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Changing the Ratio of Women In Tech: How Etsy Did It 546

First time accepted submitter occidental writes in about Etsy's push to get more women engineers. "You’ve probably heard of Etsy, the bustling online marketplace for crafters and artists. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that most of its customers are women, both buyers and sellers. Ditto that the Etsy team is a pretty good representation of the Earth’s gender ratio. Yet when Marc Hedlund took the helm of Etsy’s Product Development & Engineering department, 97% of the engineering department were men. Hedlund realized that in his nearly two decades in IT, he’s hired no more than 20 women for engineering positions. This began to bother him. Especially after his daughter was born."
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Changing the Ratio of Women In Tech: How Etsy Did It

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  • by Karganeth ( 1017580 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @08:13AM (#43491513)
    Typically you see a rule like "at least 10% of the workforce m ust be x% female". This means that people will be hired according to their gender - sexism is built into the system. The same applies to many anti racist rules. You can't ever have rules that explicitly favor one gender over another.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Raedwald ( 567500 )

      Typically you see a rule like "at least 10% of the workforce m ust be x% female".

      But TFA Says

      Don’t lower hiring standards, or make exceptions or compromises

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Then what exactly changes if they were hiring the best people anyways?

        • by jamesbulman ( 103594 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @08:47AM (#43491787) Homepage

          Expand the pool of candidates applying for the job.

          • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @08:55AM (#43491897)

            Did they not let women apply before?

            This means if they get two similarly qualified candidates they will select a woman if their quota needs one. That means males who apply are being discriminated against.

            • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @09:55AM (#43492795) Journal
              If they were predominantly picking the man previously in this situation, then women were discriminated against. If they are picking women if they have under a certain percentage and men if they have over a certain percentage then they are effectively doing round-robin selection.
            • by Ben4jammin ( 1233084 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @10:50AM (#43493597)

              Don’t lower hiring standards, or make exceptions or compromises.

              Bring in as many candidates as possible.

              My take away from this is that while the historical hiring they did was "best candidates available" they realized that there were things they could do to expand the hiring pool that may change how many of the "best candidates available" are women.
              Not surprising to see a company try to improve their hiring practices.

              Doesn't mean they are going to discriminate against men.

            • Did they not let women apply before?

              This means if they get two similarly qualified candidates they will select a woman if their quota needs one. That means males who apply are being discriminated against.

              As a man, I will say this to those "men" who feel discriminated or unfairly treated by that practice: Go to the Cry-Me-A-River Department and send us a violin-shaped postcard when you get there. Srlsly, man the f* up.

              A little bit of social adjustment to achieve some fairness that has been conspicuously absent in the history of humankind will inevitably hit someone else. Bohoho, big deal. World is unfair, but it has always been more favorable to us men than to women. It doesn't take a lot of testicular f

              • Re:Cry me a river. (Score:5, Insightful)

                by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @02:11PM (#43495755) Journal

                I agree. Are men being "discriminated against" in these circumstances? Is it "unfair?" Maybe. But my father raised me to be a man, and one of his frequent lessons was "life isn't fair."

                Part of being a man is accepting that life isn't fair. You have to shoulder responsibilities and make sacrifices that others do not. We do not complain that women and children get the lifeboats before we do. We do not complain about opening doors for women, or giving up our seats on busses so they can sit, or picking up the check. When the nutjob opened fire in the Colorado theater, many of the men (boys, even) died using their bodies to shield others. Those were Men.

                This does not mean women are not ALLOWED to do these things. By all means, grab the check. By all means, fight for your country (my wife was in the Army for 9 years and carried her M-16 through Bosnia and Kosovo, helping protect the people there from each other). If you are a man who feels "threatened" by strong women, then you are not much of a man.

                So men, do not whine about "discrimination." It's unmanly. Suck it up, find a better job, or make your own job. Women, what you choose to do is up to you. I hope you choose to compete as the best candidate for whatever position you apply. If you don't, and would prefer special treatment, that's fine. Ignore the crying whiners on their way out. They're not really men. And yes, I'll hold the door open for you.

        • They get to appear all feminist and enlightened in the media.
        • by jythie ( 914043 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @09:40AM (#43492563)
          It means examining bais. Changing a name on a resume to change gender or ethnicity often results in interpretations of the resume, with european male names often being rated as seeming more competent even when the exact same resume with another type of name on it is read as less capable.

