…because some thoughts are worth remembering
There are more female students going into STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) than ever before, with the exception of computer science. In the early 80s, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that women made up 37% of undergraduate computer science majors, but the number dropped significantly to 18% in 2010 (read more, here). The workforce reflects this decline also, with the largest employers of computer programmers in Silicon Valley being criticized for its work environment and culture which may be contributing to the low statistics for female programmers (and female executives at tech companies). Read the Linkedin study, here. (And please, it’s not because women suck at it. On average, companies with female executives perform better. Read the results from Fenwick’s Gender Diversity Study, here.)
When I visited Pinterest, a company known to have more female computer science engineers than the other brand name Silicon Valley companies, I noticed the difference in the atmosphere right away. It seems obvious that a company whose target demographic is mostly female, would have female employees, but that’s not necessarily what happens in cyberspace (do we still use that word?): entries in Wikipedia for female topics (e.g., menstruation) are often dominated by male experts and male contributors. I don’t know who made the decision or how the decision was made, but the decor of the Pinterest offices were more feminine, for lack of a better term, than what one would expect from a tech company…or any work place: law firm, police station, a kitchen of a restaurant.
Perhaps it seemed appropriate for the office decor to reflect the kinds of images Pinterest users “pinned” on their pages. The meeting rooms were named after popular Pinterest pins: Bowtie, Kale Chips, Beach Wedding. They didn’t stop with the names: the names dictated the theme for the rooms, from spot colors on the wall to props on the tables. The women’s bathroom had a decorative container filled with seashells, completely content in its impractical and non-functional existence. On the side, there were toothpick style floss and mouthwash, and other amenities for you to think out loud, “Where am I again?”
I asked a male employee at Pinterest if any of the decor distracted or bothered him, and if he preferred a more standard looking office space. He said he hadn’t thought about it. It’s comfortable and he didn’t think of anything being female or male, because the waiting area looks like a living room, and his house has a living room, not a female or male room.
Right, it’s not like Pinterest was asking everyone, male or female, to wear a bra as part of a uniform! Office spaces, in general, are functional spaces optimized to give that “it’s all business up in here” vibe. A little touch of comfort (whether you call it “feminine” or not) can benefit everyone, male and female. And if no one seems to object to being decorated with comfort in mind, why not bring more humanism into the work space?
Photo: (top) Pinterest headquarters’ common area; (bottom) Pinterest’s women’s bathroom