THE DOWNTOWN SAN Francisco office where Tracy Chou codes for Pinterest has the frenetic buzz of a fast-growing company. Construction workers have recently knocked down the north wall, annexing a neighboring building. Clusters of empty Ikea tables have been pushed together, awaiting new employees. Last year the social-media company nearly doubled the number of engineers it employs, to 192. And thanks to Chou’s activism, it has been public about the number of them who are women: 29.
At 27, Chou has become a leading voice for women in the tech industry by using data to call attention to how few of them are employed as engineers. She is an accomplished coder who had already worked at Facebook, Google, and the question-and-answer site Quora before arriving at Pinterest. And nearly two years ago, she took the simple but provocative step of uploading a spreadsheet—to the code-sharing platform Github, naturally—that companies could use to make public the number of female engineers in their ranks. The goal: to identify the scope of the problem as a first step toward making a stronger commitment to address it.
Chou didn’t set out to be an activist. In the fall of 2013, she attended an annual gathering of female technologists called the Grace Hopper Celebration, where people were, as they often do, bemoaning the lack of women in the field. Chou decided to look at the data to see just how bad the problem really was. “When we’re building new products for the web, we always track and A/B test everything,” she says. “With workforce demographics there was no baseline.”
Chou made this point in a blog post last year on Medium. “The actual numbers I’ve seen and experienced in industry are far lower than anybody is willing to admit,” she wrote. “This means nobody is having honest conversations about the issue.” She included Pinterest’s statistics—at the time, 12 percent of the company’s engineers were female. Then she invited companies to report their numbers on her public spreadsheet.