WOMEN
03/25/2013 04:58 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2013

Female Engineers: Etsy Seeks To Right Gender Imbalance In Male-Dominated Field

More than 75 percent of buyers and sellers on Etsy, the e-commerce website that helps individuals sell handmade and vintage goods directly to consumers, are female. So the company is an especially apt home for a new initiative to help get more women into engineering and tech, fields where they are notoriously underrepresented.

In what Dodai Stewart at Jezebel called a "revolutionary yet simple" move, Etsy partnered with fellow tech companies 37signals and Yammer in the summer of 2012 to recruit women to attend the Hacker School, a three-month intensive coding program in New York City. Six hundred women applied, the Hacker School admitted 23 of them, and Etsy covered their living expenses, according to Anya Kamenetz at Fast Company.

Etsy's decision to invest in training junior female engineers -- rather than continuing the search for senior female engineers -- is an attempt to fix what Kamenetz called "a chicken-and-egg problem." Kamenetz wrote that not only are already existing female engineers "being stalked like the last antelope on the African veldt," they also have no interest in working at a company where all their co-workers are male. As Etsy CTO Kellan Elliott-McCrea put it in a talk at First Round Capital's CTO Summit:

Great women engineers are not only not looking for work, there's a decent chance, based on their experience in industry, that your workplace is going to suck.

The absence of women from Etsy's engineering department -- in 2011, the company had only three female engineers out of 47 -- was especially conspicuous given that it is an otherwise women-focused company. Fifty percent of its staff are women. After recognizing that discrepancy -- as Elliot-McCrea put it at the CTO Summit, "Something wasn't working. This was deeply broken" -- and shifting its focus from hiring to training, Etsy now has twenty female engineers, a 500 percent increase from two years ago.

Martha Kelly, an Etsy-sponsored Hacker School attendee, expressed the personal impact of the program on her first day when she blogged, "I never realized the impact of being the only woman in the room until I wasn't."

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