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Gusto Went for Women Engineers: How It Worked Out (forbes.com)
43 points by tlb 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

How can they title the article "How It Worked Out" with zero discussion of subsequent performance? This push for diversity is usually justified by a statement that diverse teams automatically produce superior products. Wouldn't they want to at least mention how it's going now that they have improved the team so much?

I've noticed a trend in headlines toward devaluing the word "how". "How X did Y" is really an article that simply states "X did Y", with none of the details you'd expect for a "how" article. It's frustrating because it makes it harder to find the legitimately useful "how" articles.

This seems realistic and fair: a goal tied to the percentage of women in CS and a clear cap on duration from the outset.

Isn't this just treating the symptoms to some extent? Sure there is a gender bias in hiring and salaries for women. But isn't the big elephant in the room the socio-economic and behavior bias created at a young age at homes and schools where gender roles are assigned very early?

Women didn't just drop out of the Software tech force in the 80's. What about all those personal computers marketed and targetted towards young nerds(ugmmmm boys)?

Software needs to be taught at grade level in an interesting way for people to catch on early. Natural biases and inclinations are just random noise unless we as people perpetuate them.

That's why they set their goal based on the proportion of female computer science graduates. If all you hire is CompSci grads, then your hiring proportion matching the graduate proportion is equality, no?

The gender disparity with interest in tech obviously starts from a much younger age, but that's a separate issue to address.

> But isn't the big elephant in the room the socio-economic and behavior bias created at a young age at homes and schools where gender roles are assigned very early?

So yes!

Perhaps a positive feedback loop can be created: as firms consciously hire for diversity, they create economic incentives (for parents and institutions) and role models (for young women) that can begin to change systematic biases.

When a company like Gusto invests in and reaches equal gender representation, does it make it harder for smaller firms to do the same, or does it help more women enter the engineering workforce?

If talented women are being overlooked just because they are women, doesn't it make sense to seek them out and give them an opportunity to reach their potential? If I look at a talent pool and see of those who haven't been hired yet are mediocre men as the best of the men have been hired and enormously talented women who haven't been hired because of sexism in the industry, I'm going to hire the women based on talent.

The problem is that the situation you just described is a fiction. Most engineering divisions hire on talent, irrespective of gender, so the talented woman would have been hired over the mediocre man by the system which pays no attention to gender at all.

I have no way of even beginning to address a comment that claims that we hire on talent. That's just false. Regardless of where you are on the 'women in tech are victims of sexism' dimension, you can't seriously claim that engineering divisions hire on talent. Engineering divisions can't even reliably discern talent.

Perhaps so. But perhaps the talented woman also experienced a hostile or otherwise undesirable work environment and leaves after a short period of time. Or leaves the industry altogether.

And perhaps this perception, true or false, that women need to be handled with kid gloves and will flounce out at the slightest microprovocation is hurting women's chances of being hired.

You said “this perception” then described some very different perception that I don’t hold.

A Baby Bell utilities company lost a court case in the 60s which requires them to hire women in the field. Their argument was that women can't handle the heavy tools. After losing they purchased aluminum ladders to replace the heavy wooden ladders and wrenches with longer handles so they had more leverage being easier to use. A reporter interviewed some of the men about the changes and asked what they thought. One man replied, "Everything is so much easier now. I wish we did this a long time ago."

Edit: I heard this story in the 80s when I was a kid. It may be real or not, but the point is the same. I'm still looking for the FWD: FWD: FWD: but I've never heard it again since the mid 80s.

> A Baby Bell utilities company lost a court case in the 60s

No it didn't; the Baby Bells were created by the 1984 breakup of AT&T.

EDIT: As a sibling post provides details, the error was calling it a "Baby Bell"; the essence of the story, at least the lawsuit itself, is true, but Southern Bell was a pre-breakup Bell Operating Company (an AT&T subsidiary), not a post-breakup Baby Bell. [Errors like pointing to a Baby Bell 20ish years before they existed are often, but as this incident shows not always, signs of folk mythology.]

