Women In Comms

A Vast Valley: Tech's Inexcusable Gender Gap

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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Sarah Thomas 9/28/2015 | 1:31:18 PM
Re: Where are the women resumes? Thanks for weighing in, heretoday. I was not trying to imply that companies intentionally discriminate. I don't think that at all. There may be some unconcsious bias at play, but I agree that it's a pipeline problem more than anything. That's why our goal is to help get more women interested in STEM, applying for jobs, and staying in the industry. That's a multi-faceted problem to which there is no easy answer, but there are a lot of things we as an industry can be doing better.
heretoday 9/27/2015 | 10:25:26 AM
Where are the women resumes? This will fire Sarah and all up.  As a hiring management type i'm getting tired of articles like this implying across the board there are intentional dicriminatory practices in Engineering focused companies.

I work i telecommunications manufacturing where the primary skills are Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and Software Engineering.  We post hundreds of reqs around the world.  Fact is we simply don't get very many resumes from females.  When we do get female resumes they are vetted along with men and minorities and the best person wins.  There is a lot of management and HR oversight to ensure that there is no institutionaliza of discriminatory practices.

We do in fact hire women in all aspects of engineering.  Again, we just don't get many resumes from them.  In fact we don't get many resumes from white anglo saxon American born men either.  The predominant candidates come from India and China.

This happes for the same reason that there is a lack of women.  Lack of participation in STEM in College in the United States.  India and China are light years ahead of the US in women participation in STEM.  And they graduate more STEM students than the US graduates total.

Before you go pointing fingers at highering managers in Engineering companies, take a look at the entry and exit rates of women and minorities in the United States in STEM degress in US colleges and universities. 

Generaly speaking, we are not going to hire people in engineering positions with out engineering degrees.  Answer the question on why there aren't more women in STEM and then fix that.

Put the focus on the supply chain for human resouces and get us more qualified candidates of all race, gender, creed, nationality and I promise you, the hiring managers of Engineering firms will be grateful.
MikeP688 9/26/2015 | 9:59:19 PM
Re: Silicon Valley To build upon what Sarah noted in her column, I wanted to share this which underscores the simple yet crucial fact that we have to look at how to transform--and that to me is what Sarah tried to underscore and Dylan noted as always:


You think women in tech have a problem? We all have a problem

By Dylan Tweney, Contributing Editor

women learning to code

The tech industry's complicated and sorry treatment of women has become a big topic.

Lawsuits have helped blow up the issue. Most notably, former Kleiner Perkins partner Ellen Pao filed a discrimination suit against the VC giant last year, lost the suit this year, and recently dropped her planned appeal.

Also in the spotlight are public speaking appearances by some of the industry's most powerful women, where they are inexplicably asked to talk about motherhood before they are asked about the billion-dollar businesses they run.

And of course, women continue to be underrepresented in tech, particularly in engineering, executive, and investor roles.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other big Silicon Valley companies have all gotten into the habit of releasing their diversity statistics, which are remarkably consistent: In almost every case, less than 30 percent of their workforces are female. (Amazon is the lone standout, with a 37 percent female workforce.) The transparency is laudable, but the ratio is not changing. When releasing the numbers, these companies all provided pretty much the same predictable spackling of public relations on top of their data: We know these numbers aren't great, but we're doing the best we can.

Note: Those poor diversity numbers don't only reflect the plight of women in tech; they show that African-American and Latino techies are underrepresented in these companies, too.

This is an issue that should concern everyone in tech, male or female, particularly when there is so much demand for talent. The arguments that men are somehow better than women at coding carry no water, especially when you look at the history of computer science, where there were accomplished female programmers in abundance until the past few decades. The industry collectively turning its back on almost 50 percent of the available talent pool is not optimal. It's also just not right.

That's why I think everyone who hires or manages anyone in tech ought to read the remarkable book, Lean Out, edited by Elissa Shevinsky. Shevinsky is an entrepreneur and coder, and, as it turns out, an excellent aggregator of passionate, useful, insightful, and infuriating essays about all aspects of gender and tech.

We've written about Shevinsky before, when she got the nickname "Ladyboss" while working with Pax Dickinson, a man who got into trouble for being outspoken (and indeed quite offensive) in social media while working as the CTO of Business Insider. She's hung onto that moniker, even though she has since moved on from the startup she and Dickinson cofounded. It suits her: She seems like someone who is comfortable owning her differences and is able to command the respect of brogrammers even as she pushes to make tech more welcoming to all kinds of women.

Lean Out is clearly a response to Sheryl Sandberg's wildly successful book Lean In, which convinced a small army of women to step up, "lean in" to their workplaces, and demand more responsibility and more respect. Shevinsky and the authors of the essays in this book take a different angle: If tech companies are unwelcoming places, to hell with them. Start your own company and run it better.

It's fitting that Lean Out begins and ends with exhortations from FakeGrimlock, a Twitter personality who, as a robot dinosaur, shouts at people to get them to follow their passion and start companies themselves.

But the book is not just directed at women who might want to opt out of the rat race and start their own thing. This book is packed with stories — and statistics — that should give anyone in tech management pause. Katy Levinson's stories of frequent harassment, and even rape, in corporate work contexts are starker and scarier than most of the anecdotes that make it into public discussion about gender equality. Essays from transgender writers like Anna Anthropy and Squinky show that it is possible to A/B test gender in tech, with some unsurprising, but moving, conclusions.

