The XX Factor

White House Launches a Diversity-in-Tech Initiative Just in Time for #ILookLikeAnEngineer 

“Weird haphazard branding” at your local BART stop.


The Obama administration is joining a larger push to increase diversity in Silicon Valley by targeting a broad array of companies and institutions to help make the tech industry a little less white-male-dominated.

“Just three percent of America’s venture capital-backed startups are led by women, and only around one percent are led by African-Americans,” the White House announcement read. “At present, only about four percent of U.S.-based venture capital investors are women.”

To help improve those numbers, the administration is getting commitments from venture capitalists to invest more in companies run by women and minorities, from companies who are taking steps to improve diversity in hiring, and from public institutions such as governments and schools to think strategically about improving the diversity of people in the pipeline for tech jobs. 

The need for this was driven home this week by a piece in Medium by Isis Wenger, a platform engineer for OneLogin, which is based in San Francisco. Along with three male employees of the company, Wenger posed for recruiting ads that were posted at BART stops. The ads are nothing special, but the fact that Wenger is female (and young and attractive) caused a lot of sexist chatter online. 

“This is some weird haphazard branding. I think they want to appeal to women, but are probably just appealing to dudes,” reads one typical example Wenger pulled off Facebook. “But I’m curious people with brains find this quote remotely plausible and if women in particular buy this image of what a female software engineer looks like.” The widespread nature of this kind of idiotic sexism shows exactly what women in tech are up against. 

In response, Wenger took a photo of herself with the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer

It started trending on Twitter in no time, with female engineers of all stripes posting pictures of themselves. The more people understand that all sorts of people can be techies, the more opportunities will open up for those job seekers who aren’t white men.