The technology industry still has a long way to go when it comes to having a gender-diverse workforce, especially in technical and leadership positions. In August, GigaOm published a report on diversity at major tech companies. Women in tech ranged from 10 percent (at Twitter) to 24 percent (at eBay). At Redfin, we’re proud to report that 25 percent of employees in technical positions are female, including our chief technology officer, Bridget Frey. But there’s room for improvement, and we’re trying to grow that number. (Shameless plug: have you checked our job openings recently?)
Bridget answered some common questions she receives when participating in panels and talking with women interested in getting into technology.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to young women looking to get into the technology field?
My advice applies to all recent grads. First, find great people to work with. Then take whatever projects that come your way and run with them. Often the most rewarding projects appear boring or even impossible at first. While college is often about learning how to learn and getting a wide breadth of knowledge, now is the time to go deep. Master the details, but keep the big picture in mind. Make sure you understand how your company makes money, because that’s usually what drives decision-making.
What are your thoughts on the gender imbalance in technology?
I love that there are efforts to try to improve the numbers every step of the way. Toy companies are getting better at creating engineering and building toys that appeal to boys and girls. Programs like the ADA Developers Academy give mid-career women a way to learn the craft of software development. Companies are offering unconscious bias training to all employees. The number of women in tech is small at every point in the funnel, so we need to focus on getting more women from each step to the next one.
You’ve been working in this field for 20 years. Have you seen an attitude shift regarding women in the industry?
Twenty years ago there just wasn’t enough data on women in tech and there weren’t enough places to discuss the issues women in tech face. Without data and conversation, it’s really difficult to tell whether something that happened to a female engineer was an isolated event or part of a wider pattern of discrimination. Over the last few years, I’ve seen an increase in tech women who are using social media to find each other and compare notes. We’re sharing data about things like unconscious bias and pay gaps. Tracy Chou from Pinterest started a project to share the percentage of women in software development roles at small and mid-size companies. Bigger companies like Facebook and Google jumped in to share their data as well. Now female engineers have a sense of community and feel more empowered to speak up.
Have you ever felt that being a female put you at a disadvantage?
Many stories about the challenges for women in technology resonate with me, in the sense that I’ve experienced similar situations in my own career, but it’s difficult or impossible to prove that these things happened because I’m female. For example, earlier in my career, I’d frequently find myself in situations where I met male engineers and they seemed to assume I wasn’t technical. They’d launch into detailed technical conversations with my male coworkers but avoid using technical terms with me, or they’d ask me if I was in marketing or sales. I realized that, when meeting new people, I needed to quickly establish myself as technical, either by using industry jargon or talking about my work as a developer.
What are the biggest concerns or discussions happening right now regarding women in technology? Are there any issues you think should be getting more attention?
I’m very interested in how we can involve men in making the workplace better for women. The Harvard Business Review just issued a report on why some men pretend to work 80-hour weeks. The report found that some men are afraid to ask for time off for their family (because other men who did were penalized), so they devised ways to appear to be on-the-clock. Ending this practice would make things better for everyone, not just women. I’m also interested in research that suggests that diversity is good for business. Catalyst issued a report showing that Fortune 500 companies with more women on their boards outperformed companies with fewer. And I think the tech industry could do more to drive other kinds of diversity beyond gender and race, to include breadth-of-life experiences.
What can industry leaders do to create a supportive environment for women in technology?
Executives should create a forum where employees can discuss how to make the industry and the company better for women. Redfin’s Women in Technology group discusses ideas and interesting articles on a Slack channel and in person, and we’ve generated a number of ideas for how to make Redfin an even better place for female engineers.
What does the future hold for women in technology?
I think we’re going to see a few companies emerge as especially great places for female engineers. Talent is scarce, so these companies will have a competitive advantage in recruiting, and that will drive other companies to adopt female- and family-friendly policies.
What advice would you give to a woman who has faced discrimination or feels she hasn’t been taken seriously?
There are a lot of job opportunities out there for people with technical skills, so if you’re facing discrimination, you shouldn’t feel like you have to stay in that situation. Find a company that prioritizes diversity and seek out a group of people who you love to work with on a day-to-day basis.
Many young women might feel hesitant to enter the technology field because of the gender imbalance. What would you say to those women?
Technology is continuing to change our society and our culture. It affects how we educate our children, how we find our homes, how we eat and how we talk to one another. Women need to be a driving force behind these complex changes. If you’re interested in technology, please don’t let the gender imbalance alone keep you away from the field. There’s just too much at stake.
You’re the CTO of Redfin and you’re a mother. Young women often are concerned about moving ahead with careers because they think they have to sacrifice family to be successful. What are your thoughts?
Many people talk about the need to balance family and career, but for me it’s been about learning to accept all the little imbalances. Sometimes I just can’t be in two places at the same time and something has to give. I’ve had to learn how to make those trade offs, how to stay organized, and how to ask other people for help when I need it. I’ve arranged my schedule so I can get my kids ready for school every day and spend several hours with them every night from dinner through bedtime. I have to be really, really efficient with my time to make everything work out, but generally it does.
Why is it so important to recruit and retain females in technology leadership positions and engineering?
Teams that are more diverse need to work harder at collaborating and making sure everyone’s voice is heard, which leads to more ideas, more careful consideration of the options, and, hopefully, better products. For example, when we were working on Redfin Shared Search, it was common for someone in a design review to say, “Well, my husband would probably want it to work this way,” or “My partner sifts through every house, and then shares the best ones with me to get my feedback.” If we had only single males working on the project, I imagine it would have been harder to make sure we were considering all of the possible use cases.
You can catch Bridget at the ARA Seattle Women in Business & Tech event June 4 at Redfin headquarters, where she’ll discuss attracting, retaining and advancing women in technology. By the way, did I mention we’re hiring?