The Best Tech Companies Know Silicon Valley Isn’t Just White and Male

UPDATED: June 22, 2023
PUBLISHED: November 17, 2015

From the movie The Social Network to the TV series Silicon Valley, pop culture sends a message that the tech industry is for men who wear T-shirts, sneakers and often work in their dorm or basement. And it’s not wrong. The majority of computer scientists are white and male. But in the last few years, tech companies have put major effort into diversifying their workforce and creating a culture of greater inclusion.

This isn’t just about PR or making the hiring process more fair. A diverse workforce means a greater diversity of thought when it comes to problem-solving. It means that you have a much greater chance of understanding the varied needs of your clients. In short, diversity drives innovation. Gone are the days when company executives saw diversity simply as a means toward a positive corporate social responsibility record. Now, the most successful tech companies are building a diverse workforce as a way to gain a competitive advantage and improve their products.

Take some ideas from these four tech companies who are making diversity their competitive edge:


1. Pinterest

In 2013, a Pinterest engineer named Tracy Chou wrote a thought piece titled “Where are the numbers?” that sparked a major conversation about female representation in the tech industry. She exposed the fact that while many technology companies spoke in vague strokes about creating a more female-friendly environment, very few companies openly talked about their actual recruitment initiatives and even less shared demographic data about their engineers. Chou asked why. Pinterest answered, no good reason and this needs to change.

In July, the company launched a groundbreaking initiative to make the conversation about tech’s lack of diversity more open. Pinterest publically shared data on its demographic breakdowns as well as the company’s hiring goals for 2016. It publically set a bold challenge for its recruitment team, implementing a rule that for every open leadership position, at least one interviewed candidate must be a woman and another must be from an underrepresented background. For full-time engineering roles, it is aiming to hire at least 30 percent female candidates and 8 percent candidates from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds. For non-engineering roles, it intends to make sure that at least 12 percent of the people they hire come from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds. What’s most innovative about this initiative is Pinterest’s commitment to full-disclosure: It plans to share what works and what doesn’t in the recruitment process as well as how successful Pinterest is in reaching achieving its hiring goals. By publishing the company’s demographic data, its aims for greater inclusion, its plans to achieve that inclusion and its results, Pinterest is holding itself accountable and daring other tech companies to do the same.


2. Intel

Last January, Intel launched its Diversity in Technology Initiative, an ambitious plan to achieve full representation of women and underrepresented minorities at the company by 2020. Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich, explained that the company’s $300 million investment in this initiative is as much about increasing diversity within Intel as it is calling on the industry as a whole to make a commitment to real change. He continued, “Without a workforce that more closely mirrors the population, we are missing opportunities, including not understanding and designing for our own customers.” In addition to achieving full workforce representation, the initiative aims to grow the pipeline of talent for the industry, invests $125 million in tech startups run by women and other underrepresented minorities, and focuses on increasing the percentage of women working in the gaming industry.

Like Pinterest, Intel is all about opening up the industry by sharing information about its own diversity efforts. In August, the company published a mid-year report that showed comprehensive data on its hiring goals and progress to date. At the time the report was shared, Intel was tracking 43.3 percent diverse hires for the year, which exceeds its goal of 40 percent with months yet to go. It reported that there are more women and African-Americans in leadership positions now than in January. In terms of expanding the tech pipeline, the company created nine partnerships with different organizations from GirlsWhoCode to the Oakland Unified School District and UN women to increase the availability of educational resources and support to underrepresented aspiring engineers. The scope of Intel’s diversity initiative is enormous, and the impact is already great. As it moves forward, Intel plans to increase its efforts bringing STEM education to schools that cater to underserved communities from primary school through college.


3. Toptal

Toptal, the world’s leading network of elite freelance developers, just launched a second mentorship program to follow up its Global Mentors program, this one dedicated to bridging tech’s gender gap. In the last 30 years, the percentage of women in tech has decreased significantly. In the 1980s, almost 40 percent of computer-science graduates were women. Today, that number has dropped to 18 percent.

Toptal’s Scholarships for Female Developers, which the company has just launched, is working to reverse this trend. The company will award 12 aspiring female software engineers with a $5,000 cash prize to help them realize their career goals. The scholarship also includes one year of mentorship with a Toptal developer. By providing this one-on-one guidance in both of its scholarship programs, Toptal is not just giving a one-time investment in the recipient’s potential, it is offering long-term support. Moreover, the program seeks to directly get more women involved in open source by requiring that all applicants make a contribution to an open source project.


4. Etsy

Back in 2011, Etsy made hiring women a core value for the year. Out of the 40 engineers the company hired by December, only one was a woman. CTO Kellan Elliott-McCrea realized that great female engineers weren’t looking to be hired for a variety of reasons. First, everyone wants them, so it is unlikely they are out of a job. Second, if they are looking for a change and see that the only women at your company are in supporting roles, they won’t be attracted to the company. When all of your coders are men, they are going to decide “there’s a decent chance, based on their experience, that your workplace is going to suck.” So Etsy changed its approach.

Instead of looking to recruit senior engineering talent, it turned its focus to investing in junior talent. In 2014, the company pledged $210,000 in Etsy Hacker Grants to Hacker School in 2014, a New York-based programming retreat that provides needs-based living expense grants to female and minority engineers. It also sponsors programs like GirlDevelopIt and invites students from CodeNow to shadow its employees at work. By tackling the gender issue at an earlier stage, Etsy has secured more new female and minority hires and helped to increase the overall supply of well-trained underrepresented engineers entering the industry.

Etsy also fosters conversations about diversity within the company. It invites external speakers to educate engineers about feminism and unconscious bias in the workplace and administers an annual Happiness Survey which measures “the whole ecosystem of relationships within the company, including individual well-being and connections between individuals, not just between the worker and company.” The results speak for themselves: Etsy’s employees’ “personal well-being” score ranked 15 percent above the international average. The evolution of Etsy’s diversity initiative in the last five years teaches tech companies that yes, tech is far behind when it comes to fostering a culture of inclusion, but by launching a comprehensive, early-stage effort to address the issue, companies can see major gains in diversity recruitment and overall employee satisfaction.


The cat is out of the bag when it comes to recognizing that diversity breeds innovation and ultimately improves the end product. These companies are blazing the path with their diversity initiatives, and we can expect that other companies will follow suit. 

Drew Hendricks is a business growth consultant.