Lorena A. Barba group

One step forward, two steps back: the frustration of diversity efforts in STEM


Keynote at PyData London
July 14, 2019

Tech has spent millions of dollars in efforts to diversify workplaces. Despite this, it seems after each spell of progress, a series of retrograde events ensue. Anti-diversity manifestos, backlash to assertive hiring, and sexual misconduct scandals crop up every few months, sucking the air from every board room. This will be a digest of research, recent events, and pointers on women in STEM.

Two years ago, a Google engineer attended a diversity program. He had such an adverse reaction to it, that he proceeded to write a 10-page anti-diversity manifesto that he circulated on internal channels. It later became public, furor ensued, and the engineer was fired. Far from being the end of the story, this engineer played the victim of political correctness and became a darling of conservative media outlets. What happened here? One tech company’s attempts to educate its employees and improve the internal culture mightily backfired and as a result the cause for women in STEM was choked back. While a general sense that moving toward gender parity is desirable (though some still disagree with this premise), what actions to take remains unclear. Diversity trainings have been scarcely evaluated, and when they have, they seem to change awareness but not behavior. Sometimes, they create a backlash. More assertive action, like quotas, engender open resentment. Women in science and technology are underestimated by peers and teachers, pressed by stereotypes, disadvantaged in hiring and career progression, sexually harassed, disheartened as their expertise is ignored…and now they are resented for diversity initiatives. Science and technology needs its leaders to be fully committed to diversity and in frank understanding of the social-justice underpinnings. Two vehicles for change are: men leaders who are allies, and more women in leadership. The recent DataCamp debacle shows that a whole community’s action was needed to right the wrongs of one harasser and one company’s reticence to make him accountable. I aim to elicit your commitments to hire and promote women affirmatively, and to get educated and empower activism with evidence.