This weekend, The New York Times published an op-ed about “Silicon Valley’s Diversity Problem”. A dressing down from the Times on diversity is painfully ironic, given that the Times has the biggest gender gap of the US’s ten most widely circulated newspapers. In the Times, 69% of its bylines are men. That’s not all that different from Google’s workforce, which is 70% male.
The Times has suggestions for improving Silicon Valley’s diversity problem, including this one:
Not all tech industry employees are engineers and programmers. The companies employ large numbers of people who manage projects, market services and design products. Many of these jobs do not require a computer science or an engineering degree. But the proportion of women and minorities in these types of jobs is not much better than the proportion in technical positions. Companies should make efforts to hire a more diverse group of workers — including more liberal arts graduates — for nontechnical jobs, according to Vivek Wadhwa, who has written a book about women in the technology industry.
The Times assumes that engineering and programming jobs require a computer science (CS) or engineering degree. This isn’t true, and hasn’t ever been true. Anecdotally, I know programmers without degrees at all. I know programmers with philosophy degrees, and English degrees, and history degrees. There have been plenty of times where I’ve been in a roomful of developers where I was the only one with a CS degree. Software development changes fast. We value people who are self-taught. A CS degree is not required for a programming job.
Better is that their solution is a two-tiered solution to engineering. It’s the same as their two-tiered solution to journalism. At the Times, as elsewhere in journalism, women are significantly more likely to write articles about lifestyle or health. Articles about crime, justice, and politics are still more likely to be written by men, as are op-eds. The hard news and analysis goes to men, the soft news goes to women. And so too should the hard engineering problems go to men, while the soft stuff like project management or design go to women.
According to “The most comprehensive analysis ever of the gender of New York Times writers”, only five sections have articles that are mostly written by women: Fashion, Dining, Home, Travel, and Health. According to The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2014 (PDF), men have 3 times as many page 1 quotes in the Times than women do. The Times would do well to improve its own record on diversity before advising others what to do about theirs.
We should not divide software development into men’s work (programming) and women’s work (“manag[ing] projects, market[ing] services and design[ing] products”, as per above). Women are just as capable as men of programming. Men are just as capable as women at project management, marketing, and design. Tech companies need real diversity, not enclaves of women in specific roles in a misguided attempt at diversity.