state of your relationship, but they may know much more about it than your close friends do. You may have friends that are little bit flaky, but your cofounder never will be. On days when you can’t handle, your cofounder had better be able to pick up the slack. You will have more close interpersonal time with this person than possibly anyone else in your life for several years. You will know this person’s credit score, you’ll know whether they have food allergies, you’ll know who takes the food in their backpack on long plane flights, and you’ll know who handles the ticketing and hotel accommodations.

You had better be able to handle being in close proximity with this person for hours and days at a time. It’s okay to hide your stress and frustration and mental health issues from your friends. After all, you’re trying to make sure that you still have friends tomorrow. However you cannot ever lie to or even conceal from your cofounder about your mental health or physical health. They will know everything about you.

They’ll know embarrassing things about you. They’ll know your personal issues with your parents and the inside of your relationships. After all, they are there to compensate for your weaknesses, as you are there to compensate for theirs. You’ll have sorted out very quickly which one of you is introverted and which one is extroverted. Possibly you both are one or the other. There cannot be any jealousy between you. After a while, your skill sets will start to diverge from one another. After all, it’s likely that you began having very similar skill sets, which is why you decided to found a startup together.

One of you is going to be more famous than the other one. One of you is going to have to answer customers’ angry phone calls. One of you will spend long and exhausting hours programming. Don’t be jealous of either party; accept your roles in advance.

If you have competing–as opposed to complimentary–goals for the level of publicity and the amount of technical skill that you each wish to acquire over the course of the next several years, you probably shouldn’t be founding a startup with this person.

You each have my permission to whine about the pressures of your position in the startup. You never have my permission to complain about the level of effort that the other person is putting into your startup. The key things that I looked for in my relationship with my startup founder were their work ethic, their discretion, and their complementary skill set. Liz is the only person I’ve ever met who I genuinely believe works harder than me, and she feels the same about me.

I say, sometimes, that Liz is not my friend. In many ways, she is much more than that. I have a much closer relationship with Liz than I do with almost any other person on earth. She and I know a great deal about each other–like our psychological make up, our families, and what we can and cannot tolerate on a daily basis.

My friends cannot tell me to get off the Internet. My friends cannot tell me to go home for the day because I’m done. My friends cannot tell me that I need a vacation, because I won’t believe them. I can do believe and do each of these things when Liz tells me so.

You will often act as a check upon the other person’s stupidity. Liz and I regularly throw each other off the Internet when we’ve been working too hard, and the quality of our labor is slipping. I don’t listen to my husband when he tells me to get off the Internet, but I do listen when Liz does.

Have the deepest respect for the person you’re founding your company with, because you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Now, imagine that your cofounder is 3 out of the 5.

And Liz? I know you stole that burrito.