Towards the end of last year, I looked at a study of why there were so few women working in the technology industry. It painted a rather bleak picture, whereby not only were fewer women entering the tech professions, but they were also leaving it at a much faster rate than their male colleagues. It concluded by suggesting that a lack of female role models was a major reason for the exodus.
Suffice to say, this isn’t just a moral issue, but a performance one too, so it is perhaps not surprising that Y Combinator have added their weight to the issue. The prestigious Silicon Valley startup accelerator recently released its assessment of the diversity within the companies it has invested in, and the picture painted is not a strong one.
It revealed that despite the attempts by the industry to bring more diversity into the talent pool, there is still a massive underrepresentation of women, Latinos and blacks in the industry. The report suggests that even if the industry recruited or funded all of the minority candidates that apply, it will remain primarily white and male simply because the pipeline is not generating enough applications from minority backgrounds.
Diversity in the Start-up Community
When the company analysed the pool of companies they personally have backed over the years, it revealed that only 12 percent of applicants for funding were female, 3 percent were black and 3 percent were Hispanic.
"The good news is that there is no disadvantage to applying to YC as a female or minority founder," the company says. "The bad news, of course, is that applicant percentages are low relative to the entire population."
It comes at a time when the big companies are attempting to change things. Recently, for instance, Intel announced that they were investing $300 million in order to increase the diversity in their workforce by 2020. The likes of Facebook and Google have also pledged to do likewise.
On the surface, however, Y Combinator should be leading the way. After all, they have four women on their executive team, and yet their results show that they still struggle to attract a diverse group of companies to invest in.
"You cannot change the pool of your applicants," said rival accelerator Plug and Play in Sunnyvale. "You can only deal with who comes through the door."
I’ve written previously about the challenges in getting women to sign up for STEM related subjects at school and university. This report suggests that this is feeding through into the number of start-ups founded by women in Silicon Valley.
On the positive side, there are signs of progress being made. YC reveal that their most recent round of start-ups saw an increase in the number of women involved, with around 24 percent of applicants being female. These include companies such as Wevorce, a tech platform that offers help in facilitating divorces that was created by Michelle Crosby, and Move Loot, which aims to help users store and deliver used furniture, which has two women on its leadership team.
The report does reveal the lengthy road ahead of us however if the tech industry is to be more representative and attract more female and minority entrepreneurs.