The case was real, dunno about the new tools part.


Opposite side of the argument - why would this overlooked talent bother to work for someone else (and luck out, or not)?

Also, you may hire based on talent, but still at a discount. Just because you can, and it is profit maximizing!

Personally, I'd rather keep the profits of my extra productivity for myself.

Not everybody wants to be in business for themselves.


The pay gap has been debunked for over a decade by numerous studies. It is hardly even discussed anymore by higher level academics, though obviously this doesn't stop the undergrads, politicians, and mass media from still spewing the false statistics.

The ultimate goal is to allow women to take months or years off but still be pushed upward the same as men who do not take time off, while also subsidizing services used disproportionately by women: universal healthcare, paid daycare, job subsidies and government admin jobs, quotas on senior positions, massive equalization of salaries, free graduate level education, etc. Look to Scandinavia for a clue on what feminism wants to bring to the US.

While Norwegians certainly enjoy great healthcare, have you ever seen any competing startups offering SV or London salaries in Oslo? Guess why? Software engineers don't make a whole lot more than the HR employee or day care workers, especially once taxes are taken into consideration.

From the article, here is the money line:

Gusto also addressed its compensation policy. Since 2016 its salaries have been audited by Mercer, a human resources consulting firm, which has found no gender pay disparity. Benefits include 16 weeks of paid leave for a primary parent, plus an additional $100 a week for groceries and food deliveries, $100 a month for six months of housecleaning and up to $500 for a baby-sleep coach.

How many men do you think are the primary parent at most jobs? They also claim that 16 weeks of paid vacation given to some employees, but not others, means NO gender pay disparity.

> Of course, no one has actually done this. Why is that?

Because the "staff them with only women" part is bright-line illegal, and because if you try to disproportionately attract women by being known for offering sub-scale salaries on the premise that men, with better average alternatives, will just not bother with you, then women won't either, because they'll assume that they'll also get lower salary than they would elsewhere.

Well, the goal isn't to only hire women - you really just want moneyball employees, and since women are discriminated against(per the initial assertion), they will naturally be the ones attracted to it.

Simply offer 89 cents salary for whatever field it is in, and naturally most of the qualified applicants will be women(because what man is going to take an 11 cent pay cut, and what woman wouldn't take a 12 cent pay raise?)

> Simply offer 89 cents salary for whatever field it is in, and naturally most of the qualified applicants will be women

No, because if there is pervasive wage discrimination in the industry, then women will already be factoring that known discrepancy in when reading job listings and claimed salary ranges. They'll just assume that you are paying 89% of the average pay in the industry, with the usual 23% discount for being female.

So you're saying that when women read a job description that says the salary is $100k, they actually assume it will only be $77k?

I'm not saying the 77% thing is accurate. I'm saying that if it was accurate in the sense your proposal tries to exploit (and, which you seek to suggest disproves the 77% thing because no one has done it), the natural consequence would be women discounting claimed salary ranges that way, since that would be both the learned experience of working women and the transferred knowledge from them to career-entering women, and that this would render the exploit non-functional. You'd need a way to signal that this is the actual salary women would get, and also the actual salary men would get, and get that message believed in a world where everyone else was claiming to offer equal salary for equal work while paying women 23% less.

Your statement indicates you don’t understand the issue; women make less money than men overall.

It’s not about same job pay (4% difference there), it’s about the glass ceiling. Women are less likely to get promoted to higher paying positions and because of that are defacto less qualified.

So there can be an unfair pay gap without an obvious arbitrage situation.

If you have a woman who is a level X, and the only reason that she isn't at X+1 is because she is a woman, then hiring her would be a great opportunity if your company doesn't have a glass ceiling.

And I do understand the issue - at least more than you give me credit for. If you see in my original post, I explicitly mention that these people are equivalently qualified.

People abuse the 77 cents on the dollar figure to say that equivalent employees get paid less if they are women, which is what I was trying to call out with my post.

