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A Vast Valley: Tech's Inexcusable Gender Gap

Sarah Thomas
9/24/2015
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The first step is always admitting you have a problem.

Silicon Valley has a BIG problem in its pronounced lack of women -- both in general and in technology and leadership positions in particular. In the past year or so, the tech giants that occupy the Valley, companies like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Facebook , Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) and Twitter Inc. , have at least admitted they have a problem. And they say they want to fix it, but the question remains, how? And, maybe also, when?

It's not an easy or quick fix, and it isn't helped by the fact that we're starting from a pretty dismal place. According to a March study from the American Association of University Women, in 2013, 26% of computing jobs in the US were held by women, which is actually down from 35% in 1990. We've been trending in the wrong direction.

Many of the traditionally tight-lipped tech companies have released their gender numbers for public dissection in the past year, as well as committed to improving them. In most cases, it's a matter of going from bad to still pretty bad, but the transparency is a good start. Here's a look at the breakdown for Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and LinkedIn Corp. :

Table 1: Women in Tech Companies

Total Employees Percentage Women Women in Tech Roles Women in Leadership Roles
Google 55,527 30% 15% 22%
Twitter 4,100 34% 13% 22%
Facebook 10,082 32% 15% 23%
Amazon 117,300 37% N/A 25%
Microsoft 128,000 28% 17% 17.5%
Apple 100,000 31% 22% 28%
LinkedIn 7,600 42% 18% 30%
Source: Company reports & The WSJ's Diversity in Tech

The tech industry isn't alone in its paltry representation of women, but it is significantly worse than most sectors, and most traditional telecom companies are right there at the bottom with them. According to a recent GSM Association (GSMA) survey in which it interviewed 50 telecom companies, females made up less than 40% of the workforce in three-quarters of them. And Gartner Inc. says that the number of female CTOs in the tech industry has remained static at only 14% since 2004.

It's time to get serious about the gender crisis in tech and comms. And, I mean really get serious. Don't just show us the numbers, but do something about it. (See More Women in Tech Is Critically Important.)

Boys' Club
The gender problem in the Valley is so overwhelmingly obvious  that even the HBO show Silicon Valley knew to cast five  young guys to play the characters in the stereotypical  startup there.
The gender problem in the Valley is so overwhelmingly obvious
that even the HBO show Silicon Valley knew to cast five
young guys to play the characters in the stereotypical
startup there.

The ramifications of ignoring the gender divide could be huge for any company. It's not just about bad PR; not having a balanced workforce can lead to fines, loss of government contracts, the threat of litigation and blows to the share price. What's more, study after study has shown that diversity is simply good for business for the multiple perspectives, backgrounds and opinions it can bring to the table and for the simple fact that it better reflects any company's user base. (See Netflix Ups the Ante on Parental Leave and Vodafone: What's Good for Moms Is Good for Business.)

Recognizing this, Twitter was the latest to put out a blog post at the end of August proclaiming, "We're committing to a more diverse Twitter." The social network shared its company-wide diversity goals as benchmarks for increasing the overall representation of women and under-represented minorities throughout the company. Among the goals, Twitter committed to increase women overall to 35% of its workforce, women in tech roles to 16% and women in leadership roles to 25%.

If you'll look back to the chart, you'll see we're talking about a 1% bump here or hiring 41 additional female employees (unless it instead decides to lay off men to redress the balance). It's lip service -- without the lipstick.

Twitter, by the way, declined an interview, but shared its blog post with us. Amazon and Google had not responded at press time.


For more on the subjects affecting women in the communications industry, visit our Women in Comms site here on Light Reading.


I'm all for transparency, but Twitter's low numbers and even lower goals show how challenging it is to get more women into tech. It also raises the question of whether a quota is the solution. In my opinion, it's not -- it's bad for company culture and employee dynamics.

As was discussed at our recent Women in Comms breakfast, championing real and lasting change requires so much more than that. It needs commitment from the top that goes beyond lip service (or putting lipstick on a pig), examining unconscious biases, creating a culture where women feel welcome (which happens in part by just seeing other women at the top) and making an effort to build a diverse pipeline for recruiting. (See Championing Change: It's a Cultural Thing, WiC Pics: Speak Up & Wear Fabulous Shoes and What Is Your Company's Gender IQ?)

