Facebook now has a fill-in-the-blank gender option

Facebook has taken another step towards embracing gender diversity. Along with its 58 gender options, users can now write in their own answers. The AP reports that Facebook released the news with the statement, “Now, if you do not identify with the pre-populated list of gender identities, you are able to add your own.”

Although the development is a positive one, why did it take so long? Facebook could have added the fill in the blank option exactly one year ago, when it first expanded its gender options. At that point it went from offering users just “male” and “female” to a host of other choices like queer, trans, and intersex. The company also allowed people to start choosing the pronoun they wish to be used — he, she, or they.

Facebook has had a turbulent year with gender identity issues. When it started deleting profiles with fake names in September, it eliminated many drag queen profiles and profiles of people who identify by different terms their given birth name. As a result, Facebook singlehandedly empowered newcomer Ello to rise to prominence — those unhappy with Facebook’s actions moved there. Facebook quickly backtracked and its Chief Product Office Chris Cox released a public apology about what had happened.

With today’s news about an added fill-in-the-blank option, it appears Facebook has continued to research and learn about gender diversity. The news comes the same week we saw a sneak peak of Apple’s new diverse emojis representing people of different ethnicities, another mostly positive development that should’ve happened a long time ago.

Survey says: female CIOs make inroads

After all the news about a scarcity of women in the top management of companies (and in the ranks of engineers), here’s a bright spot: Half of the CIOs of Fortune 10 companies are women, according to a new survey by Boardroom Insider.

Yep, the top tech guru at Wal-Mart, ExxonMobil, Ford, GE and ValeroEnergy is female. Another less impressive finding: 17.4 percent of all Fortune 500 companies have female CIOs.

CIO Journal (paywall) picked up the story and also pointed out that five of the top 15 tech companies in Silicon Valley (ranked by 2014 sales) also have female CIOs. They are [company]Intel[/company], [company]Cisco[/company], [company]Gilead Sciences[/company], [company]NetApp[/company], and [company]Symantec[/company].

It’s unclear if Boardroom Insider compiled the same numbers last year, but I’ve reached out to them and will update this as required. But even these numbers in isolation are interesting. For one thing, IT has been historically a male-dominated environment and if the top IT person at some of the biggest companies in the world is a woman, that might encourage other companies to open up their executive searches to a more diverse set of candidates.

Now, if you want to look at the tippy-top execs at companies, 4.7 percent of the CEOs at S&P 500 companies are women, according to new numbers compiled by Catalyst, an advocacy group working to expand business opportunities for women.

Of those 23 CEOs, a handful are in tech: Safra Catz of [company]Oracle[/company] (who shares the title with Mark Hurd); Ursula Burns of [company]Xerox[/company]; Meg Whitman of [company]HP[/company]; Ginni Rometty of [company]IBM[/company]; Marissa Mayer of [company]Yahoo[/company] and Maggie Wilderotter of [company]Frontier Communications[/company].

For a broader look at stats of overall diversity in tech companies,  check out Gigaom’s roundup from August. Here’s a sneak peek:





Y Combinator analyzed its data to figure out whether it’s discriminating

Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s most popular business accelerator program for startups, released data to show it’s not discriminating against women, Hispanic and black founders when choosing what to fund.

It sampled 5 percent of its Winter 2015 applicants to find out their gender and ethnicity. It then compared the demographic statistics to the percentage of companies it funds.

YC found that it funds a comparable percentage of diverse companies to the applications it receives. The numbers aren’t 100 percent bulletproof, of course, since YC didn’t disclose how it drew its random 5 percent sample to represent its application demographics.

However, the accelerator should be commended for making the effort to check its funding tendencies at all and share the data publicly. Almost all of Silicon Valley’s big tech companies have diversity problems, which we compared using visualizations in August.

Here’s the numbers from YC’s blog:

11.8% of the founders who applied were women and around 3% percent of the founders were either Black or Hispanic.

Of the founders we funded in our most recent batch, 11.1% of the founders are women (about 23% of the startups have one or more female founders), 3.7% of the founders are Hispanic, and 4% of the founders are Black.

The accelerator acknowledged that although it doesn’t appear to discriminate in its funding choices, it’s problematic that so few female, black and hispanic founders apply to YC.  “We will continue and strengthen our outreach efforts,” YC partner Michael Seibel said in the post.

Uncovering the paradox of diversity: better results, lower satisfaction

While people say that the like the idea of a diverse workforce, and evidence suggests that diverse teams perform better than homogeneous ones, but nonetheless, people report higher job satisfaction when they are on teams of the same gender. At least that is the result of a recent study by economists Sara Fisher Ellison and Wallace Mullen, Diversity, Social Goods Provision, and Performance in the Firm.

The researchers looked at data from a large professional services firm, including eight years of revenue data and employee surveys that measured morale, satisfaction, cooperation, and attitudes about diversity. They included some groups that were diverse — mixed male and female — and some of only one gender. Apparently, mixed gender work situations lead to lower job satisfaction, but the revenue figures show they were more effective.

This lines up with other research on diversity. I wrote last year about Katherine Phillips’ research, Is the Pain Worth the Gain? The Advantages and Liabilities of Agreeing with Socially Distinct Newcomers, undertaken with fellow researchers Katie Liljenquist and Margaret Neale. The diverse groups in their study performed better, but found the experience uncomfortable:

The researchers found that the social awkwardness that arises in groups when outsiders are introduced to established groups leads to more careful reasoning and improved group performance. They selected group members with some affiliation irrelevant to the task — like sorority or fraternity membership — and then introduce newcomers who are non-affiliated.

The tension arises when insiders agree with newcomers, or, as the researchers put it,

We argue that these individuals, who are in agreement or allied with socially dissimilar group members, will feel insecure, and this alliance will threaten their social ties with the other in-group members on the team. Because they feel threatened, allies with socially dissimilar group members should be motivated to reconcile the differing opinions in the group. The motivation to resolve the discrepancy in opinions should benefit group performance as members dig deeper into the alternative perspectives in an effort to reconcile the divergent opinions. A critical issue here though is that this improved performance may still come at a cost. Group members may not recognize the improved performance and may feel that the interactions in surface-level diverse groups are more uncomfortable and less effective than in homogeneous settings where they receive support from socially similar others.

As the authors point out, the diversity leads to better group performance on the tasks set, but the member may not think so. The psychological friction involved colors the experience.

I suggest that the same effect is at work in Ellison and Mullen’s study. Trying to reconcile opinions in diverse groups leads to deeper examination of alternative perspectives, which is more work, and often involves having to confront personal biases. So, the paradoxical result: better results, but lower job satisfaction.