In that case I agree, the initial hypothetical is wrong because it isn't about same job/position pay, it is about likelihood to get promoted to a higher paying position. It is about women being stuck in the same position, while men are more likely to get to the next level.

From my reading of your post, it appeared you were arguing that the pay gap wasn't a thing at all. It is a common talking point, which is the reason for my (and maybe others) confusion. Anyway it seems it was a bad reading on my part.

Unfortunately, the language we're using is a bit too loose to be accurate. Equivalently qualified isn't a stand in for equivalently competent. If women are less likely to get promoted, they therefore are less likely to have as many qualifications as men.

This is an externality you would have to deal with, it would lead you to actually pick less qualified women to hire into promotions because there's a higher chance that they were passed over in favor of a man.

> If you have a woman who is a level X, and the only reason that she isn't at X+1 is because she is a woman, then hiring her would be a great opportunity if your company doesn't have a glass ceiling.

Uhh, yes, but your company probably does have a glass ceiling even if you are unaware of it and don’t want it.

Yes, it is a societal force, not something that you can change with an HR policy. In fact it is a law in most western democracies that you don't discriminate against women and minorities. This doesn't mean that those people aren't still vulnerable to discrimination.

Probably because women make pretty much the same (within around 7%) for the same work: http://freakonomics.com/podcast/what-can-uber-teach-us-about... ?

It is interesting that if a firm hires a woman and she can't get hired at another firm because they have sexist hiring practices, she will not have leverage to negotiate a higher salary at either firm. In terms of pure market forces, it makes sense for firms to seek out women like in this article. They get more talented employees and they get to pay them less, not because they are sexist, but because of market forces with their competition being sexist. (Please note I'm talking about this purely objective. I want a world where women get equal pay for equal work.) Of course, it is a monkey see monkey do world so once hiring women gains traction and companies that do are more competitive than those that don't, their salaries will equalize.

Also perhaps because pay gaps tend to be much more subtle and propagate themselves through similarly subtle mechanisms s opposed to, "we pay men more than women!" policies. Doesn't make them less real or deleterious, but does make them harder to get rid of.

Does it make them harder to detect?

Yes. See the arguments above and surrounding this discussion about things like "how big is the pay gap, actually" and "what metric do we even use to define the pay gap".

There are two distinct opinions on this "fact" of unequal pay, I was curious to know if a person who noted subtlety in discrimination also had difficulty identifying cases of it - in my experience, typically there's no difficulty whatsoever in them seeing it, only in them being able to get others to see what they see so clearly.

A wise person would just stay out of these discussions. ;)

Actually reminds me of many practices in the industrial age. Women and children were cheaper.

Most of the jobs in the industrial age were powered by human labor. Women and children are weaker, and thus, would tend to earn less.

Old men probably didn't earn as much as the 20 year olds at the shipyard or meat packing plant, either.

I have said before that we need the equivalent of a Rooney Rule for tech. I don't know if this constitutes that.

Paying attention to how things are worded is a good first step. It fits with my experience of using less exclusionary language instead of intentionally inclusionary language. But the article fails to paint a compelling portrait of a company that genuinely has it figured out. It is not possible for me to determine if this is a defect in the writing or an indicator that they are running an experiment and don't actually know what they are doing with some kind of confidence (in the statistical sense).


It's one thing to hire. Let's check back in three years and see how many have stuck around.

I would think that having a lot of female engineers would help both hiring and retention of female engineers

Probably more important, with retention, are working conditions. If a company has a high turnover rate, women aren't going to stick around just because they're 20% instead of 10%.

Anectodally, women may be less likely to switch jobs if they’re satisfied with their work environment.

...isn't that pretty obvious (and universal)?

Not necessarily. For example I am happy in my current job (it is, without a doubt, the best job I have ever had) but don't get paid anywhere near what I would like to so am actively looking for new work. If rdlecler1's anecdote is true a woman would be more likely to stay and only start looking to leave once the job starts making her unhappy.

> Initial steps included writing job descriptions that avoided masculine phrases like "Ninja rock star coder."

When my fellow male engineers see that in a job ad, they avoid it like the plague.

> Now that 17 of Gusto's 70 engineers are female.

After a focused campaign to hiring women, Gusto's results are nowhere near 50/50. And they had to go out of their way to hire women and focus resources to attracting women.

The male engineers at Gusto were no doubt happy to see diversity, especially since Gusto did not drop their standards just because an applicant is female.

Not so much "masculine" as juvenile.

Both those terms are often accurate and frankly they're correlated.

That's an extreme (because it makes it obvious) example — but the point is more broadly applicable. Leaving that one out attracts a more diverse set of applicants, like your fellow engineers, and more women. If you go the rock star route, you attract a very narrow band of person.

There's even more subtle phrasing in developer job postings that attracts men and discourages women, though. Even something as benign as "quarterly company retreats in the mountains" might discourage parents, probably women more than men.

Yes. It's pretty much always a sign that they don't understand engineering and it's more like a Kindergarten that discovered putting together code constructs makes lights blink.

Gusto's results are nowhere near 50/50


It's unrealistic to expect a 50/50 distribution in the workforce when it's 80/20 in the academia.

Hey, they aren't even at 80/20 after all the hard work. A lot of women feel that it should be 50/50 since more than half of the population if female, so I was addressing that sentiment.

Do you think that 50% of boilermakers should be female? Should 50% of welders be female? Mechanics? Oil rig workers? We should probably be pretty upset that only 2% of dental hygienists are men as well, right?


I think cultural change when enforced by laws, while quicker on the surface, results in a lot of resentment. The discrimination becomes stronger and more difficult to detect.

Businesses should be free to hire who they want.

I'd love to see more female mechanics, electricians, carpenters and plumbers. In the US at least, those are well paying jobs.

And yes, more males should consider nursing and dental hygiene. Those are well paying jobs as well. Female nurses see and do some incredible things on a daily basis that any male would have no trouble respecting and admiring.

I (male) had a online coding challenge with a woman engineer from Gusto. I could literally feel her disinterest through the phone. Now I understand why.

[My previous comment confused Zenefits with Zenpayroll, and i've removed it to avoid further confusing the issue]

You're referring to Zenefits. Gusto was originally ZenPayroll. The Article mentions it "At the outset Gusto even had a similar name, ZenPayroll, which it changed in 2015 when it started offering a more complete selection of employee-tracking software."

thank you for correcting me!

> Gusto's women-only recruiting effort lasted six months. It stopped, Kim says, because "we exceeded our goals." In 2015 Gusto was trying to hit 18% women engineers, the proportion majoring in computer science as undergraduates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and it reached 21%.

This is a bit disappointing. It reminds me of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's answer to "how many women on the Supreme Court would be enough?"

"When there are nine."

Men have been in a position of disproportionate power for so long it's unimaginable to be on the other end of the spectrum, but shooting for 18% representation of women will only uphold the current gender iniquities.

They should have aimed higher.

Aiming for a 50/50 split is unreasonable until the entire pipeline is evenly 50/50 split which is unreasonable because it will eventually boil down to birth rates which skews male [0].

Imagine you run a pet clinic in a town of 5,125 people. Population: 2,500 women and 2,625 men. Of those 5,125 people - six of them have gone to school and became veterinarians. You're looking to hire four veterinarians to staff your pet clinic. You'd like to equally hire two men and two women. Five of the six local graduates are female and the only male graduate doesn't meet the qualifications you are looking for. You cannot afford or cannot find two male veterinarians who are willing to relocate to your small town and work at your clinic. In the end, you hire an entire female staff. Not because you're sexist - but because you simply can't. You don't have the funds necessary to bribe two men to move to a small town to work for your pet clinic.

[0] http://www.searo.who.int/entity/health_situation_trends/data...

If they hired more than the proportion with which they were graduating or even available at, that would not make any sense whatsoever, and might not even be numerically possible...

They state in the article that they exceeded it.

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