Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

A Profile of Tracy Chou

Miranda Katz, writing for Backchannel:

Chou had spent her twenties working at places such as Google, Facebook, and Quora before landing at Pinterest as an engineer, and as she expanded her networks she started informally keeping track of the number of female engineers at tech firms. It was deeply ironic, she thought, that in a data-driven industry that prides itself on running experiments, performing A/B testing, and measuring outcomes, there was no official, easily accessible data about the number of women actually working in the field. And so she wrote:

As an engineer and someone who’s had ‘data-driven design’ browbeaten into me by Silicon Valley, I can’t imagine trying to solve a problem where the real metrics, the ones we’re setting our goals against, are obfuscated. Vanity metrics are dangerous; just pointing to the happy numbers, like those on Grace Hopper conference attendance, doesn’t do anything except make people feel good while the real issues fester, unaddressed.

With her employer’s blessing, she then shared the number of female engineers at Pinterest — 11 out of 89 — and encouraged her readers to do the same. They did. Within a week, employees from over 50 companies had submitted data, including Dropbox, Rent the Runway, Reddit, and Mozilla — and the companies kept on coming.

In the three years since Chou first coaxed tech companies into releasing their diversity figures, the motivation to do so has somewhat fizzled out. Of the eight large companies that I compare annually, four — Amazon, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and Twitter — haven’t released their numbers for 2016. Countless smaller companies also haven’t; I spot-checked Reddit, Mozilla, and Dropbox, and the most recent report from those three companies is Dropbox’s, from January.

A lack of diverse employees clearly remains a defining issue of most of the tech companies that we rely upon daily. Chou’s work laid the foundation for every company to be transparent and to do better. But, without constant pressure, it seems that many major tech companies would rather avoid releasing their internal stats.