Did You Know? Workforce Data Science, Women & Tech Consulting, VCs Investing in Women

Workforce Data Science

Did you know that when Google crunched the data on its employees’ performance metrics, it found that the best workers were not those who had the highest SAT scores or GPAs, nor the ones who “fit” neatly into the company’s rules and processes? Did you know that people who fill out online job applications with an after-market browser that they installed themselves, rather than the browser pre-loaded onto their computer, perform better and change jobs less frequently?

These findings and more like them are now available to companies that mine “big data.” In fact it’s now possible to identify good job candidates using algorithms instead of sifting through resumes, and to use data on current employees to optimize their performance.

Vivienne Ming is chief scientist at Gild, a startup providing “tech recruiting solutions that harness the power of data.” She doesn’t think Silicon Valley is as merit-based as people imagine and that talented people often are ignored, misjudged, or simply missed. Dr. Ming suggests that shortcuts accepted as a proxy for talent — such as where you went to school or your previous employers — can shortchange talented people and, ultimately, employers. “The traditional markers people use for hiring can be wrong, profoundly wrong,” she said. “Let’s put everything in and let the data speak for itself.”

Yet the assumption that big data can speak for itself may be misplaced. As Microsoft Research’s Kate Crawford cautions in the Harvard Business Review (free registration required), “Data and data sets are not objective; they are creations of human design. We give numbers their voice, draw inferences from them, and define their meaning through our interpretations. Hidden biases in both the collection and analysis stages present considerable risks, and are as important to the big-data equation as the numbers themselves.”

Does your company use software in its recruitment and hiring processes? Do you think big data will help or hinder building a more meritocratic workforce?


Modern Day Prejudice

Did you know that many of us think of prejudice as an act of “commission,” but that in today’s society it’s more likely an act of “omission”? So suggests Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, the author of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. She and her co-author Anthony Greenwald, a social psychologist at the University of Washington, posit that unintentional bias is to blame for the preferential treatment we extend to those who are like us, and withhold from those who fall into our bias blindspot.

Banaji shares the story of a Yale professor who badly cut her hand and rushed to the Yale-New Haven Hospital emergency room for care. When the doctor arrived to see her she explained that she was a quilter and that the use of her hand was critically important to her. Minutes later, a student of hers who happened to be in the hospital recognized her, and called out to her as “Professor.” The doctor looked up at her, surprised. After confirming that she was indeed a Yale professor, the doctor immediately called in specialists to treat her hand. The Yale professor couldn’t help but think she was receiving preferential treatment because she’d been outed as a professor, whereas when she’d identified herself as merely a “quilter,” no such treatment had been ordered.

“Much of the time when we’re helping other people we’re doing good things ... and I don’t think … we should stop helping people from our groups,” comments NPR’s social science reporter, Shankar Vedantam. “[Banaji’s] point is that we only give that help, much of the time, to the people who are part of our groups. And if we’re going to try and overcome some of the enduring disparities we have in the United States, we have to direct some of that help to people whom we might not feel like we have an immediate connection to.”


National News on Women in CS

Did you know that about 40% of computer science majors at Harvey Mudd College now are women? Given your participation with NCWIT there’s a good chance you knew this already. However, a lot of people who didn’t know recently found out, when NPR aired a story on Harvey Mudd president Maria Klawe and her dramatic success in increasing the number of women studying computing at her school.

The story touches on some of the concrete steps taken at Harvey Mudd to attract and retain female students in computing, including:

  • Replacing “weed-out” courses with contextual, relatable content

  • Providing separate intro courses for those with prior experience and those without

  • Discouraging antagonistic behavior in class

  • Sending freshman women to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference

  • Recruiting female computing faculty

We’d like to think the fact that this story aired during a primetime slot reflects that the dearth of women in computing is becoming an issue of national importance. In fact, if you’ve ever struggled to get colleagues, leaders, or others onboard with your efforts to increase women’s participation, you might point them to this piece as a good example of what can be done with institutional support and how schools making strides in this arena are in the national spotlight.


Women and Tech Consulting

Did you know that in the first quarter of 2013, there were 17,200 new technology consulting positions added to the labor market, and that nearly 46 percent of these new consulting positions were awarded to women?

This latest finding comes from Dice.com, which also found that the gender pay gap in technology has all but disappeared -- at least when comparing women and men with equal experience and job titles. However, Dice found that women and men tend not to have similar roles when it comes to technology jobs; women are more likely to be project managers or business analysts, while men are more likely to be software engineers or sys admins.

It’s interesting to note that women’s share of tech consulting jobs is slightly higher than women’s representation in the tech workforce overall -- 31% vs. 26%. Another recent survey of women who use a popular freelancing site found that 74% believe online work offers women in tech more opportunities for success than on-site work. A majority of the 7,000 women surveyed, in fact, said they preferred the diversity of clients and projects, the intellectual challenges, and the ability to juggle family and work obligations that freelancing online affords them.

What’s your take? Do you think more women in tech become consultants or freelancers because they’re entrepreneurial, or because they’re not finding the level of flexibility and merit they need within the traditional workplace?


VCs Investing in Women

Did you know that venture capital firms that invest in women-led companies outperform those that don’t? A decade’s worth of research involving 2,500 VC firms, 19,000 portfolio companies, and 90,000 deals found that the firms’ performance increased as their ratio of investment in women-led companies increased, and that firms investing in women-led companies were more likely to invest in additional women-led companies.

The study suggested a few potential explanations for these results: first, firms that invest in women-led companies may do greater “due diligence,” resulting in more successful investments; second, these firms also tend to co-invest with other firms, and therefore may be more comfortable “taking a risk” on women-led companies; and finally, having women in leadership roles may simply cause startups to yield better results for the firms’ portfolios.

Other research on startups and the impact of women in leadership roles has found, in fact, that startups with women in executive positions (VPs, C-level managers, and board members) outperform those with no women in these roles, and that startups with women leaders use 40% less capital and are more likely to survive the transition from startup to established company.

Whether VCs see women as a risk or benefit, the numbers imply that adding women to your leadership roles is an investment that will pay off. Find out more about recruiting and hiring women into your company, as well as making them more visible once they’re there.


Readiness for New Science Standards

Did you know that there are new standards for teaching science, but not necessarily new standards for training teachers? The new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will fundamentally change how science is taught and how student scientific learning is measured, and a new paper in Science magazine argues that teachers need new infrastructure to support the new standards, too. “When it comes to professional development for science teachers, we simply don’t have the knowledge base,” says Suzanne Wilson, professor of teacher education at Michigan State University. “Science has been marginalized by the No Child Left Behind Act, so less science has been taught in schools, not more. And now these standards are coming out that not only call for a renewed focus on science teaching, but the kind of science that many teachers haven’t taught and many teachers haven’t experienced.”

The Computing in the Core (CinC) coalition applauded the new standards but remains concerned that the NGSS do not stipulate sufficient exposure to computing concepts. Several initiatives, including 100K in 10 and CS10K, are working to train more science teachers and bolster teacher training. But as professor Wilson points out, it’s critical to focus these efforts according to the NGSS. “We must realign the considerable resources spent on professional development with the demands teachers will face with the new standards.” What do you think? Are you ready for the NGSS?


Did You Know? is a brief round-up of information and news that crossed NCWIT's radar recently and which we think might be of interest to you. Practices or content of the news presented are not vetted or endorsed by NCWIT.