If you’ve heard about the tech industry’s diversity problems, you’ve probably also heard about the narrow “talent pipeline.” That’s the name given to the supposed lack of qualified diverse candidates, which tech leaders plaintively invoke as a reason why Silicon Valley’s diversity numbers haven’t budged much lately and to explain why pay parity is also still far from reality.
But we know from several reports that the problem isn’t the pipeline. It’s rooted in unconscious biases that are threaded throughout employers’ recruiting, hiring, and retention efforts, all of which, to be fair, are manifestly difficult to unravel.
While tech companies busy themselves with unraveling those, however, they may be able to start widening their talent pipelines just by changing the way they look at candidates. Recently, HackerRank, a startup that helps companies find qualified developers by testing global tech workers’ coding skills–rather than rely on academic pedigree–set out to identify the world’s most talented female developers. Nearly a quarter (24%) of the developers in HackerRank’s own dataset of over 2 million coders, as of 2016, are female. The country with the highest proportion of women coders testing their chops on the platform is India (22.9%), compared with the U.S. at 14.8%. At the bottom is Chile, where fewer than 3% of the country’s developers using HackerRank are women.
The platform’s analysts are quick to point out that more doesn’t always equal better. India may have the biggest representation of women, but the country placed 18th overall on algorithms tests. Russia’s female developers, who account for just 7.8% of Russian coders on the platform, ranked number one on algorithms tests. Following just behind Russia are Italy and Poland. Women codes in U.S. come in at 14 out of the top 20.
CEO and cofounder of HackerRank Vivek Ravisankar tells Fast Company that while it’s tough to say why some countries have more high performers than others, there is one discernible trend: The nations at the top tend to foster stronger coding cultures for kids.
“Last year, for instance, we highlighted a story on these amazing three teen sisters from a European country who won third place in one of our coding competitions,” he explains, pointing out that the youngest was only 11 years old. China also inculcates coding skills in teens, says Ravisankar. “They even host national programming contests for young programmers, like NOIp [the National Olympiad in Informatics] in provinces.”
What’s the takeaway for U.S. tech companies still struggling with diversity issues? For one thing, it means getting past the notion that the diverse talent is in short supply–it may just be that they’re stuck looking in the usual places and measuring talent by scholarship rather than proven skill. And for another, says Ravisankar, it means “encouraging young people early on.” That way, he believes, “we can start to chip away at the gender stereotypes and biases ingrained in the male-dominated programming culture”–in Silicon Valley and far beyond it.