          So the problem is, people think they are hiring the 'best' people in an unbiased way, but statistically they are not. Addressing that in your hiring process leads to better people because there is a significant talent pool out there who are consistently rated lower then their actual abilities reflect.
          • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @10:24AM (#43493213)

            The correct solution to that is to remove names from resumes all together.

            Again the problem is the process and the solution is not an even worse process but a better one.

        • by mcvos ( 645701 )

          RTFA. They changed the way they reached out to candidates, and didn't chase away women right away with unnecessarily confrontational questions.

          Also, It's not just about getting better individual people, but about ending up with a better mix of employees. Companies with more diversity tend to do better.

          They don't hire women because they have to, they hire women because they're better. When a man is better, they hire the man.

      • by robthebloke ( 1308483 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @08:49AM (#43491811)
        Well, about a year ago I was working in a games company (~120 employees) that had no female developers, artists, or producers. In total there were three female employees: the office manager, the HR manager, and the cleaner. Over the seven years I worked there, we hired 3 women, but they'd all leave after about six months... possibly as a result of having 50+ horny games devs constantly trying to hit on them (in fairness, they may have left due to other reasons, but I doubt it helped much). It's sad to say, but in the games industry there are a large number of immature men (boys is a more accurate decsription), who think that women are nothing more than boobs on legs. They often act creepily around them, sending them unwanted valentines cards, hanging around their desks like bad smells, etc, etc. In short, these people just don't know how to interact properly in civilised society, especially around women.

        I'm now working in a film VFX company, and the difference is night and day. On the software teams, about 20% of the employees are female, and on the art teams, it's about 50%. The female software devs aren't for show either, they are more than capable of holding their own when it comes to C++/SIMD/GPU/Graphics coding, and it's actually been a really refreshing change from the games industry! Really though, the difference between the two comes down to one thing only. In VFX, women are treated with the respect. In Games, they're often treated as the office oddity.
        • Meh, I guess it depends on where you work, and who you work with. IMO, we could benefit from more female gamedevs making games, but they're not non-existant (and they do make games that are just as good (and bad) as males do).

          Be careful that when you paint with a wide brush, you don't get paint in your eyes.

    • Exactly this. Favoritism is always bad.
    • Exactly, it needs to come down to who is best for the job, giving one group preferential treatment over another is not any better than any other group.

    • Bullshit!

      Policies are not all myopic decisions that affect just a single generation.

      When you make a policy, you are looking at its impact in the long run. By having more women in the workplace you are encouraging more diversity of gender in the work place for future generations.
      This is something you need to consider. Does diversity in a workplace help? Is it an ideal you wish to work towards in the long run? If you think diversity is unimportant, and you rather wish to reduce current costs in searchi
      • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
        You are right that a long term view is needed. That is why biasing towards women is a bad plan. Today, people tell themselves that "We are just correcting historical bias". The problem is that you are just creating a new set of biases. In the long run, you are not fixing the problem, you are just shifting which group has the advantage. I see this all the time with my 9 year old son. Over the years we have had lots of events and programs that he would have loved to attend and would likely have learned a
    • by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @08:52AM (#43491853)
      American History X, the flashback scene around the dinner table when a young Derek Vinyard is talking to his dad about the Affirmative Action policy at the firestation. If you take out the racial slurs, you can't help but see the guy's point. Would you want someone of lower capability than an other applicant working on your team just because some bureaucrat thinks a quota of $gender/race is the correct way to bring diversity to the workplace? It is even the correct kind of diversity? Diversity of experience, opinion, skillset, or interest is surely something better to strive towards.

      On the other hand, we have the Catch 22 of women not working in $Career, so girls don't take an interest in $Career at an early age, meaning women don't apply for jobs in $Career. Is it the fault of society for not making careers in, say, engineering more glamorous? Should we push hard for intellect being more attractive than physical appearance? Should we stop seeing a chosen occupation as inherently masculine or feminine? Is it upbringing or genetic predisposition?

      This is why Sociology exists.
      • "Diversity of experience, opinion, skillset, or interest is surely something better to strive towards."

        This is what my current and most recent employer both strived for. It was by coincidence that it also led to gender/racial diversity as well (because different backgrounds lead to different skillsets and opinions... who knew?). In the end, we had a lot of really good solutions to problems from people starting ideas with "Once when I..." or "I saw something like this before...". We never had anyone say they

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

        You are assuming that all the female candidates are of lower quality and that is why they don't get hired in the first place. That assumption is wrong. Sometimes they don't get hired because the person hiring them is biased against their gender (they won't fit in, might generate sexual harassment lawsuits etc.).

      • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @10:07AM (#43492987) Journal

        Affirmative action also has some nasty negative side effects. First, if people are aware of it, then there is a perception that anyone in the group that is being discriminated in favour of got there because of it. If you have to hire a woman for a particular job, and the best qualified woman has ten years more experience than the nearest-qualified man, better references, and does much better in the interview, then she will still have to fight the perception from people who weren't directly involved in the hiring that she only got the job because of her gender.

        Beyond that, if people in group X have lower standards of entry into job Y, then the average quality of people of group X performing job Y will be lower. People will notice this, and assume that it's because people in group X suck at Y. It then becomes much harder for the ones that are capable and qualified.

        You don't get more competent people into a job by fostering the perception that they aren't able to do it.

      • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @11:40AM (#43494149) Homepage

        Would you want someone of lower capability than an other applicant working on your team just because some bureaucrat thinks a quota of $gender/race is the correct way to bring diversity to the workplace?

        I dunno, you seem perfectly comfortable with a bunch of undeserving white professionals who got there simply because they were born in first/second base thanks to past discrimination and they would not have made it at all, had they started from the dug out, like a kid from the ghetto.

    • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @08:58AM (#43491931)

      The problem of hiring female engineers happens because there are very few female applicants. I've interviewed one female applicant, ever, in 20 years as an engineer. ONE. I've worked for a number of engineering companies, small and large and I can count on ONE HAND the number of female engineering co-workers I have had, out of hundreds of engineers. They were all good at their jobs. I wouldn't hesitate to hire a woman engineer, if there was one available.

      My sister is an engineer and my niece is in engineering school. They are the only two female engineers in my whole extended family, but there are dozens of male engineers, scientists and programmers.

      I don't know why, but women, at least in the USA, almost universally lack interest in being engineers. No hiring policy can change that.

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @09:32AM (#43492401)

      "at least 10% of the workforce m ust be x% female". This means that people will be hired according to their gender - sexism

      When you get down to a point where you have trouble getting 10% of a group of people who are a majority of the population at large, isn't it a wee bit late to suddenly get all upset about discrimination?

  • It's to bad (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Murdoch5 ( 1563847 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @08:15AM (#43491531)
    The problem is most women just aren't interested in engineering type roles. I know 1 female engineer out of the 40+ women I know, all the rest can't stand doing math, physic's or even intense thinking. I think part of the problem is that when kids grow up boys are taught to build and women are taught to be pretty, when a boy plays with Lego or other similar products in a sense he's engineering. On the other hand girls are given a barbie and a easy bake oven and told to have fun, how is that going to lead to a career in engineering. I think the problem needs to be fixed at the child level.
    • Question is why are they not interested?
      I have never heard of a credible biological reason to this, is there a "scientist" gene that is present in only men? I would find that hard to belive.

      Personally I think you're right about development of young children. Want more women in STEM? Then give them things like video games and Legos to play with as children to help foster that interest.
      It's unreasonable to tell them for 12+ years that those are BOY TOYS then expect them to overnight develop an interest.

      • Exactly! My sister always wanted to use my Lego but mom kept buying her barbies and now she's in Psyc, who knows, maybe if she played with Lego at a young age she would of entered engineering or IT.
        • Yea, it's not that children lack the interest, it seems that it's the parents who keep buying them the gender specific toys, and reinforcing his idea that women do not belong in STEM.

          Children should have the same opportunity to play with w/e toy they have an interest in.
          If a boy want's to play dress up with dolls, don't tease him or think him developmentally challenged. (nor tolerate that from his peers)

          Of course this is all well and good but in reality marketing and consumer buying habits play a much bigge

      • Re:It's to bad (Score:4, Informative)

        by PPalmgren ( 1009823 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @08:42AM (#43491723)

        There might actually be a biological reason. I was watching a documentary on the brain on NatGeo, and they brought up a study on chimps while discussing the general differences between the male and female brain. They gave chimps who had lived without human interaction some human toys. Even among chimps without our cultural influence, the males predominantly chose the trucks and the females predominantly chose the dolls.

