Etsy wants to solve Silicon Valley’s women problem

Woman with futuristic data screen

Woman with futuristic data screenEtsy wants to support at least 10 women to the tune of $5,000 each to come to New York’s Hacker School this summer with an eye toward getting female enrollment up to 50 percent of the class. The New York startup said it would offer up to $50,000 for women who wanted to attend Hacker School but needed financial support to do so. In the post announcing the grants Marc Hedlund, VP of Engineering at Etsy wrote:

I’ve been an engineering manager in the Internet industry for 17 years, in the Bay Area and now in New York City. Throughout that time, I’ve hired hundreds of men from across the country and around the world into fun, creative, lucrative jobs. In sharp contrast, before joining Etsy, I had hired about 20 women in engineering roles, total, and it wasn’t for a lack of effort. Other managers I know have reported similar experiences. When I first heard about Carnegie Mellon’s “Dave-to-girl ratio,” I laughed ruefully but was not surprised.

He explained that Etsy has gone from having three female engineers in his department of 96 people to 11 in the last six months, but it’s still nowhere near balanced. He also acknowledges that the long-term solution to the problem has to start earlier in making math and science attractive to girls. But unlike many in the industry who give up at that point, he’s willing to put some money where his mouth is — to the tune of that $50,000 stipend.

Hacker School is a three-month long retreat to help make people better programmers, and Etsy is hosting it this year. He and the founders have set a goal to accept 20 women into the overall class of 40 with Hacker School retaining full control over the admissions process. That’s a big goal, as he notes, and would be 20 times the number of women in the current batch. It’s going to require folks spreading the word to female programmers, making sure Hacker School is an environment that doesn’t alienate women (or maybe even welcomes them), and the financial support that Etsy is offering.

Will people grumble about this? Hell yes. Will that stop Etsy and Hacker School? I hope not. The lack of women in engineering is a problem, as things like the rise of the brogrammer culture make clear. As Hedlund writes:

Twenty is a small number, but it would roughly match the total number of female engineers I’ve hired in the past 17 years. Even a small change can have a large impact, given the severity of the issue.

I’m glad a New York startup is taking on a problem that many in the original Silicon Valley tech culture seem happy to either ignore or blame on women.

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