Last month, I attended the Twitter #HelloWorld developer event in New York City along with several hundred other people. My primary purpose in attending was to learn more about the Twitter APIs (interfaces for third-party developers): SecureMySocial, of which I am the CEO, recently began selling to businesses technology that warns people if they are making potentially problematic social media posts; as our system interacts with social media platforms, seminars about the latest social media API trends and developments are of significant interest. When I made my reservation for the event I had no intention to write for Inc. about the gathering - I was planning to attend strictly to learn - but, once I arrived at the conference, I witnessed something that mandates public acknowledgement and discussion.
While there was plenty of cool technology presented by folks from Twitter and discussed among participants, what I found most shocking about the gathering was not what was being talked about, but rather who was discussing it: approximately half the people in the room at this highly technical gathering were women.
In a perfect world, the fact that half the attendees at a professional event were women would not be at all surprising: approximately half of the human population is female so one would expect a gathering of New York City professionals to reflect such numbers. But, for various reasons, including a climate of sexism and sexual harassment that is, unfortunately, all too common in the startup segment of the tech industry - a problem that I discussed in an article in Forbes less than two years ago - the number of women in tech has dropped dramatically over the past few decades. This is true at work and in school; as I wrote in 2014: "Thirty years ago nearly 40% of computer science degrees were awarded to women; today that number is under 20%, and, depending on how one measures, may be as low as 12%." In recent years, therefore, technology conference audiences have tended to be heavily male dominated.
It was obvious to me, therefore, that Twitter had made some conscious effort to ensure that women would be well represented, and I was curious about what had happened behind the scenes.
So, I approached Twitter's media team, and ultimately spoke with a spokeswoman who explained to me that Twitter has established a clear directive to encourage women to attend its events, and was putting that plan into action not only through formal programs, but also through personal outreach.
From a formal perspective, she told me, the firm established a task force a year ago to help bring women and members of underrepresented-in-technology minority groups to its flagship conference,Flight. By reaching out to women and minorities via nonprofits (including the Ada Initiative, Girl Develop It, Latino Startup Alliance, Girl Geek Dinner/Women 2.0, Lesbians Who Tech, TechWomen, Technovation, and PyLadies), as well as through contacts and employee resource groups at other companies (including at Facebook, Google, Eventbrite, Square, Pinterest, Pandora, Yelp, Optimizely, and Salesforce), and via student groups (including Berkeley and Stanford's Women In Computer Science, the National Society of Black Engineers, and the the Society of Hispanic Engineers), the firm spread the word widely and effectively. Twitter also publicized that it was running an #ILookLikeAnEngineer event to kick off Flight, as well as invited students that its staff had met at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which took place the week before the Twitter conference. These efforts paid off. At Flight last fall, women made up about 29% of registrants, up from about 18% in 2014.
This year, Twitter continues to engage in a whole slew of formal programs in order to diversify its workplace. Through these efforts it plans to increase the percentage of women on its team to 35%, increase women in tech roles to 16%, and increase women in leadership roles to 25%. In fact, the firm has shared its diversity goals for 2016 with the public, creating a clear atmosphere of accountability.
But, the advocacy and action are not just about formal efforts and communication. They are also about creating an environment in which everyone feels comfortable, and women don't have to worry about "brogrammer culture," an ill that many tech firms, including Twitter, have had to combat in their offices.
When it came to Flight, Twitter didn't just advertise or communicate its message in a formal sense; it asked people to contact their female friends and colleagues, and, with a personal touch, encourage them to attend. Over time, such a approach helps establish and cultivate a culture that restores what should seem truly normal - that half the folks in the room at a developer conference in New York City are female.
Of course, encouraging women to participate in the world of technology does not mean discouraging men, or illegally discriminating against anyone because he is male. Men do not suffer when women are treated equally and feel safe pursuing careers of their passion; in fact, not only does gender equality not harm men, it offers tremendous societal benefits that are enjoyed by everyone.
As I noted in my 2014 article in Forbes, I have witnessed the overt sexism that has plagued the technology sector for quite some time. I have heard horror stories from female friends and colleagues. And I recognize that sexism is not a women's issue, it's a societal evil about which men must be willing to speak up.
So, when I observe a major step in the right direction I take notice, and I am happy to acknowledge it publicly:
Kudos to Twitter, and to the other firms and organizations involved with Twitter's diversity endeavor and similar efforts.