Despite this article's title, it's about more than just women of color in technology: it's about recruiting and retaining people from underrepresented groups across the board. And that's something extremely important to the success of any technology company.
Why? There are three major reasons.
(1) Diverse groups avoid stupid product mistakes.
This is in literally every sense of the word "diverse:" if you have people from different groups in your team, they'll notice – and you'll prioritize – problems that you never would have spotted otherwise. If your system doesn't work for the deaf and someone on your team is deaf, or if it requires hitting tiny affordances all the time and you have someone with a motion disability, you're never going to ship it that way, and that means more users. If your system has a price structure, or a branding, or a visual style that would never appeal to users outside of Silicon Valley, you'll catch that if people on your team are from a very different world. If women experience a different kind of abuse on your system than men do, then you'll build entirely different protections into your system if there are women in the room when you're making the design decisions.
The key point is that these are just examples: nobody can predict what an extra set of eyeballs, especially different eyeballs, will catch. The one thing that's reliable is that each set of eyeballs – not just working grunt jobs, but in the core decision-making process – means you don't make a mistake that shuts out a bunch of potential customers.
(2) Diversity interrupts groupthink.
It's really easy for a room full of similar people to start to talk in similar ways. Not only do you not make the right decisions, you don't even realize there are decisions that you're implicitly making. More different eyes prevent that.
(3) You get to hire the best people.
People who haven't been in this game very long think "Recruit minorities? You mean lower the bar!" People who have played this for a while hear that and think "Sucker."
The thing about structural racism/sexism/etc. is that a lot of people from the various underrepresented groups don't have the "traditional signifiers" of being good. They won't have gone to the top-tier schools, or they won't have any contacts, or their job history will be so-so. What you quickly learn in engineering, though, is that these signifiers are simply signals that you use when trying to find good people – and overall, as signals, they kind of suck. Terribly.
I've lost count of how many people I've interviewed who came from top-tier schools and had a glowing résumé and couldn't think an independent thought or design a system on their own to save their lives. Top-tier schools don't provide a systematically better education in CS; often, CS departments are so mathematically inclined that students that don't actively go the extra mile come out with a degree in theory and no ability to code. They used to claim that they were "filtering out the best of the best," but in practice, they do a lot of that filtering starting from "people with enough contacts to get in."
Job histories are sometimes useful, sometimes not, especially in an era where so many people end up unable to find a job for months or years at a stretch anyway.
References are great, but they're only a positive signal: the lack of references tells you nothing.
And the important thing is, that unless you're a tiny company hiring a temp, or hiring a senior specialist, you shouldn't be hiring for experience: you should be hiring for brains. You can teach CS; you can't teach smart.
What this means is that among these "underrepresented groups," there are a bunch of smart people out there who, lacking these traditional signifiers, aren't getting the right job offers. And that means smart people that you can hire.
Lots of them. All you have to do is hire them and treat them with respect.
(As a side note: I attended GHC, the biggest annual conference for women in CS last year, for recruiting purposes. The quality of people looking for jobs there was insane
compared to any other CS event.)
But.... if you want to hire and retain these people, you have to make an active effort. This open letter has a bunch of specific suggestions in it which I personally think are all individually excellent: I endorse these ideas wholeheartedly.
(NB: It also makes several statements about how various companies do things. I have it on good authority that several of these statements are incorrect, but I have no personal knowledge either way and so am neither affirming nor negating that part. My endorsement of this letter is about all of the courses of action it favors, which I think are excellent ideas; on the rest, I have no opinion)
I will add: In my groups, people of all genders, races, and backgrounds are not only welcome but actively desired. This is the case now and will continue to be the case in every team I run in the future.
Thanks to +Erica Joy
for pointing me at this great letter.
[DISCLAIMER: I am writing this post in my personal capacity and am not speaking on behalf of Google. I make no assertions as to the truth or falsity of any of the claims of fact made within the letter, nor of any conclusions of law. Those of you who have been in the field for a while know why I have to state this, too]