A recent study of men’s and women’s tweet patterns and engagement levels reveals a topical bias that renders men’s tweets, particularly on tech issues, more popular than women’s.
The study was done by Kieran Snyder, co-founder and CEO of Textio, a machine-learning company that looks for bias patterns in business documents and hiring practices and helps correct them.
TECHtonics caught up with Snyder to learn more about the study.
Q. How did you come to do this research?
SNYDER: Well, I published quite a bit in the past on gender bias and text. … But I do tweet quite a bit. And I tweet kind of a range of topics. … And I noticed that engagement patterns with my tweets were really skewed. And it made me wonder whether others would show a similar pattern, where I saw that … my tweets on gender got significantly more engagement than my tweets about any other topic.
Q. Do you think that reflects the lack of diversity in technology?
SNYDER: … I don’t want to say that it reflects the lack of diversity in the tech field. There’s something … all of these people are active with careers in technology; it certainly reflects the conversational bias that exists where it appears at least in this context that men are participating more actively in the conversation … at the core of evolving industry. And women are participating more actively in conversations about inclusivity in the industry.
Q. So this is then behavioral bias rather than social media bias?
SNYDER: … It reflects patterns that are otherwise seen in other contexts … One of the reasons that was very interesting … is because previously I had worked mostly at other kinds of documents that are more intrinsic to the workplace. And certainly, there are striking patterns of gender language in those other kinds of documents. And so, I think in this case, social media reflects how conversations often happen in the workplace to begin with.
Q. What concerns you most about these results?
SNYDER: … There are legitimate inclusivity issues in technology. There is no doubt about that. I think anyone with a long-standing career in technology would probably acknowledge that.
I worry that if we have fundamentally different groups of people talking about inclusion and talking about the actual technology itself, it makes it very hard for those conversations to converge in a useful way. So if you end up with sort of a traditional white male group dominating the conversation about the work that we do in the industry and … a group that is more underrepresented having the conversation about inclusivity, there’s just not a lot of incentive to bring the conversations together for the group that’s in the majority.
It’s easier to marginalize the inclusivity concerns if the people having the inclusivity conversations are not also seen as active contributors to the business conversations that are happening.
…. I believe, having worked in technology myself for a lot of years, that most people in the industry have bias. And I believe most even don’t want to. Most people are good people. And I think most bias really is unconscious. And so I see the Twitter patterns … more as a product of that unconscious bias … If the people leading the conversation are all from one group, I don’t know if the exclusion is intentional, but it happens anyway.
Q. What do you think should be done about these results?
SNYDER: … There [are] a couple things. Driving up inclusivity and diversity at technology companies isn’t trivial. It’s not impossible. It’s not as complicated as companies make it out to be. But it’s not trivial. It’s work … to hire people, to create an inclusive environment.
… On an individual level, I think we benefit when we make an effort to follow people or engage with people who are a little bit outside our traditional comfort zone on topics when we see that they have things of value to say.
… A little more deeply, I think it is a good wakeup call to be conscious of when you are having a conversation in your workplace. … [If] you’re in the majority and you’re participating in core conversations, are you making an effort to seek out various perspectives for those conversations? And then kind of conversely, if you’re in an underrepresented group, are you finding the conversational opportunities that you need and want with people who are in the majority? … I think there’s something broader about how we have conversations within companies and within the industry.