Silicon Valley Turns To An Algorithm To Fix Its Diversity Problem

Unfortunately, it doesn't get to the root of the problem.

In Silicon Valley, the algorithm is seen as a magic bullet that can fix almost anything. Now one company is banking on an algorithm to fix the industry's dearth of women and minorities in tech.

Entelo, which helps high-profile tech companies like Yelp and Facebook with recruiting, has launched a new product, Entelo Diversity. For $10,000 a year, organizations can target certain groups, like women, black men, or "old" people, with certain skills for job openings using Entelo's "proprietary algorithm."

Entelo assures that its technology won't lead to reverse discrimination, especially given the recent Supreme Court affirmative action ruling. "I'm sensitive to that," Entelo's CEO Jon Bischke told The Wall Street Journal. "But there's active discrimination going on today and we hope this will mitigate that." The technology claims to sift through already qualified candidates, assuring no "token" hires.

The algorithm is trying to tackle a very real problem in the tech world. Entelo developed the software as a direct response to technology companies with male-dominated engineering teams that wanted to hire more women and minorities. Surely targeting qualified people in this group will help companies that can afford the service increase diversity on their teams.

Unfortunately, the algorithm does nothing about the social issues behind the hiring imbalances. Silicon Valley's discrimination problems run too deep. Women often don't "qualify" for jobs because fewer women pursue careers and training in math and science. Multiple studies have shown that women drop out of STEM fields because of cultural, not innate, reasons.

And even the women who do have all the relevant training often feel unwelcome in tech companies' male dominated environments because of known sexism, harassment, and discrimination. Quit rates for women hover around 50% for science, technology, and engineering jobs, according to The New York Times. Even if technology companies aren't overly hostile to women and minorities, the "bro" culture can turn off any people who might not fit into that paradigm.

Silicon Valley often turns to technology to fix the world's problems. Issues like poverty, discrimination, education, and politics have proven too complicated for something as cut and dry as an algorithm. Ashe Dryden, a programmer who now consults on increasing diversity in technology, described the current situation for women in tech as "a thousand tiny paper cuts." A computer program that finds more "qualified" women might act as a band-aid for one of those cuts. But it's just that.

[Image: Flickr user Platon Terentev]

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  • While I admire the spirit of the Entelo Diversity tool, I think it is just that: a tool. Until technology companies cultivate an interest in diversity from the top of the organization down to the rank and file employees, no tool will make a difference. Applications like the Entelo Diversity tool will go unused until we can mobilize diverse technology leaders and put into place policies and processes that make the technology sector inclusive and safe for everyone.

    Anjuan Simmons

  • Thanks for your piece Rebecca. One correction to make. The Entelo Diversity tool does not allow searches by age. Also, while you can search people who are African American using the tool, you cannot specify African American men.

    I've followed you on Twitter so feel free to DM me if you have any additional questions.