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How Salesforce, Intel and Airbnb Plan to Boost Gender Equality

Written By Ritika Trikha | March 9, 2015

If there’s a pivotal meeting happening at tech giant Salesforce, about “30 percent to 50 percent” of the room will be filled with women, according to a recent report by Business Insider (BI).

In an industry where men outnumber women seven to three, and close to 40 percent of women with engineering degrees either leave the profession or never even enter the field, tech companies, like Salesforce, are looking for new ways to cultivate a more diverse culture.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s mandate of requiring more women in decision-making meetings is one of the most recent examples of such initiatives for cultural change. While it’s difficult to definitively pinpoint the root cause of such a lack of gender equality in tech, there are several studies that point to the existing culture as a strong, correlating factor. Nadya Fouad, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, for instance, surveyed over 5,300 women who hold engineering degrees to ask them why they decided to leave.

“Women's departure from engineering is not just an issue of 'leaning in,” Fouad told NPR. "It's about changing the work environment.” The lack of gender equality is largely because of the quintessential “boys club” culture that’s a core part of the problem of diversity.

Here’s an overview of three interesting initiatives on tech companies’ agenda in 2015 to up their game on gender equality:

1. Salesforce has a “Women Surge” Program

Salesforce is trying to lead by example by initiating a program called Women Surge in its company. The program focuses on “identifying executive-potential women employees and mandate that they get included on all the important stuff going on in the company,” BI reports.

The quota of 30-50 percent women in meetings fall under the Women Surge initiative. “You have to make a conscious effort,” Benioff said at the summit. Plus, Salesforce sponsored a conference early February at which Hillary Clinton was the keynote speaker, focusing on the importance of more women in tech.

2. Intel Pledges to Spend $300 Million Devoted to Women in Tech

Just last month at his CES International keynote, Intel CEO Brian Kzanich announced that Intel aims to reach “full representation in all levels” by 2020. So, how exactly does Intel CEO Brian Krzanich aim to maximize this lump sum in order to “fix diversity in tech,” as the Verge reports?

Krzanich said that Intel executives will get financial incentives to help fix the problem. But that’s as far as the details go on that plan.

Some experts in the space are optimistic about this significant pledge. After all, $300 million is no chump change! “It almost doesn’t matter if it’s $200 million or $400 million. By putting a specific target that they’re trying to achieve, by putting money behind it, it’s going to make them hold themselves accountable to make some changes. I hope others will follow their lead,” Shellye Archambeau, CEO of MetricStream, told Fast Company.

Bridging the gap of women in tech.

3. Airbnb’s ‘Nerdettes’ Host a 10-Week Mentor Program and More

Airbnb actually has an internal team that monitors diversity progress in the company.

A group of female engineers known as “Nerdettes” lead a 10-week software development academy mentorship program for women called Hackbrite Academy to boost gender equality. Plus, Airbnb also hosts a series called Taking Flight, which is a collection of tech and data science discussions with young women.

Many Companies are Investing in Building a More Equal Culture

Other smaller companies are also dedicating resources for diversity programs.

For instance, AppDynamics, an applications performance management company, has similarly dedicated professionals in charge of university and diversity programs, including programs manager Heidi Newiger. One of her initiatives includes a Women in Tech Group (WiT) to help empower the women in their office. “The group meets quarterly for tea parties, which are employee run and include guest speakers,” Newiger says. “The speakers are positive and influential women in tech.”

Another great startup that’s leading the way to gender equality is Apptimize, founded by Nancy Hua, which consists of 50 percent females. “At Apptimize, we talk openly about potential sources of unconscious bias and have taken academic quizzes to figure out potential aspects of bias,” Hua says.

Time will tell which initiatives will actually make an impact in bridging the diversity gap. There’s a long way to go, evident by this Public Google Spreadsheet compiled by Pinterest Engineer Tracy Chou.

Achieving true gender equality in tech will be a long term process; but, in the meantime, it’s worth recognizing those in the industry who are doing their best to move this cause forward one step at a time. We’ll keep our eyes peeled to see what kind of success they might have

Is your company leading any initiatives to boost gender equality? 

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