The lack of gender diversity at high tech companies in the Silicon Valley has been the subject of much debate, but little progress. Few could agree on the diversity facts of record because no serious research had been done measuring how few women executives there are in comparison to their male counterparts. However, a landmark gender diversity study has been released that tells us just how bad the Bay Area bastion of tech maleness really is. The ground breaking study was conducted by the tech law practice of Fenwick & West and is entitled Gender Diversity in Silicon Valley: a Comparison of Silicon Valley Public Companies and Large Public Companies. In fact, the study finds that the paucity of gender diversity at the board level is likely worse than you thought. As Business Insider Reporter Lydia Dallett pointed out,
“In the 2013 proxy season, more than 80% of Silicon Valley 150 companies had only one woman director or none at all.”
In other words, public companies to large public companies not counted among the SV150, the difference is vast.
The law firm sifted through public filings for the proxy seasons from 1996 through 2013, tallying up the number of women serving on boards and executive teams of companies in the boards of directors and 40% have just one woman director.
The Silicon Valley tech companies are public companies, mind you, not tech startups. They each have, on average, 8500 employees. S&P 100 companies average 170,000 employees. However, when you compare the two, SV150 companies seem as immature as a school boy who punches a classmate in the arm to show her how much he likes her.
The facts are now indisputable: women are profoundly under-represented at the senior executive and board levels in Silicon Valley. Of course, the question becomes what do we do about that? At a minimum, the law firm Fenwick & West suggests the following:
As anyone who lives and works in the high technology and life sciences industries of Silicon Valley can readily attest, Silicon Valley is quite diverse in terms of ethnicity and culture as well as in many other ways, drawing talent from across the United States and around the world. And, as a general matter, Silicon Valley companies embrace open-mindedness and meritocracy as core values and are interested in attracting the best, most talented workforce possible, in the belief that it is essential to the success of their businesses. We hope that the information in this study . . . will spur and inform additional thought and discussion among the participants and leaders in the Silicon Valley ecosystem.
Dude, Where’s My Code?
Of course, any woman working in the tech industry has likely experienced the lack of gender diversity first hand. In fact, the male gender dominance has given rise to so-called “bro” culture. If nerds with pocket protecters were not enough, women of the Silicon Valley have the growing ranks of brogrammers with which to contend. According to the Urban Dictionary:
A programmer who breaks the usual expectations of quiet nerdiness and opts instead for the usual trappings of a frat-boy: popped collars, bad beer, and calling everybody “bro”. Despised by everyone, especially other programmers.
Example: “Oh my god, John is talking about football and chicks again. That guy is such a brogrammer.”
I’d like to believe that the gender diversity study will prompt more evolved leaders in Silicon Valley to take steps to ensure fairness for all deserving candidates. There are simple steps one can take to level the playing field. Our retained search practice The Good Search and our research practice Intellerati have done extensive work in diversity recruiting and diversity talent acquisition. We help top media and technology companies identify, profile, and cultivate relationships with the best and brightest diverse talent at the senior executive level — well in advance of hiring needs. We develop diversity talent pools uncovering top diverse talent to ensure their light is not hidden under a bushel. Moreover, diversity talent pools also help to off-set the homogenous effect of employee referrals. To become truly diverse, we must reach beyond our own networks to include executives who do not resemble ourselves.
In our gender diversity practice, we are aware how cultural stereotypes influence our views and behavior. Ever wonder why we remain so conflicted about women achieving parity in the executive suite? Take a close look at Barbie and think about how warped her physical dimensions are. She is so thin, she’d be classified as anorexic. In fact, her dimensions literally would cripple her.
If Barbie were real, she’d have half a liver because her waist is so small. With so long and narrow a neck, she’d be unable to lift her head. Moreover, she couldn’t stand — it would be physically impossible with her teensy-weensy child’s size three feet in the permanent high-heel position. She’d have to crawl.
Every two seconds, a Barbie is sold. Every year, 15 million dolls make their way into the hands of little girls. Too few of them grow up to be CEOs. While a the iconography of a single doll seems trivial, it is not when it has served as a role model for our daughters for more than fifty years. Rehabs.com, which published the infographic below, points out that four out of five 10-year-olds say that they’re afraid of being fat. 42% of girls in first through third grade wish they were thinner. And, half of girls aged 9 or 10 claim that they feel better about themselves when they’re dieting.
On January 1st of this year, we achieved a new milestone when the number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 rose to 21. The number represents a paltry 4.2% when parity would be 50%. Though there are many contributing factors,Barbie is so imbedded deep in our psyches that I suspect the number of female CEOs will not change until Barbie does.
According Women’s Media Center, women executives will not reach leadership parity with men until 2085 . To put the year 2085 into context: I will be dead by then. Unless my now college-aged daughter lives to the ripe old age of 105, she will be dead by then as well.
The gender inequality in the ways that women are employed and represented in news, entertainment and technology- related media.”
Another report 2012 study by the nonprofit Catalyst details women executive percentages that come nowhere near approaching the 51% percent of the population that are women.
14.3 % of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies and 8.1 percent of executive officer top earner positions.
16.6 % of board seats in 2012 were held by women — the seventh consecutive year of no growth.
0% of the executive officer roles are held by women at more than one-quarter of the Fortune 50o. In other words, they have no women leaders.
Now that I have your attention, please take a moment download the report. Next, please share your thoughts on ways to increase the number of senior executive women. We do a lot of work in gender diversity and enjoy tracking methods and approaches that make a difference.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof devoted Sunday’s column entitled “She’s (Rarely) The Boss”to a discussion with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Ms. Sandberg is the author a new book called Lean In that is set to come out later this year that offers practical advice and insights on cultivating C-level diversity for executive women. She developed her thought-provoking ideas in a speech she gave at TED in December of 2010 — a talk I featured in an earlier post — and later in a 2011 commencement speech at Barnard College.
Some interesting statistics to compare to the 50% of the population that is female:
Ms. Sandberg advises women not to lean back, but to lean in. She’s observed women internalize “messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve. ” It is an empowering message for to women leaders to take note of our hesitations and to “lean in”.
Mr. Kristoff believes encouraging female executive assertiveness is a good thing, but it must be accompanied by structural changes to accommodate women and families. Kristof cites a growing body of evidence that increasing the number of women in the C-suite and on corporate boards of directors is simply good business.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg offers insights on gender diversity at the senior executive level. Women executives remain in a small minority when to reflect the general population the ratio should be more 50/50. According to research by Catalyst, women serve as CEOs in just 3.8% of the Fortune 500 and in just 4% of Fortune 1000 companies. We’re no where near double digits, much less approaching the 50% mark that would signal a playing field that is, finally, level. One reason for the lack of parity is that women pay a price for their success. In fact, Ms. Sandberg points out that studies show that the more successful a women is the less she is liked.
So while men enjoy the fruits of their success, attracting friends and admirers in their wake, women face the opposite outcome. Is it no wonder that a significant percentage of women opt out. However, Ms. Sandberg encourages women to stay in the game because you have to stay in it to win it. Still, a woman should not have to choose between being liked or being a leader. It is not an either-or proposition for men. It should not be for women either. Until that changes, my friends, we have work to do.