When it comes to the tech industry's diversity problem, awareness isn't the issue. For years now we've been hearing mea culpas and vows to improve from basically all the sector's most prominent companies.

But talk is cheap. Is awareness translating into progress?

As of late last year, the answer to that question was pretty depressing. Evidence showed that, despite all the chatter around the issue, the numbers had barely budged. But maybe, finally, we're starting see some incremental progress. But don't get too excited until you hear the full story.

Half full or half empty?

The new numbers come from an analysis by Guy Berger, an economist at LinkedIn who analyzed millions of profiles of site members to suss out whether companies have started to hire more women since 2008. The research was broad-based, looking internationally and at a variety of sectors, but the news for the diversity-challenged tech industry was of particular interest.

"The technology industry has made the biggest strides in hiring women across all roles between 2008 and 2016, with a 24.4 percent increase in the annual rate of female new hires," writes Berger. The tech industry also stood out for the biggest leap in hiring of female leaders, specifically. The percentage of women taking roles at the top was up 21 percent.

So that's something to crow about, right? Not so fast.

While hiring is up significantly, that's from an extremely low base, and as Berger points out, "industries with lower hiring rates of women appear to have had an easier time increasing the number of women they hire for engineering jobs." It's relatively simple, in other words, to double the rate at which you hire women if you were only hiring a tiny number to begin with.

By other measures, it's clear there's still a tremendous amount of work left to do. Even though the hiring of female software engineers is up a respectable-sounding 17 percent in the tech industry, for instance, but that represents a jump from 13.5 percent female hires in 2008 to 15.8 percent today.

It's progress, but it still means fewer than one in five programmers is female. Which is a pretty grim number given women make up half the population.

Either way, there's more work to do.

Interpreting these findings is largely about perspective, then. If you're an optimist, then you can focus on the healthy growth rate and are cheered that, though we're starting from a miniscule base and proceeding at a stately pace, we will eventually get to a place where the tech industry is much more representative.

If you're more of a glass-half-empty type, you'll focus on the fact that, after all the diversity hoopla, still only 16 percent of new hires for engineering roles are female.

Either way you look at it, though, there's clearly plenty left to be do, from individual companies making efforts to find and hire rockstar women coders to changes in work culture and benefits that make the industry more friendly to women.

Do you think the tech industry is doing enough to turn around their woeful diversity numbers? If not, what else could they do?

Published on: Oct 24, 2016
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