Two brilliant computer scientists, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, founded Google. When they first set up Google’s hiring algorithm, they prioritized it to sort for those candidates who were the top computer scientists reigning from the top computer science universities. At the time, they believed running the best technology company required the best technologists.
It turns out, they now admit, they were DEAD. WRONG.
So why do I care about Silicon Valley hiring algorithms? Because out here in sunny, tech-obsessed California, girls’ leadership often equals STEM (Science. Technology. Engineering. Math). Many parents look to STEM as the singular solution to the gnarly and complex problem of getting their girls into leadership positions, and this view always seemed limiting to me. Brin and Page seem to agree now.
Google’s study, called Project Oxygen, analyzed all their hiring data since 1998. To their surprise, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM skills came in…last.
Instead, those succeeding in technology (or at least at Google) were those that succeeded in:
- Being a good coach
- Communicating and listening well
- Possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view)
- Having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues
- Being a good critical thinker and problem solver
- Being able to make connections across complex ideas
Google quickly followed up with a second study in 2017, called Project Aristotle, to analyze which of their teams were likely to come up with the most innovative ideas. Again, it wasn’t their A-Teams, loaded with the best scientists, who came up with the best and most important ideas. Those came from the B-teams. Project Aristotle has validated other studies proving the key to the highest performing teams is people being heard.
Google’s highest performing teams ensured:
- Emotional safety/No bullying
- Curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates
- Emotional Intelligence
Having more diverse teams in tech will ensure technology is both exceptional and meets diverse needs. For example, if you have an iPhone, you have the iOS Health App installed. It tracks everything you'd want, relating to your health, except an important one. The development team forgot all about fertility/period tracking on release. After a massive outcry and a mad scramble, the team included it in the next iOS update.
You need not be a computer scientist to catch that mistake.
I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here.
Yes, there are great benefits to helping girls see STEM is wide open to them if they embrace this field. This allows more choices to our girls and can only help to close the technology gap. Coding can also help girls learn how to overcome their fear of failure. Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, cites how young girls are often paralyzed in her after-school coding classes for fear of making a mistake. I agree when she insists that coding forces girls to get comfortable with trial and error because often, coding doesn't work out correctly the first time. But we shouldn’t have to force our girls to code.
Succumbing to the STEM mania, I once felt compelled to ask my daughter why she didn’t want to take coding as an elective in school. She informed me she didn’t “see the point or importance in telling a computer what to do.” When I explained this ability would give her control over computers and make them bend to her will, she looked at me in disbelief and schooled me, “Mom, if I want to design an app, I’ll design it and hire someone else to code it.”
Am I the lone voice in my daughter’s ears telling her it’s okay if she doesn’t want to pursue an interest in STEM? A few months ago, a mother suggested we should enroll our daughters together in a coding class. When I told her my girl didn’t enjoy coding, she replied with, “That’s not the point. She needs it to succeed and to get into college.”
My heart broke when she told me she is encouraging her daughter to master computer science and to indicate this as her chosen field to stand out in college admissions. It doesn’t matter if her daughter likes it or not. What matters is there aren’t as many female computer science majors and, therefore, she’ll be a shoe-in to a college of her choice.
I feel profound grief knowing she is right.
My son was on a college tour last month at a very competitive school. After receiving a question about how hard it is to get in, the admissions director informed the group with a shrug, “if you are a male interested in health care or a female interested in computer science we’ll accept you in a heartbeat.”
But I refuse to trade my daughter’s soul just to get her into an elite college.
In fact, a new study shows that female STEM majors are more popular in countries where there is LESS equality such as Algeria, Tunisia, Albania and the United Arab Emirates. When Wendy Williams, founder and director of the Cornell Institute for Women in Science, was asked to comment on these findings, she wrote that “If girls expect they can ‘live a good life’ then girls will choose to pursue what they are best at—which could be STEM, or it could be law or psychology.” She added, “However, if the environment offers limited options, and the best ones are in STEM, girls focus there…[these] findings deservedly complicate the simplistic narrative that sex differences in STEM careers are the result of societal gender biases.”
What buoyed me about the two Google studies is the majors and interests women lean toward, are now being appreciated by technology companies as the key to success in technology.
Besides making good business sense, I hope this revelation will also help dispel the bias plaguing Google’s engineers and the greater tech world which reads: if you aren’t a technologist, you deserve less pay and lower positions because you couldn’t possibly contribute to the company at the highest level.
A data run company is finally looking at its own statistics and, not surprising; Google is now expanding their algorithm to include more liberal arts majors from a diversity of schools. It is dawning on them that to be an innovative tech company, they need to lure the most innovative employees: those who listen, are empathetic and think critically regardless of their gender or focus of study.
We need to tackle the technology gap from many different angles, not just one.