What Google Is Doing to Solve Its Gender Problem

Email a Friend
A picture taken on October 17, 2014 in Lille, France shows two figures in front of the Google internet homepage.
From

Note from the New Tech City team: Hello! As you'll hear above, we're renaming our show, and we want your help! OK, on with the regularly scheduled podcasting... 

In 2014, only 30 percent of all Google employees were women. Break the numbers down farther, and only 21 percent of Google executives were female; in technical jobs, only 15 percent.  

The numbers are even worse for African Americans and Hispanics — and not just at Google, but all over the tech industry. Diversity is a big gaping hole for the companies who claim to be solving the world's problems, and it affects user experience of their products for at least half of the planet's population.

So we wanted to go beyond those pretty charts and mea culpas to find out: What are the people ingenious enough to optimize plate size in their company cafeterias actually doing to address the problem baked into our culture?

Laszlo Bock, head of Google's People Operations (aka HR), and author of a new book called "Work Rules," gave us three examples of tactics they've have been trying to shrink the gender gap. We're very curious to see how well the new numbers bear them out. 

1. Unconscious Bias Training. 

Googlers have to go through a training about diversity that starts with optical illusions  two things that look the same, but measured separately, really aren't — and moves on to more concrete workplace scenarios. The idea is, everyone has errors in their judgment. It's not pointing fingers. 

"If you go to somebody and talk about diversity or gender issues, the typical reaction is 'Well, I don't have a problem,' or 'Well, I just disagree.' And then there are a bunch of people in the middle who are like 'Oh my God diversity training? Do I really have to spend time on this?'" Bock says, "If you talk about 'we all have these biases,' it totally short circuits this." 

2. “The nudge.” 

Engineers at Google usually nominate themselves for promotion. Women  surprise, surprise — weren't nominating themselves as often as the men around them. So Alan Eustace, the person who was in charge of engineering at that point, decided to send a little email saying simply, "We've noticed that women aren't nominating themselves and, hey, you should be!"

It worked, Bock says, and way more women got promotions.

"We did that for about three six month periods and then Alan forgot to send the email. And the rates went back down," Bock says.

Just call it nudging, not nagging.

3. Extend family leave.

Women were dropping out of Google at a much higher rate than men were after having a kid. So, Google extended its family leave policy from three months to five months. 

"This is one where we stumbled into it because it's the right thing to do, and we were fortunate to find the data supported us afterward," Bock says... and women who had been leaving at twice the rate of men before the change, started leaving at the same rate as men. The rate dropped by 50 percent."

Another surprise? Paying more for maternity leave saves money. The cost of finding and replacing a good-to-average employee is much, much higher than two extra months of leave for a new parent, Bock says.

Google is, of course, the kind of company that can afford to run tests on happiness at the office. So we want to know: For those of you who work with fewer free snacks, what do you think needs to happen to solve gender issues at the office? Let us know in the comments below. 

Subscribe to New Tech City on iTunes, or on StitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.