• The largest tech companies in Silicon Valley posted jobs with the most gender-neutral language
  • Tech firms provided far more generous maternity and paternity leave than other companies
  • These trends are rising as Silicon Valley and other S&P 500 companies are under pressure to better diversify the boardroom - and everywhere else


The biggest technology companies in the S&P 500 created a new advantage for themselves in the recruiting arms race by eliminating more language from job postings that might subliminally attract - or discourage - women to certain roles and positions. 

The technology sector's job postings succeeded in removing most gendered language from job posts, while other firms lag behind, according to Thinknum Media's analysis of millions of data points from 40 of the largest companies in the US, through our Gender Decoder tool.

Thinknum created a Gender Decoder tool based on a research paper that identified language that may lead to sustained inequality in the workplace. We analyzed 20 technology companies and 30 companies from the Fortune 100 - the largest for which continuous Gender Decoder data could be determined for job postings - and compared the two sets to create an analysis of where technology stands as a sector in the US. All market capitalization figures are recorded in 'Billions.' - Designed & created by Stella Weng

Thinknum's Gender Decoder is rooted in a 2011 study that showed gender-directed language in job postings had the potential to skew whether men or women responded positively to the ads, and a tool that looks to help users uncover bias in their own language. Thinknum scores job postings on a 1-100 scale - with 50% representing the best score, or balanced language.

Alphabet was one of the first movers looking to bring equality to its job postings - and to employ a Gender Decoder. The Mountain View-based search leader said in March that companies can make job descriptions equally appealing to all people, using a gender decoder to ensure language isn't skewed one way or another. And, Thinknum's review of Alphabet job postings earlier this year found, the tech company has brought to near-parity the language in its job postings.

"Some companies have put an effort into understanding their workforce," said Corinne Post, Chair of the Management Department at Lehigh University College of Business, and an expert in organizational management. "Because of that, they're able to adjust their processes."

Gender Equality Goes Hand-in-Hand with Family Values

See our Methodology: Thinknum used our Gender Decoder data sets covering 50 companies and evaluated it alongside data gathered from FairyGodBoss, a website that allows users to crowd-sourced data covering how staff at global companies are provided paternity leave, maternity leave, and other benefits. To calculate scores, we combined paid-time-off for both maternity and paternity leave into a single figure for each of the companies we could analyze. All market capitalization figures are recorded in 'Billions.' - Designed & created by Stella Weng

What does having a better Gender Decoder score, or closer to parity, mean? How about much more generous leave policies for new parents and families, for starters. 

Our Gender Decoder research found that tech companies paying greater attention to detail about what language job postings contain also are more likely to extend generous paternity leave packages to their staff, when compared to the same  companies across all sectors. Tech sector companies offered nearly 25 weeks of paid time off, combined, for maternity and paternity leave, compared to an average of a little more than 15 weeks of paid time off for our aggregation of larger S&P 500 firms.

Tech companies' boards' gender diversity may simply correlate to their parental leave data - or, their relationship may be more strongly linked. 

How Microsoft Got Ahead of the Trend

We found women are being added to boards in record numbers, and men are coming off of boards in record numbers.

Microsoft ($MSFT) is already ahead of the curve on several trends - its board makeup is nearly 29% women, putting it ahead of the technology sector average - and its Gender Decoder score above 44%, making its score close to ideal (ideal being total parity, at 50%). The company's total paternity leave package amounts to 32 weeks, putting it ahead of already-progressive tech sector contemporaries - although this wasn't always the case.

The Redmond, Washington-based tech company increased parental leave in 2015. It came just over a year after the company's board of directors chose Satya Nadella to lead Microsoft as CEO - and when he arrived, Nadella came with a stated goal to boost diversity and to add women.

George Fleck is the publisher of DirectorMoves, a firm that analyzes corporate boards.

"We found women are being added to boards in record numbers, and men are coming off of boards in record numbers," Fleck said. "The trend is not letting up. It's about time."

Fleck made note of a growing trend over a six-month period in 2018, when he co-authored in Harvard Business Review an analysis that revealed large companies (those with a market capitalization of $5 billion or greater) were adding women to their boards of directors at a rate three times greater than men.

Fleck, who spoke with Thinknum about our research and about his data, said this trend has continued in 2019.

Making Changes - And Making Leadership Accountable

Women and minorities on boards don't necessarily get the same kind of mentoring that men do. If the culture doesn't change, it's going to be hard to retain women.

Part of Silicon Valley's challenge in courting women is cultural, whether it is notoriously toxic executives or a culture that systemically fails to promote, and part of the challenge comes down to supply and demand. But investors are demanding that companies across all sectors do a better job recruiting. And enforcing diversity upon corporate boards is increasingly coming from institutional investors eager to right a persistent imbalance.

"We're taking deliberate steps to improve gender equality, with a particular focus on developing women in leadership roles, and we've transformed the makeup of our board," BlackRock chairman and CEO Laurence Fink said earlier this year. "But we have a long way to go, and we haven't always gotten it right."

WeWork is the most recent example of a Silicon Valley startup looking to IPO with a director slate all male, and mostly pale. Only after it received criticism for its initial S-1 did WeWork change its tune, and add Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei to its board. However, it is notable that the company's own job postings trended in a more female-friendly direction as it sought to ready an IPO. 

Part of companies' push to engage with more executives who are women could stem from so many organizations not adequately promoting and retaining leaders over time, Post says. To offset that, companies welcoming new women to their boards should have a plan in place to ensure they are adequately on-boarded and treated as other directors would.

"Women and minorities on boards don't necessarily get the same kind of mentoring that men do," Prof. Post said. "If the culture doesn't change, it's going to be hard to retain women."

About the Data: 

Thinknum tracks companies using information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales. 

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