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Industry Insights Around Diversity And Inclusion From The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women In Computing 2016

Couldn’t make it out to Grace Hopper this year, and wondering if the industry’s efforts around diversity and inclusion are making strides?

I’ve captured some of the insights from this year’s conference for you and made some predictions on what to expect in terms of initiatives in coming years.

Challenging Our Assumptions About Data Sets And Algorithms

Dr. Latanya Sweeney kicked off the conference with a keynote challenging our assumptions around data being anonymous.

She began the keynote, sharing a personal anecdote of how when someone had done a Google search on her name, there were ads that came back mentioning an “arrest record”, even though she has never been arrested. At first, she was surprised at the search results, and thought nothing of them, until someone entertained the idea that the results could be influenced because of her African American sounding name.

While she was highly skeptical of such an assumption, additional search results began to prove their point. For example, when she did an image search of Latanya versus Tanya, the results for Latanya showed more black women, while the results for Tanya showed more white women.

After a number of experiments with search results, Dr. Sweeney came to the observation, “87% of the U.S. population is uniquely identified by date of birth, gender, postal code,” and the theory of k-anonymity.

This theory shows how vulnerable data sets can be; attackers can easily make inferences about data sets that may harm individuals.

As big data continues to play a bigger role throughout the industry, you can count on people bringing to light the importance of algorithmic accountability.

The Industry Benchmark

The Anita Borg Institute (ABI) released a report highlighting the top companies for women technologists. 25 companies were recognized for their efforts in recruiting, retaining, and promoting talented technical women.

Several of the companies aren’t ones we’d traditional think of as tech companies like Capital One, but they are making great strides to change that perception!

ThoughtWorks led the group, becoming tech’s most women-friendly company. Read how they did it here.

“We’re not hiring people because they are women, we are hiring them because they are great technologists who happen to be women.” — Rebecca Parsons, CTO of ThoughtWorks

Here’s the complete list of the 25 top companies.

However, there is more work to be done. ABI also uncovered a decline in women as they advance throughout their careers. For instance, there are about 18.5% in technical roles, that number drops down to 13.8% in senior roles, and finally 11.4% in executive roles.

This leads us to the conclusion that despite all the efforts to increase the pipeline with K-12 education and encouraging women to major in computer science in college, there’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to retaining them throughout their careers.

Can’t Fill The Pipeline Fast Enough

Speaking of building a pipeline, Reshma Saujani Founder of Girls Who Code and Accenture reported the growing gap gender gap in computing jobs.

Their research showed that back in 1984 37% of computer science majors were women, and that number dropped to 18% in 2014.

Their key findings were that the peak time to introduce computer science to girls was in middle school. However, interest starts to wane in high school, due to the curriculum, and gender of teachers.

Retaining girls through high school and into college means creating engaging content.

However, as I mentioned before, there’s still a leaky pipeline post-college, and as women advance in their careers. While it’s important to invest in programs like Girls Who Code, it’s also important to invest in programs for graduates and mid-career folks like Women Who Code. It’s great to see companies like Capital One investing in both.

The Closing Keynote And Importance of Male Allies

Male allies at previous Grace Hopper’s have had trouble highlighting solutions.

However, that’s changed drastically this year for the better!

Capital One’s CIO Rob Alexander highlighted the importance of continuing to recruit and retain diverse talent, he told

“One of the most important things that we’re focused in our digital transformation is … how we attract and retain the great engineering talent we need to be a great company,” says Alexander, who has led the bank and credit card provider’s IT department since 1998. “Diversity and inclusion is an important part of that mission.”

Many male allies have emerged at Capital One, and you can see for yourself how they are supporting women.

While Salesforce’s CEO, Marc Benioff, stressed the importance of equal pay amongst genders in his closing keynote alongside Megan Smith, CTO of the USA. Watch the full keynote here.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to transform our young industry, but it’s clear from Grace Hopper 2016 that there’s not only an increased awareness of the problems, but people actively working on solutions and that is definitely worth celebrating!

“If no one is telling our stories, we have to. We have to celebrate ourselves.” — Dr. Jamika Burge, Capital One

Thank you Capital One for sponsoring this post! This is a paid endorsement. All opinions are my own and were not directed by Capital One. To learn more about Capital One and career opportunities there, visit Capital One Careers.

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