International Women’s Day 2021

2020 is behind us (thank goodness). But the inequities, questions, and problems women face in the workforce have only intensified. Data abounds that supports the pandemic’s disproportionately adverse effect on women versus men—and the pressure on women is increasing exponentially. Here’s a snapshot of what’s happened over the last year.

  • Women are leaving the workforce in record numbers. They’re primarily managing childcare while their children attend school online. And they often have to make tough choices, like whether to attend a remote work meeting or help their third-grader log into math class—family invariably wins, as it should.
  • Compensation reporting shows the pay gap, which had been closing a bit prior to the pandemic, has now spread farther apart. So women are earning even less for equal work than they were a year ago. We’re regressing.
  • And of course, the problems of the glass ceiling and lack of advancement opportunities for women—compounded by racial inequality—still loom as large as they did when 2020 started. Only now we’re dealing with all of that in a remote work environment.

The tech field has long been an unwelcome place for women—a fact borne out in a 2020 survey of O’Reilly online learning members, where 91% identified as male. O’Reilly historically has bucked that trend; we’ve been fortunate to be a company that hires and promotes women. It was in the DNA of our founder and is a philosophy I uphold today as the company’s president. 43% of our workforce is women—well above average for the tech industry (which is 25%, per CIO). However, our percentage of women in leadership roles at the director level or above is 49%. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made to increase the percentage of our women employees, leaders, and executives.

But if you rest on your laurels, you’re not helping to move the world forward. So when we looked deeply at our statistics, we saw what was missing was diversity among our employees, independent of gender. To face the issue head-on in 2021, we’ve made improving diversity one of our high-level corporate goals.

That goal, as written, isn’t just about our own employee diversity but also about our “talent” diversity. Our mission is to spread the knowledge of innovators. We do that by finding the best and brightest voices on today’s most relevant technical topics and bring them to market through our products and platform. In 2021 we intend to focus on elevating voices from marginalized communities and other groups with talent to share who are underrepresented in our current mix of trainers, writers, and thought leaders. But you can’t improve upon something you haven’t measured, so we went back and reviewed the data. In 2020, 30% of O’Reilly experts identified as members of an underrepresented community. So our goal in 2021 is to advance that number to 40%—a full 10 percentage points higher. More importantly, we’ll be giving people of all backgrounds, genders, races, sexual orientations, and religions an onramp into the world of technology.

We also need to make sure that the diversity of voices within our platform are heard loud and clear. Melissa Duffield, our diversity talent lead, has already been hard at work showcasing the work of our experts. You can explore a playlist celebrating Black History Month here, full of content from some of the brilliant Black innovators we’re fortunate to work with. And for International Women’s Day, this playlist highlights some of the amazing women who’ve presented at recent O’Reilly Superstream events. But we need to continue working hard to be the place where more voices can be heard.

We have work to do to improve diversity within the ranks of our own employees as well. So we’re targeting 40% of our new hires to come from diverse backgrounds or underrepresented communities—and in tech that includes women. We know it will make us a better company to fill our teams with voices that matter and voices that will help ensure our products serve everyone.

We’ll also be reinstating our diversity and inclusion scholarship program, which was established in 2015 to bring people from underrepresented communities to our technology conferences. Now that COVID-19 has stopped those in-person events from happening, we’re transforming our scholarship program to bring the future leaders of tomorrow to our learning platform today—so they can build the skills they need to make a difference in the world. One of the basic levers that has always worked against women in tech is young girls falling out of STEM at an early age. We hope to offset that a bit by hosting 500 scholarships for annual memberships on our platform, which is now inclusive of all of our virtual events. People interested in the new diversity and inclusion scholarship can apply here.

Will we reach all these goals? That remains to be seen. But isn’t that the point? Put your goals out there, make them public, and then measure them regularly. If you wait for perfection you won’t take any of the necessary steps along the way that will get you started. But even if we fail to hit 100%, at least we’ll know how much farther we have to go. It’s working toward change that matters. So we’re putting these goals out there, making them public, and then measuring them in everything we do.

So here’s to the journey, to the desire to get it right, to making a difference, to standing up not just for women but for members of every marginalized community. And to trying to use our platform and our brand for the benefit of everyone who’s doing the best they can to deal with the firestorm of hurt that 2020 threw our way.