It's not women who are the problem in tech land

Silicon Valley's male-dominated culture could cost the technology industry the thing it values most: innovation.

CNET

Carol Bartz knows what it's like to be the only woman on the top management team and board of a technology company.

She's seen just about everything the industry can throw at a woman. That's why she "couldn't be more disappointed" by what's going on in Silicon Valley and the technology industry today.

The former CEO of Autodesk and Yahoo, who's served on the boards of Intel, Cisco Systems, BEA Systems and Network Appliance (now called NetApp), earned her computer science degree in 1971, when women held few professional jobs in the United States. Only 9 percent of the country's doctors and 4 percent of the nation's lawyers and judges were women then. Women made up just 1 percent of all engineers in the US when Bartz graduated -- and just 4 percent a decade later in 1981, according to the US Labor Department.

Well, you might say, women were just gearing up then. But by 2012, only 14 percent of engineers were women. Worse, almost 40 percent of women with engineering degrees either quit or don't even enter the field, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Why would educated, professional women exit an industry that has the highest starting salaries?

Some of those women say they're bailing on tech companies because of the lack of family-friendly flexibility, lower salaries compared with their male colleagues and fewer opportunities for advancement. Still others blame the "bro culture" at tech companies, referring to a kind of immature, frat-boy behavior.

"I got a computer science degree because I couldn't have broken in back then if I didn't have it," says Bartz, who felt the barbs of sexual discrimination early in her career as the only woman professional among 300 men at 3Com.

carolbartz.jpg
Carol Bartz, former CEO of Autodesk and Yahoo, Bartz says women need to work less, network more -- and demand the credit they believe they're due. "You have to be your own best salesman." Courtesy of Carol Bartz

But that was more than four decades ago.

"I had this fantasy that the young men growing up [after me] had more realistic views of their college friends and they would treat them better," Bartz says, shaking her head. "But they're just frat boys...I couldn't be more disappointed."

Things have to change. They can't afford not to.

'A red f*cking herring'

More diverse teams are more successful teams.

That's a fact. Numerous studies show that teams with gender and race diversity get better results. A Lehman Brothers survey of 100 teams found that "gender balanced" teams were most likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge and fulfill tasks, while a 2009 paper by Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques found that technical work teams with women were better at staying on schedule and had lower project costs.

McKinsey and Co., meanwhile, says diversity translates into dollars: companies that are more gender- and ethnically diverse perform better financially.

Yet women held just 14.3 percent of board seats at the top 100 tech companies by revenue in June 2013, according to a survey by executive recruitment firm Korn Ferry. Ten of those boards had no women directors in December of that year.

Entrepreneur and women's advocate Rachel Sklar challenges tech companies to explain why.

"If you DON'T have diversity around your boardroom table, then what is wrong with you?" Sklar wrote in February on Medium. "What kind of ace business person identifies a major factor to improve the bottom line and then just ignores it?"

Many tech companies' answer to that question: They can't find enough qualified women with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The thing is, as Sklar noted, that qualification isn't a requirement for men.

John Chambers, a lawyer by training, is about to retire as head of networking gear maker Cisco Systems, a company so geeky its tech speak may make your eyes cross. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner got his degree in economics, as did Logan Green, co-founder and CEO of ride-sharing service Lyft. Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff studied business administration. Prominent tech investor Ron Conway, who was an early investor in Google and PayPal, earned his undergraduate degree in political science. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was a college dropout.

"It is a RED F*CKING HERRING to constantly blame Silicon Valley's gender problem on a lack of female engineers," Sklar wrote. "If Silicon Valley's money people or fancy keynote founders or biz whizzes on the cover of Entrepreneur were all engineers crushing code 24/7, then fine. But that is not the case."

Women make up more than half the US population, account for more than half of college graduates, and earn 40 percent of the MBAs awarded each year. Yet women comprise a much smaller percentage of the tech industry workforce, based on diversity reports released by more than 10 companies, from Apple to Google to Twitter.

At Apple, women hold just 20 percent of technical jobs, 35 percent of non-technical roles and 28 percent of leadership jobs. "We know we can do more," CEO Tim Cook said after releasing the iPhone maker's diversity data last year. At microblogging site Twitter, women account for 10 percent of the technical jobs, with just 21 percent in leadership positions. Microsoft, the world's largest software maker, said women fill just 29.1 percent of its workforce; only 16.6 percent in tech positions and 23 percent in leadership roles.

Those numbers don't make the industry particularly friendly to women and reduce the number of high-profile executives who can serve as role models.

"The industry is still male dominated and it can be so aggressive and intimidating and almost feel like this club where you have to have a certain IQ or you're not invited," says Debbie Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox, which makes engineering toys and games for young girls. "Studies show that women don't give themselves enough credit -- they undervalue their ability and intellect while men overstate them. You can see why that culture can be off-putting for women."

