News on the Radar: 9/27/17

Here is a brief round-up of information and news that crossed NCWIT's radar recently and which we think will be of interest to you. The practices or content of the news gathered (while not endorsed or vetted by NCWIT) is meant to spark new conversations and ideas surrounding the current diversity statistics and trends in the tech workforce. We encourage you to add your two cents on this month's topics in the comments below.

The Comprehensive Case for Investing More VC Money in Women-led Startups

A recent Harvard Business Review article by NCWIT’s Wendy DuBow and Allison-Scott Pruitt discussed how the lopsided gender composition of U.S. venture capital (VC) firms can affect their bottom lines. Only 8 percent of such firms have female partners, and evidence suggests that having no female partners makes them less likely to invest in female-founded or female-led firms. But, evidence also suggests that female-led firms may have a higher rate of return on average than male-led firms.

As an example, First Round Capital highlights its success at funding more women entrepreneurs than the national average. According to First Round Capital’s review of its own holdings, female founders’ companies outperformed their male peers’ by 63 percent, in terms of creating value for investors. And, a study conducted by the Small Business Association determined that venture firms that invested in women-led businesses had more positive performances than firms that did not.

Other research shows that venture capital firms with a female partner are more than twice as likely as firms without a female partner to invest in a company with a woman on the management team (34 percent vs 13 percent), and they are three times as likely to invest in women CEOs (58 percent vs 15 percent). So, the lack of women investing partners in VC firms is not only a problem of homogeneity within VC firms, but also has significant implications for whose ideas VC firms support.

Although more research is needed to fully understand the influence of gender on VC funding and which factors determine an entrepreneur’s financial success, Wendy and Allison-Scott recommend that VC firms avoid unconscious bias about “lack-of-fit” as at least one step to take. They can use blind resumes, for example, just as orchestras did in the 1970s.

Related NCWIT research in this area includes What is the Impact of Gender Diversity on Technology Business Performance? Research Summary, The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Are Successful Women Entrepreneurs Different from Men?, and Which gender differences matter for high-tech entrepreneurship?

 

Rebranding STEM Careers

A recent article on HR Dive discussed ways that companies and educators can better communicate to candidates and students about what computing jobs are and why they are worth pursuing.

Alan Stukalsky, chief digital officer of Randstad North America -- whose research shows that many of the misconceptions about STEM careers come from outdated, negative ideas about what these jobs entail -- believes that students should be encouraged to think about the wider applications of their skills. “One thing we need to push heavily is getting back to our schools and traditional STEM classes and emphasize how they apply to the business world," he stated. "There are a lot of cool jobs that apply to STEM careers; young people just don't see the connection.”

Stukalsky also suggests having curriculum developers work more closely with companies to ensure that the learning materials presented to students are aligned with real-world examples of computing careers, and offering open houses to invite candidates to “try on” computing jobs to see what they are really about.

Mentoring is another important factor. Companies that want to rebrand notions around computing careers may want to form mentoring groups, conduct outreach with local high schools and colleges, and provide access to in-house community events to create more positive ideas around their industries.

Last, Stukalsky suggests that companies cast a wider net to increase diversity by focusing on communicating opportunities for disabled individuals, veterans, men, women, minorities and those from other diverse backgrounds.

NCWIT has several resources for relating computing careers to students’ real-world interests, including:

 

Hiring Chatbots for Hiring Does Not Avoid Bias

An article in Wired this month looked at ways in which Silicon Valley companies are seeking to use artificial intelligence (AI) in hiring practices to reduce bias and increase diversity.

AI chatbots can interview and evaluate job candidates much like a recruiter, though without the subconscious judgments that humans might make. Other AI tools can employ intelligent video- and text-based software to predict high job performers by extracting as many as 25,000 data points from video interviews.

Of course, there’s a caveat: AI is only as good as the data that powers it, and that data is generated by humans: the same humans whose biases -- whether overt or subconscious -- employers are seeking to avoid in the first place.

Ultimately, if AI recruiting tools result in improved productivity, they’ll become more widespread. But, it won’t be enough for companies to simply adopt AI and trust that it will yield more fair recruitment.

“We try not to see AI as a panacea,” says Y-Vonne Hutchinson, the executive director of ReadySet, an Oakland-based diversity consultancy. “AI is a tool, and AI has makers, and sometimes AI can amplify the biases of its makers and the blindspots of its makers.” Hutchinson adds that in order for tools to work, “the recruiters who are using these programs [need to be] trained to spot bias in themselves and others.” Without such diversity training, the human recruiters just impose their biases at a different point in the pipeline.

NCWIT Women in Tech: The Facts provides more information on how to recognize and reduce bias in hiring practices. Other resources include: