The Latin American software engineering gender gap is worse than Silicon Valley’s

Angela Serrano and Vanessa Vargas at one of our internal Bunny Inc. hackathons.

Lee este artículo en español.

hile there has been a lot of talk about gender disparity and discrimination in Silicon Valley, the issue is actually worse in other parts of the world, such as Latin America.

In the United States, the percentage of female computer- and information-science majors stands at 18 percent. In Universidad de Buenos Aires, the largest university in Argentina, the number is ten percent. Universidad Nacional, the largest university in Colombia, comes in even lower at nine percent.

In Silicon Valley, 66 percent of women have felt excluded from key networking opportunities because of their gender, 90 percent have witnessed sexist behavior at conferences and company off-site meetings, 88 percent have had clients and colleagues direct questions to male peers that should have been addressed to them, and 60 percent have fended off unwanted sexual advances. Although a similar survey doesn’t yet exist for Latin America, it’s probably worse — given the continent’s long history of discrimination against women: Latin Americans are the least likely in the world to say women in their countries are treated with respect and dignity.

Right across the socioeconomic spectrum, women earn less than men in Latin America — even at higher education levels. In Mexico, women earn around 20% less than men. In Brazil, 25% less.

Source: Gallup

Why the software engineering gap matters

There are numerous possible explanations for such disparity and discrimination: physiological differences, culture, etc. — even toy marketing. To what extent these issues might have caused, contributed to, exacerbated, and perpetuated the problem is, of course, outside of the scope of this article.

Latin America also has an additional factor that is seldom addressed in Silicon Valley when discussing this topic: religion.

Western men have been discriminating against women for millennia. Christian and Judaic traditions favored men over women in marriage, family law, and education. Men were in power. Wives were expected to be submissive and content to play second fiddle. Higher learning was uncommon for both Christian and Jewish women. Interestingly, during the Middle Ages, there were more educational resources available to Jewish women living in Muslim-controlled lands than in their own. While many Western nations have subsequently secularized their laws, Christian traditions remain the norm in Latin America: the continent is home to the largest Catholic populations on Earth.

While some believe that equal rights and opportunities have somewhat leveled the playing field in recent decades, at Bunny Inc. we believe it will require several decades of additional efforts, even centuries, to remove the negative cultural biases so historically rooted in our society.

As more women get involved in innovation, they will bring different and diverse perspectives that will inevitably result in the creation of better technology. For Latin America in particular, reducing discrimination against women and closing gender gaps will boost living standards and economic prosperity.

How to fix the software engineering gap

Given the roots of our company and that most of our tech team is located in Latin America, we believe that it is our responsibility to help reduce the gender gap in software engineering on the continent as well as globally. Below is a list of the steps we are taking. We are sharing this list for two reasons: we hope to inspire other teams, and get feedback.

1. Publicly sharing our gender stats

While many US-based tech companies such as Google, Amazon, and Apple have published gender-related stats, we couldn’t find any such data for tech companies in Latin America. We believe in transparency. By revealing our gender-related stats, we are pressurizing ourselves to improve them. We invite other companies to do the same. These are our stats:

  • 40% of Bunny Inc. team members are women.
  • 15% of Bunny Inc. team members in technology teams are women (including product, UX research, engineering, and testing).
  • None of the team members of Bunny Inc., whose primary role is software engineering, is a woman.
  • Given our time zone requirements for team collaboration, we only recruit software engineers in the Western Hemisphere. Most of our applicants come from Latin America. In 2016, 22% of candidates for software engineering and product management roles were women.

We will report these numbers periodically, and we will work hard at improving them.

Call to action: If you’d like to join our team, click here.

2. Reaching out to more women

We are trying to increase the percentage of female engineers on our team. Because the percentage of women trained in software engineering is lower than the one we would like to attain for our team, we will have to attract more women to keep the bar high in our application process. We will do this by being even more active in the community and sponsoring more events.

Call to action: If you host physical or virtual events that promote and support women in tech, please let us know in the comments below and we will try to help.

3. Standardizing salaries

By standardizing the salaries for different roles at Bunny Inc., we guarantee all members of our team are paid fairly regardless of their gender.

4. Anonymizing recruiting

Discrimination against women has been alleged in the hiring practices for many occupations, but it is extremely difficult to demonstrate gender-biased hiring. The way many symphony orchestras in the United States started recruiting musicians half a century ago serves as a worthwhile example of how one could test for this.

To overcome possible biases, these symphony orchestras revised their audition policies. They started using blind auditions with a screen to conceal the identity — and gender — of the candidate. In 1970, less than 5% of all musicians in the top five US orchestras were female. Today, over 30% are. Studies have shown that blind auditions increase the probability of women advancing out of certain preliminary rounds by 50%, and the likelihood of female contestants being winners, by considerably more.

You can help

At Bunny Inc., we envision the day when girls and boys aren’t sabotaged by outdated stereotyping, but allowed to succeed on the basis of their personal strengths and potential. The prize will be a better society. All of us will be able to put ourselves to the best possible use.

If you can think of other ways Bunny Inc. can help reduce the gender gap in software engineering, please share them with us in the comments section below. Let’s make work fulfilling for everyone.

Azul, my daughter, proudly displaying the first toy house she ever built.

Thanks to Ana María Díaz, Carel Cronje, Germán González, Luisa Moscoso, Maika Hoekman, Santiago Jaramillo, Tania Zapata, and Vanessa Vargas for reading and commenting on drafts of this article.

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Alexander Torrenegra

Focused on making work fulfilling for everyone. CEO/CTO of Torre. Founder of Tribe, Bunny Studio, Voice123, and Emma. Author of Remoter.