One Way to Close the Gender Gap

Believe it or not, there’ve been more *articles written on diversity in tech in 2016 than in the last three years combined. You know the deal: Why Diversity Matters, The Grim Diversity Numbers and The Problem’s Getting Worse.

What’s not written enough is: How do we individually move the needle to close the gender gap in tech? What are some changes we can make to the hiring process that will diversify our talent pipeline?

If you have the technical skills, motivation and persistence, you should have a fair shot to the most in-demand jobs of the 21st century—whether or not you possess a Y chromosome. Here at HackerRank,  we’re on a mission to create opportunities for people of all backgrounds.

But it’s not all one-sided. Companies carry the burden to level the playing field, as well. Our hypothesis (which is laid out by our co-founder Vivek here) for solving Tech’s diversity problem is two fold:

  • Use technology to reach more people in a very targeted way
  • Create standard, relevant and blind assessments to limit biases

While we know this problem can’t be solved overnight, we wanted to test our theory. Our question was clear: Do targeted recruiting and blind assessments really move the needle in closing the gender gap?

We teamed up with college recruiting startup Door of Clubs to host a 24-hour online hackathon on October 14th, 2016. The goal of this event was to reach underrepresented students, and then test their coding skills in an objective way. What we found was that a small, targeted push can, in fact, boost the ratio of female coders, building a diverse talent pipeline.

How the Experiment Went Down

Door of Clubs tapped into its national network to engage college students  in engineering clubs to participate in a friendly, one-day online coding competition comprising five sets of challenges. We also held an onsite event at San Jose State University (SJSU) in partnership with the SJSU Colony of Alpha Omega Epsilon, a sorority for female engineering majors. While the event was open to all students, we targeted outreach efforts around women.

Top 3 winners could win $500, $250 and $100, respectively. Recruiters from tech companies, including Asana and Symantec, participated as well, to scout for interns.

So, What Was the Outcome?

Of the 50 students who participated in the hackathon, 47 percent were women. It’s interesting to see this ratio in contrast to the industry average. Diversity champion Tracy Chou’s public spreadsheet of over 80 companies, for instance, averages 19.37 percent women in engineering positions.

Screen Shot 2016-10-27 at 9.46.58 AM

What’s more, two of the top three highest performers were women — Huiyu Yang ranked second and Minglu Liu came in third. This was the first coding competition for both women.

Liu and Yang are both working towards masters degrees in computer science at SJSU. Liu has a masters in geochemistry from the University of Wisconsin, while Yang holds a masters in geology from Stony Brook University.

I actually just search online how to do things. I merge pieces together. I was an outsider, and didn’t get official training,” Liu says. “Anyone can code.”

On paper, both women didn’t go to elite schools and have backgrounds in other sciences. Their resumes—alone—wouldn’t make it past traditional, blunt proxies that most companies use to find talent. And unconscious biases against women engineers doesn’t help their case either. 

But given that they placed in the top three out of 50 people, our hypothesis in this experiment deems to be proven true. Many people point to the “pipeline problem,” for the lack of women in tech. But we built a pipeline of talent with an almost even ratio of men and women on one college campus. 

And we’re excited to surface two talented women who might have otherwise been overlooked in any given talent pool.

This means, making even the slightest proactive effort in reaching out to targeted groups, and then using blind assessments, can help move the needle to close the gender gap.

“I hope every woman can realize her dreams,” Yang says.

So do we.

 

What kind of tangible efforts have worked for your organization?

 

*This statement’s based on a quick Google search of the term “diversity in tech,”  filtered by year

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