Erica Baker never thought she would be recognized for advocating diversity in the tech industry.
Yet on Tuesday, the education nonprofit Level Playing Field Institute did just that, honoring Baker for her efforts to push tech companies to treat all employees fairly. Case in point: A simple spreadsheet that showed her then-employer Google’s unequal pay for women and minorities.
Slack engineer Erica Baker received an award from the Level Playing Field Institute for demanding tech companies to treat employees equally.
Level Playing Field Institute
Earlier this year, she and a few colleagues were on the search giant’s internal social network, talking about salaries. “Bored,” Baker decided to put their salaries in a spreadsheet and posted it to her internal account, for other Googlers to see. “It took off like wildfire,” she said in a tweet in July. More than 2,000 people shared their salaries, revealing a pattern of unequal pay. That data helped people ask for and get equal pay. Managers were not happy, she said.
Since then Baker, now a senior engineer for messaging startup Slack, created Twitter hashtag #RealDiversityNumbers, which urges companies to report things like the number of harassment cases settled out of court, retention and promotions. She also blogs about being a black female engineer working in a male-dominated, mostly white industry. It has led to others telling her similar stories.
“The stories in the tech industry up to that point were all about ping pong, stocked snack rooms and beer kegs — not racism, not sexism and definitely not exclusion,” she said onstage at Level Playing Field’s event, held at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters. “[People] were experiencing huge amounts of stress and pain.”
Tech’s lack of diversity and inclusion has become a major topic. The industry, by its own reporting, is overwhelmingly male and white. On average, women fill about 15 percent of tech jobs in the industry’s largest companies. Minorities fill 27 percent of the leadership positions at Facebook and Yahoo, for instance, and as much as 37 percent at LinkedIn. Last month, a former high-ranking Twitter engineer who is black, publicly questioned that social network’s commitment to diversity. Twitter’s current US workforce is 2 percent African-American and 4 percent Hispanic, and women make up 13 percent of its ranks globally.
Yet on Tuesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told the audience of more than 200 attendees that his company wants to be as diverse as its 320 million global users. “We really need to be reflective of the people that we serve, what their concerns are, how they want to participate in the world, what communities they’re a part of and build tools to make their lives easier,” he said.
The Level Playing Field Institute works to encourage high school students of color to study science, engineering, math and science (STEM). Harrison Harvey, 16, is one of those students. After the event, he said Dorsey gave him words of encouragement.
“He told me to keep my head up and keep doing what I’m doing,” said the Oakland, California, teen, who plans to major in computer science and civil engineering in college.
The gathering occurred nearly a week after prominent venture capitalist Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital said the firm doesn’t have any US-based women VCs because too few women have STEM degrees. Moritz, who was a history major, described it as a “pipeline” issue, was asked during a TV interview why none of his American-based investors is a woman.
“I think it’s really interesting that he doesn’t look at himself in the mirror and say, ‘people took a chance on me, why won’t I turn around and take a chance on someone else who doesn’t have a tech background?'” said Level Playing Field founder Freada Kapor Klein.
“We need to plug all of the leaks in the pipeline and we need to do this ASAP,” she said. “We need to break down all of the bias and barriers so all of the people of color and women with talent and potential can have a fair chance of breaking into tech.”
Dan Garcia, a computer sciences professor at the University of California, Berkeley, agrees. Along with Baker, Garcia was honored for his efforts getting students with diverse backgrounds to study the computer sciences in high school and college. His goal, he said, is to motivate students to be their best.
“I want to say you can do it. You really can — at all levels.”