Katherine Cross offers a somewhat academic, but ultimately sensitive and understanding, portrait of male nerd culture, and how (and why) it only reluctantly accommodates women. Her essay makes it clear why the current nerd culture we have is so gendered — and why it leads to ridiculous outbursts of anti-female sentiment, of which Gamergate is the most egregious example.

And Shevinsky herself, in an essay critiquing the "pipeline problem," points out that she and many of her female friends have not been able to land jobs at companies like Google — or even get called by their recruiters — despite having over 10,000 hours of programming experience and having held leadership roles at sites with millions of users. She recounts that in her college classes, not that long ago, the students were about equally split between male and female. But at some point those women were unable to find work in tech, or found themselves unwilling to put up with the static that went along with the job.

In other words, tech has a pipeline issue, but not the one companies usually blame: The supposedly empty "pipeline" of girls taking an interest in science in grade school, leading to fewer female engineering majors, leading to a dearth of qualified women.

No, the problem is the pipeline coming from the other direction: The VCs and executives funding and running most Silicon Valley companies are overwhelmingly male, and largely white, and they have been trained through years of "pattern recognition" to place bets where they seem the safest: On companies and new hires that reflect their often unconscious assessments of what quality looks like.

That means they tend to hire white, male executives, who in turn hire white, male middle managers and engineering leads, who tend to hire white, male engineers.

Meanwhile there is a persistent, male-oriented nerd culture that actively drives women out of the field.

Katy Levinson offers a three-point program to address this in her essay:

The first thing is pretty simple: in all organizations, demand that there exists a code of conduct and clear method to report misconduct

Second, while there will always be truly malicious people, most people just don't realize the harm of their actions. There needs to be correction without punishment for people who are not malicious

Third, and most important, is making a serious personal commitment to solving this

The overwhelming sense from this book is of a group of women and transgender people who are just fed up with all the crap. As Shevinsky wrote in an earlier essay, also reprinted in this book, "I didn't want to think about gender issues but the alternative is tit and dick jokes at our industry's most respected events.

It's time to change that. And it's not just women who need to do something about this. Whether by "leaning out," or by doing what you can to make the company you're at work better for women, you need to help fix this. We all do.

DHagar 9/25/2015 | 4:12:00 PM
Re: Fundamental male/female differences mmpete, you raise an interesting issue.  And it doesn't have to be a career-breaking interruption.  Work today overall has changed, with family, education, military service, career/skill changes, the entry/exit into jobs are much more dynamic.  So the "excuse" of eliminating women in advance, or limiting re-entry after birth or raising children needs to be eliminated.

I think that the underlying problem remains fundamental in that existing management does not want to allow the changes that will come from opening up career opportunities, whether it is milennials, women, minorities, immigrants, etc.  It represents a mind-set that wants to control things and limit change.  That will actually inhibit the creative opportunities and restrain growth.
Mitch Wagner 9/25/2015 | 10:37:16 AM
Re: Silicon Valley Interesting. I tend to see Asians as having greater representation in the Silicon Valley companies I'm meeting. Two possible reasons:

- I'm meeting with networking companies in the network-operator sector. That's not the same as Silicon Valley overall. Perhaps Asians have a higher representation in that sector.

- There's a well-confirmed bias where people -- I'm tempted to say white men -- tend to see women and minorities having a greater representation in a group than exists. In other words, if 30% of the people speaking at a meeting are women, a man might say later that most of the speakers are women. 
mendyk 9/25/2015 | 8:48:29 AM
Re: It's your fault, Walt Yes, the world will be a much better place once all the kids learn The Computer.
mmpete 9/25/2015 | 4:21:43 AM
Re: Silicon Valley Is India included as part of Asia in the job stats?
mmpete 9/25/2015 | 4:02:23 AM
Fundamental male/female differences However much people claim that men & women are the same, there are at least two pretty key differences: childbirth & breastfeeding.

Maybe we should look at making it easier for women to get back into the workplace after time out to have children? How many tech companies will even look at hiring workers who have had a career break, even if they had an exceptional record before that point?

NB: this isn't an excuse for companies not to look at bias in their hiring/retention
MikeP688 9/24/2015 | 7:17:20 PM
Re: It's your fault, Walt The idea that half the Country is ignored is just simple insanity.   To paraphrase Dr. King, we have to get to a time whereby we won't judge anyone by whether they are a man or woman--but whether they can do to the job.      We will get there--and We shall overcome.  It is up to each and everyone of us.    As for the Mayor of New York's plan, why not now?   It seems as if another of Dr. King's admonitions, "the fierce urgency of now", seems to have been ignored due to the window dressing nature of it.    Although beyond the scope of deliberations here, the Mayor has some political challenges he has to contend with.
Sarah Thomas 9/24/2015 | 4:47:07 PM
Re: It's your fault, Walt Yes, that's definitely a smart move as computer science skills are needed for STEM jobs and really any industry. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees are earned by women. Females' interest in it drops off much sooner than that, which hopefully the NYC program can address, but I do agree 10 years seems like a long time.
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