By Rebecca Caum
When Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, announced to a room full of women, at a recent conference for women in technology, that it was “good karma” not to ask for raises, he unintentionally brought the tech industry’s male centric culture and composition to the center stage of what has been an ongoing point of concern.
With this kind of bad leadership, it is not surprising that Microsoft’s numbers are particularly disheartening as only 3 of their top 15 executives are women. This pattern remains true throughout their leadership ranks, with women making up only 17%.
This past August 2014, Fortune Magazine ranked 14 tech companies from most diverse to least. Pandora was ranked number one with a 51 / 49 split between men and women; Indiegogo and eBay hold second and third place. Apple came in at number 8 with Facebook, Google and Twitter right behind them.
Technology firms have gone public with their numbers. This is a big step to be applauded; if we cannot measure what is happening, it is very hard to address pipeline issues.
Adriane Bradbury, the Director of Communications for the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) reminds us just how big of an accomplishment it is for the public to have access to the data in the first place.
“Companies releasing their diversity data is very admirable because they are being more transparent, whereas in the past, the companies weren’t being honest. Transparency is the first step in being able to assess where improvements are needed. This is the real story.”
Transparency seems to be the first win in the battle towards parity, but with such a large disparity between men and women working in leadership and other roles within the tech industry, where can we look for change? And why, if these companies are as committed as they say, do their hiring and promotion practices not reflect these espoused values?
The apparent inability to recruit and retain female employees is compounded with the cultural issues that are largely to blame for the technology industry’s continued hemorrhaging of qualified women. According to the National Center for Women in Technology’s annual scorecard, 56% of female employees in tech leave the workforce at the mid-point of their careers. Half of these women will stay in computing (public sector or self-employed). The other half will leave the work force, or move to a non-tech field. It seems that the second half may leave for reasons unrelated to their working conditions, but the first half are clearly unhappy about their experience in the private sector as they seek to employ their hard won skills and expertise in a less profitable and more flexible sector of the economy. It is not surprising then, that NCWIT’s numbers indicate women hold just 6% of the CEO positions of the top 100 tech companies, and are 22% of the software engineers.
What will move the needle for women in technology?
What were the factors that gave high-ranking technology firms like Pandora, Indiegogo and eBay the edge in this one survey? There is no one answer but
in a September blog post, Indiegogo’s Co-founder and Chief Development Officer, Danae Ringelmann illustrated how their internal diversity is reflected in the company’s external results. She notes that 47% of their women led crowd-funding campaigns meet their funding goals. Diversity is not merely a problem to be fixed—it is integral to the company’s mission, and therefore a priority for everyone, from top to bottom. Other tech giants are taking another approach to addressing pipeline issues.
As the world’s most valuable company, Apple is undoubtedly a global leader, and not only in high-tech design; it is perceived as a progressive company with values that support innovation on many levels. Sadly, this is not yet reflected in the make-up of its executive leadership and technical staff.
The company began 2014 by amending a board charter for its nominating committee to include language formalizing the company’s commitment to diversifying its board of directors. The change came after shareholders Trillium Asset Management and the Sustainability Group held meetings with the Apple’s investor-relations team to call attention to Andrea Jung being the company’s sole female and ethnic member. In addition, the company’s longest serving board member Bill Campbell was replaced by founding partner and director of Black Rock, Susan L. Wagner. These are certainly moves in the right direction, but are the company’s efforts to make good on its diversity promise genuine, or is the new verbage merely a surface level attempt to please investors and increase sales? Only time will tell, but undoubtedly their numbers show the need for improvement.
According to the company’s own website, 64% of their U.S. leadership is White with Asian ethnic groups trailing at 21%, and Hispanics composing only 6%. Only 3% of the company’s leadership is black. Globally, the gender split is equally off balance with women composing 28% of its leadership, 20% of tech jobs and 35% of the non-tech positions. Overall, the company’s staff has more than twice as many men as it does women, with a ratio of 7 men for every 3 women.
When compared with other leading tech companies like Facebook and Twitter, Apple’s numbers are very close.
As of now, the numbers don’t necessarily reflect Apple CEO Tim Cook’s claim that, “from the earliest days, we have known that diversity is critical to our success.”
When asked as to whether or not the changes to Apple’s charter and the recent release of information by all of the major tech companies this past summer is a true reflection of their intentions, Bradbury is positive in her response, “We should give them the benefit of the doubt. This kind of change doesn’t happen over night and it will take more than one company or one organization to make the difference.”
Starting the pipeline in education
According to Sheryl Sandberg, the problem is rooted in education. In an August interview with USA Today Sandberg asserted, “At the broadest level, we are not going to fix the numbers for under-representation in technology, or any industry, until we fix our education system and … the stereotypes about women … in math and science.” According to Sandberg, women represent only 18% of the computer science majors in the United States.
To help remedy the problem, many of the major tech companies have invested in organizations seeking to increase the number of children, especially girls, and those from low-income and diverse communities, in learning computer science at an early age. Facebook’s emphasis takes a broad view of increasing diversity, including transgender people, veterans and ethnicity. They have partnered with Yes We Code, an organization that aims to train 100,000 children through grassroots training programs to become high-level computer programs.
Google, on the other hand, is focusing their efforts more directly on women by offering 3 months of free access to programming classes at the Code School. As of the writing of this article, all of the available vouchers have been claimed. The Code School is a relatively affordable option (unlimited access to all of their online lessons costs $30 per month) for women looking to begin a new career or enhance their skills. The vouchers were only one part of a multi-faceted strategy to invest in shifting the current gender gap. Google has invested $40 million in a variety of organizations like Code.org, Black Girls Code, and Girls Who Code over the past three years. Finally, they’ve created a new initiative, Made with Code, aimed to inspire girls to use coding as a tool for achieving their dream careers.
Twitter, whose gender numbers are some of the worst in tech and leadership, invested in Girls Who Code since its inception; their CTO, Adam Messinger, sits on the Board.
These programs and investments are still fairly young; all of the above groups have been established since 2011. Although education can be an easy smokescreen for corporations to hide behind, it is an essential part of social change and eventually may make it possible for more women to be in senior management in tech.
As of now, the numbers show that the major tech companies aren’t there yet, as many women remain caught in the middle. All of these companies are making moves toward equality in their own way, and we hope to see progress in the coming years.