        This was like a decade ago so I don't know the significance of that study or if it has been debunked, but I always found it interesting.

        • Oh yes there are differences in the brains of both genders, I just can't see it being the sole justification for the gulf we are observing; especially when you compare it to history,

          Men used to dominate the health and teaching fields; yet now are a small minority; 200 years is nowhere near enough time for a biological change to have happened on such a wide a scale and with such an impact.

          I would suggest that our social norms are a much better candidate.

          • The problem with comparing it to history is that until a few decades ago, it didn't matter what women were interested in - they simply weren't allowed in most fields. However, now women are able to choose any job that men can choose, it's an entirely different ball game.

            Since women are now allowed to choose what they want to be, they tend to gravitate towards nursing, teaching and other human interaction fields. Of course societal pressures still play a major role, but I just don't think you can compare it

          • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

            I think you mean both sexes, gender is a different thing all together. Sex is defined by biology, gender is a cultural thing.

    • by ctid ( 449118 )

      When I started in computing (this is in the mid 1980s), the majority of programmers that I worked with were female. This was an old-fashioned mini-computer based department in an industrial environment.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RussR42 ( 779993 )
      Obligatory xkcd (Although something seems to have gone wrong, it's an SMBC [smbc-comics.com])
    • It's the brain.
      I saw a documentary once about why boys like car mechanics and exact things and girls don't.
      When working on a car, the man's brain uses mainly his logical half. Women usually use both halves of their brain, even on logical things.
      They found that women who did enjoy car mechanics, had a brain usage pattern similar to men, so they too used their logical half of the brain on these tasks.
      You can't change nature (or just very slowly through natural selection ;-)).
  • Not so hard really (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    1) Don't be combative (this will get you better male employees as well)
    2) Don't allow your team to be combative (mgmt needs to do their job in reigning in aggressive team members)
    3) Recognize and punish prejudice in the interview/work place (I've witnessed this several times with some being harder on women for no apparent reason)

    That's it really. I've worked with a lot of women in tech, and they do fine. There are some environments though that aren't fitting for ANYONE, and men tend to end up there. Wome

  • I don't know how much "engineers" (whatever that means... support engineers? software engineers? ... ) he employs, but he went from 2% to 15% women engineers.
    Wiki says Etsy had 60 employees in 2009.
    How much of these are engineers? Let us take 30, so he went from 1 women engineer to 5?

    And if the total of staff represents a 50/50 ratio (implied but not explicitly said in the article), that means he's employing much more women in the artsy/HR/finance/marketing departments? Isn't that discrimination too?

    • 15% is still a pretty low mark. I don't see this as being a success at all.

      If you look at the typical Comp Sci and Engineering Classroom, it's pretty good.

      These women have to come from somewhere, you can't (typically) hire them out of high school and expect them to perform.

    • 15% is actually 50% better then the rest of the IT field 10%, and yes it is discrimination to choose any race or gender over another.
  • He did it by giving the IT department nut shots and creeper cards every day until they all left. Without any men or trans women to compete with, womyn-born-womyn found they were able to land IT jobs. Obviously.
  • How Etsy did it: aggressively pursued women who met the requirements
  • Headline (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @08:49AM (#43491813)

    I think the headline should read:

    Changing the ratio of women to men in tech How they did it.

  • If you are in a technical field that requires a lot of time, effort (and sometimes money) to become proficient, then personal attributes like gender are generally meaningless. Is there any doubt that a person who is sufficiently smart and dedicated enough to become a crack developer can do so, regardless of gender?

    Developing software is a huge enterprise, spanning hundreds of job categories and every human skill imaginable. No doubt if one were to include the full scope of work, then the balance of men to women would be the same as the working population as a whole; that is certainly the case where I work.

    Sure, there are some disciplines where men are more concentrated, but also others where women are more concentrated, and still others where the split is more even. What does that matter? To deliver a great product, everyone must put their heart into pushing the wagon down the road, or it goes nowhere.

  • by dutchwhizzman ( 817898 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @09:08AM (#43492063)
    You always hear about women being underrepresented in high profile jobs. I never see campaigns to get more women into plumbing, road work, carpentry, mining and similar "men jobs". Until those jobs get an equal represented share in the campaigns to get more women doing mens' jobs and the campaign gives just as much attention to men doing "women jobs", I regard the campaigns as sexist biased. The only way to break these gender biased roles is to work on them all at the same time and give all of them the same kind of attention. Focusing on a specific small part will never work, unless it's part of a big campaign that works on all jobs in all levels.
    • You also see very little effort to address the gender imbalance in teaching, nursing or human relations (which are all female dominated).

