The Women Of Duolingo

By Emily Hopkins

Duolingo is a steadily growing, well-funded startup company with 80 employees in a colorful Pittsburgh office that features the obligatory ping pong tables, hammocks, and mod diner booths for employee collaboration. (Its office was recently named one of the city’s “Coolest” by the Pittsburgh Business Times.)

women In Tech

The company’s main product is an app that teaches you a foreign language by reminding you to spend time daily playing its language-learning practice exercises, which consist of taking little quizzes on your phone or computer. It was the brainchild of a Carnegie Mellon computer science professor and one of his students.

The app was Apple’s choice for Best of the Year in 2013 and has topped most lists for best language app since then. The mission is to “make education free and accessible to all.” Lessons are free and will always remain free. It has over 120 million users.

Duolingo And Diversity

The company’s lead recruiter is Jeesoo Sohn, a San Francisco-native and graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s music program.

“Culture, society tells girls at a very young age that we should have certain kinds of careers, certain kinds of personalities. It starts from there,” says Sohn. Only 18% of graduates with a bachelor’s in computer science are women. How does she tackle it?

“Companies have two choices,” Sohn says. “They can say, ‘We are not diverse, so we need to hire.’ Or, they can say, ‘We need to become diverse ourselves.’ I’m definitely in the second mindset,” Sohn explains. “We want to create a community of people who believe in diversity, not because it’s good PR or makes them look good, but because it can make you better. Diverse companies perform better.”

The Women of Duolingo

Sohn’s first diversity initiative, back in October of 2016, was to start a social club for the two dozen women who work at the company. They met quarterly, offsite. “It’s really important that it’s offsite. I send out a question in advance. We get together over dinner or tea. Everyone gives their two cents. It’s just a positive affinity group where everyone supports each other.”


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