To the credit of the tech giants, they do seem to get this and are doing more beyond just setting public goals. For just a few examples, Google holds workshops on unconscious bias, Twitter is recrafting its job descriptions to have a wider appeal, Amazon supports peer mentoring and Apple spent $650 million on women and minority-owned businesses last year. (See US Earns Top Score for Women Entrepreneurs.)

It's just not enough. I don't have all the answers to what is a huge and institutionalized problem (although we're uncovering them here on Women in Comms site), but it's clear the tech world isn't doing enough. If they were, the numbers would show it. (See Light Reading Presents: Women in Comms.)

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/1/2015 | 4:43:11 PM
Re: Where are the women resumes?
The percentage of women in tech roles for these stats are really not good. How can we improve this? I remember when I was studying IT in college, there were very few women in my classes. 

It's got to start at a young age, this separation between boys and girls when technology is of interest to them. It's got to be a change, then, in the school systems in elementary or middle education. Anyone else agree?
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/29/2015 | 6:29:50 PM
Re: Lipstick
I suppose it would have been better to find ads from the same year to make the analogy more clear, but it is worth noting that the target demographic of that ad at the time would be in their mid-30s today, established in the workforce right now.

Can't say as I've played Pretty Pretty Princess (I had to Google "black ring Pretty Pretty Princess").  I preferred "nerdy boy" board games like HeroQuest.  ;)
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
9/29/2015 | 6:20:13 PM
Re: Lipstick
To be fair, the Pretty Princess commercial was from 1992, although I don't think they've changed too much since then. I, however, loved that game, as did my older brother. He frequently ended up with the black ring...and everyone knows you don't want that.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/29/2015 | 6:17:51 PM
Lipstick
Personally, I blame how kids are raised -- and how girls are raised to be interested in "girly" things and not so much in "boy" things.

Compare this:




To this:

mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/29/2015 | 5:26:27 PM
Re: Leftist Moralizing or Tech News?
It's been a while since we've had a bona fide troll on the LR message board. Kudos for finding one.
TeleWRTRLiz
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50%
TeleWRTRLiz,
User Rank: Lightning
9/29/2015 | 4:52:42 PM
Re: Leftist Moralizing or Tech News?
@Sarah, what are you doing here? Get back to the kitchen where you belong. (And I'll meet you there with a bottle of wine.)
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
9/29/2015 | 4:47:30 PM
Re: Leftist Moralizing or Tech News?
If you can't see the relevancy of a women in communications initiative from a communications publication serving the communications industry, then I'm not sure I can help here...
turnkit
100%
0%
turnkit,
User Rank: Lightning
9/29/2015 | 4:26:29 PM
Leftist Moralizing or Tech News?
If I wanted the Left's moral had wringing over how they haven't yet totally destroyed a stay at home mom's chance to raise her kids and the traditional family I'd subscribe to Mother Jones, Utne Reader or even Slate. I don't. Dear LR, please write about relevant matters. Otherwise you can keep the rapid activist readers but you'll alienate half your base and risk losing them.
heretoday
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50%
heretoday,
User Rank: Moderator
9/28/2015 | 7:41:33 PM
Re: Where are the women resumes?
Thanks Sarah. And i agree with you. Women on my team are often top performers. I won't further rationalize that or over think it. But I follow the industry metric of about 15%. And not because of any sort of bias. At time i may get 1 female resume out of 100 submissions. Lets get more women in pure engineering and i for one will be glad for it. Keep doin whatchur doin.
heretoday
50%
50%
heretoday,
User Rank: Moderator
9/28/2015 | 7:41:33 PM
Re: Where are the women resumes?
Thanks Sarah. And i agree with you. Women on my team are often top performers. I won't further rationalize that or over think it. But I follow the industry metric of about 15%. And not because of any sort of bias. At time i may get 1 female resume out of 100 submissions. Lets get more women in pure engineering and i for one will be glad for it. Keep doin whatchur doin.
Page 1 / 5   >   >>
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