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 9/24/2015 | 10:05:19 AM
Re: It's your fault, Walt Good points. Parents can reinforce stereotypes for their children, whether consciously or not. That came up on our recent WiC panel too. Parents who reinforce that "math is hard" to their daughers could be doing them a disserve. 

Incidentially, my favorite Lego set was actually a pastel pink tub full of legos to build a nursery for babies. I'm not blaming my parents though. I loved it. Every kid is different. :)
Sarah Thomas 9/24/2015 | 9:59:30 AM
Re: It's your fault, Walt Yeah, it's partly a numbers game, although LinkedIn has made a conscious effort to promote diversity at the company: http://blog.linkedin.com/2015/06/08/linkedins-2015-workforce-diversity/ To be fair, all the companies say they have, but maybe LinkedIn is just farther along.
Ariella 9/24/2015 | 9:57:45 AM
Re: It's your fault, Walt @Sarah I wrote an article about the Lego Friends line when it was first introduced. Some parents hated it, but Lego had done its market research before introducing the line which does sell well. So they will tell you that they're giving people what they want, not forcing them into a mold. What really gets me are the parents who say they hate it but will still buy it. My daughter played with regular Lego sets and never cared for the color pink. But, then again, I never brought her up on Disney movies. There's a good book on the subject, Peggy Ornstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture
Ariella 9/24/2015 | 9:54:46 AM
Re: It's your fault, Walt I'm a bit surprised that LinkedIn has the highest percentage of women. It also is one of the smaller employers featured here. The general trend indicated is that the more employees a company has, the lower the percentage of women, though one would have not have anticipated that.
Sarah Thomas 9/24/2015 | 9:15:36 AM
Re: It's your fault, Walt I thought that we're starting to see more toys that break out of the model or at least are gender neutral, but even when they make a "science Barbie" it's still overly stereotypical and misses the point.

I remember a controversy awhile back  about "legos for girls," because legos are for everyone. Everyone loves legos -- haven't you seen the movie?! 

It probably doesn't matter what gets done though. Kids will always just want Frozen.
Sarah Thomas 9/24/2015 | 8:59:02 AM
Re: Tracking progress Unfortunately, I agree. All the companies have set out their goals and seem to want to make a change, but nothing really budges. Is it really all a pipeline problem, or what's going on here?
PaulERainford 9/24/2015 | 7:42:09 AM
It's your fault, Walt I can't help wondering if all this has something to do with what seems to be the increasing 'girlie-ification' of popular culture, where the "pink for girls, blue for boys" mindset becomes ever more rigid. I speak as the father of a seven-year-old girl, who constantly worries if liking soccer etc makes her a "tomboy". Think 'Frozen', princess outfits, etc. So basically, yeah, I blame Disney.
teresa_mastrangelo 9/24/2015 | 7:37:40 AM
Re: Tracking progress Having been in this industry for a very long time - I don''t expect much if any change in the next 6 to 12 months.  If anything, over the years it has gotten worse - not better.
[email protected] 9/24/2015 | 7:07:07 AM
Tracking progress What's going to be interesting is looking at the updated statistics in 6 and 12 months time.

And plenty of people at Microsoft need to be looking at this....
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