Menus Subscribe Search

How Etsy Got Over Middle-School-Cafeteria Syndrome

• February 08, 2013 • 9:28 AM

In the year after declaring diversity one of their core values, Etsy watched their female engineers drop to four out of 85.

Kellan Elliot-McCrea, the CTO of Etsy, recently shared the anecdote below at a private seminar held by a leading venture capital firm for its portfolio companies. (For the un-initiated, Etsy is a wildly popular online craft marketplace with over 15 million users—80 percent female—and, until recently, a 4.5 percent-female engineering staff.)

Etsy also had a substantial “boys versus girls” dynamic, where engineers (mostly male) sat on one side and the women on the other… It was a broken system that required changes on both sides of the house.

Not a surprising circumstance given the scope of tech’s gender imbalance, but what is surprising is that, through an aggressive response to concerns about its engineering corps’ lack of diversity, Etsy increased their number of female engineers four-fold in a year. Not only were their unusually concerted efforts successful, but the entire approach is an interesting counterpoint to the boot-strappin’ “just keep your foot on the gas pedal, ladies” message that figures like Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg spread around the world.

It’s also a pretty different effort than what I’ve seen in media or in the world of news, opinion, and literary magazines specifically (we in media have had similar issues). Instead of putting the onus on society at large to change, or on women to change their behavior, as Sandberg and others in media have essentially done, Etsy pro-actively put the onus on themselves. It quickly paid dividends.

The video (above) is worth watching in full, but here’s a quick summary: In the year after declaring diversity one of their core values, Etsy watched their female engineers drop to four out of 85; so they looked at more substantive changes, like avoiding or relying less on technical interviews and instead offering need-based scholarships to women engineers enrolling in their ‘Hacker School’ in New York (“a three-month hands-on course designed to teach people how to become better engineers”). After an aggressive recruitment effort they enrolled more than 50 percent women in a 40-person class, out of more than 660 female applicants (compared to seven the previous semester). I’m no tech reporter, but those ratios sounds like a pretty dramatic departure for computer science.

Etsy ended up hiring five female participants, and started getting inquiries from “very senior” female engineers (ultra-rare people in Silicon Valley) at other companies that, while not ready to leave their jobs for Etsy, were impressed. The company had more “data” on the Hacker School participant-applicants than they could gather from a traditional evaluation process, and hired engineers who might not have survived a less holistic assessment.  Etsy committed to not “lowering their standards,” which everyone from George W. Bush to Sandberg have decried in one form or another, but “changing” them, by simply getting a fuller profile of candidates.

Michael Fitzgerald
Michael Fitzgerald is an associate editor at Pacific Standard. He has previously worked at The New Republic and Oxford American Magazine.

More From Michael Fitzgerald

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 16 • 4:00 PM

Why Is LiveJournal Helping Russia Block a Prominent Critic of Vladimir Putin?

The U.S. blogging company is showing an error message to users inside Russia who try to read the blog of Alexei Navalny, a prominent politician and critic of the Russian government.


September 16 • 2:00 PM

Man Up, Ladies! … But Not Too Much

Too often, women are asked to display masculine traits in order to be successful in the workplace.



September 16 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Brilliant 12-Year-Old?

Charles Wang is going to rule the world.


September 16 • 10:09 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance wasn’t a place, but an era of migration. It would have happened even without New York City.


September 16 • 10:00 AM

A Law Professor Walks Into a Creative Writing Workshop

One academic makes the case for learning how to write.



September 16 • 7:23 AM

Does Not Checking Your Buddy’s Facebook Updates Make You a Bad Friend?

An etiquette expert, a social scientist, and an old pal of mine ponder the ever-shifting rules of friendship.



September 16 • 6:12 AM

3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn’t have any extra emotional impact.


September 16 • 6:00 AM

What Color Is Your Pygmy Goat?

The fierce battle over genetic purity, writ small. Very small.



September 15 • 4:00 PM

The Average Prisoner Is Visited Only Twice While Incarcerated

And black prisoners receive even fewer visitors.


September 15 • 2:00 PM

Gambling With America’s Health

The public health costs of legal gambling.


September 15 • 12:23 PM

The Scent of a Conservative

We are attracted to the body odor of others with similar political beliefs, according to new research.


September 15 • 12:00 PM

2014: A Pretty Average Election

Don’t get too worked up over this year’s congressional mid-terms.


September 15 • 10:00 AM

Online Harassment of Women Isn’t Just a Gamer Problem

By blaming specific subcultures, we ignore a much larger and more troubling social pathology.


September 15 • 8:00 AM

Atheists Seen as a Threat to Moral Values

New research attempts to pinpoint why non-believers are widely disliked and distrusted.


September 15 • 6:12 AM

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.


September 15 • 6:00 AM

Interview With a Drug Dealer

What happens when the illicit product you’ve made your living off of finally becomes legal?


September 15 • 4:00 AM

A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal With Its Impulses

The ability to delay gratification has been held up as the one character trait to rule them all—the key to academic success, financial security, and social well-being. But willpower isn’t the answer. The new, emotional science of self-regulation.



September 15 • 2:04 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: Do Places Make People?

We know that people make places, but does it also work the other way?


September 12 • 4:00 PM

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Plastic Bags

California wants you to pay for your plastic bags. (FYI: That’s not an infringement on your constitutional rights.)


September 12 • 2:00 PM

Should We Trust the Hearts of White People?

On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, revisiting a clip of James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show.


Follow us


3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn't have any extra emotional impact.

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you'd be if the government didn't interfere with your life, but that's not what the research shows.

Give Yourself a Present for the Future

Psychologists discover that we underestimate the value of looking back.

In Soccer as in Art, Motifs Matter

A new study suggests a way to quantitatively measure a team’s style through its pass flow. It may become another metric used to evaluate potential recruits.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.