Will the Pipeline Really Bridge the Gender Gap in Tech?

The “gender gap,” or disproportionality of men to women in technical professions, is always a common thread in Silicon Valley.

Despite the rise of tech idols such as Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!, Silicon Valley is still largely seen as a man's world. The American Association of University Women reports that:

  • Women made up only 26% of computing professionals in 2013 (which hasn’t moved the needle since the 1960s)
  • Women made up only 12% of engineers in 2013

Universities, coding bootcamps, and primary education have been working hard to encourage girls to become interested in math and science at an earlier age. The idea is that more of these female students will decide to major in a STEM field, resulting in a more diverse workforce with a narrower gender gap in a few years.  This is the concept of the “pipeline”, or fixing tech gender representation by funneling a more diverse student group into tech companies.


Hackathon Hackers, with over 18,000 members, is the largest group on Facebook dedicated to attendees of Hackathons. Why? Because the best student programmers attend hackathons, and Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the rest are jockeying to employ them. Thus, this Facebook group is the best compilation of data on the active involvement of the tech pipeline. How gender is represented in this group will foretell how gender is represented in the tech industry in 3-8 years when these students graduate and go to work.

Megan Ruthven analyzed every post and comment since the birth of the Hackathon Hackers group to answer these.

To do this, she wrote code in python that analyzed all the pronouns in all the posts for male or female representation. For example, a post containing he, his, nephew, Dad, or brother would be male representative. A post containing she, her, niece, Mom, or sister would be female representative. The idea is that if a girl joins the group and sees only posts saying things like, “My brother just got hired at Apple because he and his bros made an awesome app,” then they might think this group was not for them. This measures not just female attendance in tech, but active participation. The results? The pipeline is no cure-all.


Q 1) Are Hackathon Hackers gender representation percentages better than industry?

Ruthven found that of all posts that contained gendered words, such as bro or she, only 13.7% contained female pronouns. To compare this to female representation in tech companies: 18% of Groupon’s tech workers are female, while Apple clocks in at 22% and Facebook at 16%. Hackathon Hackers, a snapshot of the tech pipeline, actually has a larger gender gap in their posts than tech companies today.


Q 2) Has gender representation changed over time in Hackathon Hackers?

Ruthven took a three month average of female representative posts and found that there was actually no trend up or down. Which means that the amount of content that represents women posted in the group isn’t getting worse, but not better either.

So what does this mean for the tech pipeline and the future for the gender gap in tech? Although many authorities have faith in the tech pipeline bridging the gender gap in tech, because the numbers of women enrolled in technical degrees has risen, data from the largest Facebook group representing the pipeline has shown otherwise.


How should the gender gap in the tech industry be addressed if the pipeline isn’t improving? Read the full story by Megan Ruthven here.