At I/O, Google earns praise for diversity

Amid all the announcements of new technologies, one of the things that stood out about Google’s keynote address to attendees of its I/O development conference in San Francisco on Thursday was the diverse group of faces presenting there.

While the tech industry struggles to reach gender parity in its workforce, the Google executives who took the stage represented a range of nationalities and genders. Three of the company’s keynote speakers were women: Lead Product Manager Ellie Powers spoke about Google Play for Families, Vice President of Engineering Jen Fitzpatrick discussed how the company is tailoring its services for lower bandwidth connections in the developing world, and Google Now Product Director Aparna Chennapragada discussed the company’s virtual assistant.

The high profile of women speakers marked a change from 2013, when Google didn’t even have conference t-shirts tailored for women. Since then, the company has undertaken a number of initiatives to draw more women and minorities to the conference, and this year, according to Google, 23 percent of attendees were women, compared to 8 percent in 2013.

Their presence was certainly felt on Twitter, where attendees posted about seeing a line for the women’s restroom (a rarity at technology conferences), attending a conference session on Project Loon hosted by Google’s Women Techmakers organization, and praising the company’s keynote lineup.

It comes at a time when the tech industry is increasingly cognizant of the role and representation of women. Last year, several tech firms including Google released diversity reports showing that their companies were male-dominated, especially in engineering roles. Since then, the companies have pledged to improve the gender balance among their employees.

I/O’s cast of presenters was particularly notable in light of Apple’s upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference. Google’s largest competitor in the smartphone arena has been criticized for hosting press events and conference keynotes with a cast of primarily white men. The Cupertino-based company kick’s off its developer show June 8, and industry observers will be watching to see if it sticks to the status quo.

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