  • by thesandtiger ( 819476 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @09:42AM (#43492599)

    I'm a woman and I was recently doing a job search and interviewed at a dozen places before settling on one that I liked (and have since come to love).

    It was, overall, a very uncomfortable experience for me. I was, at many of the places, subjected to comments along the lines of "I've worked with a female developer before, and it was really difficult because she didn't have a sense of humor/couldn't take a joke/made us feel like we had to be on our best behavior - would you be like that?" Seriously. I was repeatedly told that one concern was the rest of the team feeling like they might have to walk on eggshells around me.

    When I heard these things I essentially shut down the interview and let them know I would not be interested. I explained that I appreciated their honesty, but the fact that they had concerns along those lines made me know it wasn't the place for me, and I thanked them for their time.

    It isn't that I don't have a sense of humor, or that I'm easily offended - it's that I really don't want to have to be responsible for all women ever, and I don't want to have to worry that my co-workers are continually holding me accountable or interpreting things I say or do as if I were somehow the same as the other women they had worked with. And despite my shutting it down, I was *still* offered jobs at half the places.

    The place that I liked - and have come to love - gender never came up during the interview. We talked about the tech, we talked about the work, we talked about the long term goals for the position, and we talked about the culture. The only time gender has come up was when one of my co-workers, who has a daughter, asked me how I came to get so interested in technology and science because he wanted to encourage his daughter as much as possible without pushing her.

    Looking at the comments here, there's a whole lot of "othering" going on. A lot of comments that seem to treat women as members of some kind of hive mind wherein certain behaviors are just expected. This is completely unfair - it would be as unfair as me treating all men like rapists just because some men are. There's also a lot of anger I'm sensing from a lot of the guys - feeling like they're being discriminated against in some cases by quotas (real or imagined) or whatever. You guys are certainly entitled to your anger, just like I'm entitled to be bugged when idiots can't distinguish me from some other woman despite us being entirely different people.

    The thing I would recommend to people - all people - is to take everyone you will be dealing with as an individual AS an individual. Just as you wouldn't want to be held responsible for things you had nothing to do with, so, too, other people don't want to be made responsible for everyone who shares their gender, race, ethnicity, or other arbitrary trait.

    For the record, I think hiring quotas are stupid. Affirmative action is "good intention, wretched implementation." That said, the people saying they've been turned down for developer/in demand jobs because they are white/male/other majority class must be incredibly unimpressive candidates. If you were such hot shit that you "deserved" the job, you would have gotten the job. Businesses are in business to make MONEY, they will hire whomever will make them MONEY, and if you couldn't make it clear you would make them more MONEY than some other random person, that's on you.

    • by RussR42 ( 779993 )
      Well written and I agree. That didn't stop me from giggling a bit at your sig...

      I don't want to have to worry that my co-workers are continually holding me accountable or interpreting things I say or do as if I were somehow the same as the other women they had worked with.

      Since I can't tell them apart, I treat all ACs as the same person.


    • It is sad but I can see the humor aspect part of the question. Most of the engineers I have been around make jokes about things like using the equipment to cook breakfast or wondering if the reactor could build up enough pressure to make a cool water gun etc. Most of the women I have known go upset at those jokes for some reason. I can understand not making sexual jokes since they don't really belong in the work place. However, if engineers can't make non-sexual jokes about the equipment it makes it very ha

    • First off, I find most of your comment the most intelligent one in this thread, in particular I agree that sex should simply never come up as an issue. On the point about the the affirmative action though I will have to disagree with you. In many government jobs, or jobs that relate to government (road construction etc) where affirmative action is required you happen to be wrong.

      A couple of examples for you are when the Federal government setup the TSA. I was involved with the program from an IT standpoint

  • by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Friday April 19, 2013 @02:50PM (#43496343) Homepage

    One of his rules: "Don’t use identifying language that might unintentionally marginalize minority candidates such as “women engineers”—-they’re just “engineers.”"
    Which he then violates about 2 times for every single other rule, dozens more for the article, and again for his premise.

    Sounds like just another, lets start taking gender into account when we are trying to fill a role, such that we get about a 50:50 ratio in our company.

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.