Why should tech companies care about attracting and retaining women? If the team diversity argument isn't compelling enough, consider this: It costs companies $150,000 to $200,000 to replace just one employee in a technical role.

Perhaps that money could be used toward addressing the pay gap between men and women.

No meritocracy

Men in Silicon Valley earned up to 61 percent more than their female peers, according to data released by Joint Venture Silicon Valley in February.

That pay gap is bigger in Silicon Valley than in San Francisco or anywhere else in the country. Part of the explanation may be because there are more men engineers in those high-wage jobs. But that doesn't explain the low number of women in tech companies' non-tech, business roles.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella became the poster child for the issue last year when he said women should rely on instead of asking for raises and promoting themselves.

"That made me so mad," says Catherine Courage, senior vice president of customer experience at Citrix Systems. "The last thing that drove my career is karma. It was defining my fate and not sitting around. I don't believe in my heart of hearts that he would have given that advice to any man."

Nadella, who was roundly criticized for his comments (at a conference celebrating women in tech, ironically) has instituted training programs at Microsoft to help raise awareness about the unconscious bias that can hinder women's careers.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich is taking a different approach. The CEO of the world's largest chipmaker said in January that he's tied 2015 manager's compensation to achieving diversity goals. Salesforce's Benioff in April started reviewing the salaries of his 16,000 employees to ensure men and women are paid equally. "When I'm done, there will be no gap," Benioff said.

And Ellen Pao, interim CEO of Reddit, told the Wall Street Journal in April that the media site has banned pay negotiations during its recruitment process. "Men negotiate harder than women do and sometimes women get penalized when they do negotiate," said Pao after losing her high-profile gender discrimination suit against former employer, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

"We come up with an offer that we think is fair," Pao said. "If you want more equity, we'll let you swap a little bit of your cash salary for equity, but we aren't going to reward people who are better negotiators with more compensation."

Group think

Researchers have tried to determine if biological or neurological reasons explain why more girls and women don't study STEM subjects. They haven't found anything to prove girls are less interested in math and science than boys. What they have found is that parents often stop young girls from pursuing interests that society still considers too masculine.

"We know girls are discouraged early on," says Caryl Rivers, co-author of "The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance is Hurting Women, Men -- and Our Economy." "As early as elementary school, girls and boys like math equally until the fourth and fifth grade. Then girls' interests start taking a nosedive."

Mari Benitez/CNET

Evidence includes research published by Psychological Science in 2001 showing parents were three times more likely to explain a museum's science exhibit to their sons than to their daughters.

A 2002 study reported that parents believe their infant daughters are less bright, competent and skilled at math and spatial intelligence than their infant sons -- even though girls, in general, perform better in school.

And The New York Times noted in January that parents are more than twice as likely to search "Is my son gifted?" in Google than "Is my daughter gifted?" -- despite the fact that in the US, "girls are 11 percent more likely than boys to be in gifted programs." What are parents more likely to search about their daughters? That would be, "Is my daughter overweight?" or "Is my daughter ugly?"

That bias continues through college. Biology, chemistry and physics professors at US universities consider female undergraduates less competent than male students with the same skills and accomplishments -- and were less willing to mentor women or offer them research jobs, according to a 2012 report out of Yale University. Women who did get jobs were paid less.

Of puppet masters and finding a fix

What's the tech industry supposed to do about all this?

Well for starters, adult supervision from VCs could put a much-needed end to frat boy behavior, says Janine Yancey, a labor attorney who served as Google's outside counsel in the Internet company's early days.

"Venture capital [firms] have an obligation to counsel and train their founders," says Yancey, who now runs a startup that provides human resources and compliance training. "These companies are given millions and millions of dollars...and they're allowed to make all sorts of really big, ridiculous decisions that impact society and impact their own careers.

"But venture capitalists pull the strings. They're the puppet masters. Silicon Valley exists because of VCs. They've got the money to make it happen," she adds. "With that power should come a huge responsibility."

Aongus Hegarty, who is responsible for Dell's business across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, has made diversity a personal crusade after finding just one woman on his 12-member leadership team when he took charge three years ago. Today there are five. His solution: get more men engaged in solving the problem.

"I put the whole issue of inclusion on our agenda as a standard item" at quarterly meetings, Hegarty says. "I [along with] members of our leadership team have to be more proactive."

Bartz says women need to work less, network more -- and demand the credit they believe they're due. "You have to be your own best salesman."

-- CNET's Lynn La and Shara Tibken contributed to this report.

This story is the first in Solving for XX, a CNET special report that looks beyond the tech industry's toxic frat-boy culture and the tired debate about too few women earning STEM degrees. The CNET News team has spent the past few months investigating what people and companies are doing to effect real change -- and the steps that still need to be taken.

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