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Female Google execs on how to attract more women to the biz

Five prominent women leaders gathered Tuesday at Google's San Francisco offices to talk about leadership, innovation, and gender bias.

SAN FRANCISCO -- On the eve of the Google I/O Developers Conference, the company's offices here were abuzz with a familiar refrain: the need for more women in the computer science industry.

The Women Techmakers event featured five women from Google's storied ranks talking about recruitment, leadership, gender bias, and of course, why Google is such an enviable place for women to work.

Susan Wojcicki, the senior vice president of advertising, was the 16th Google employee. When she started, she was told she would have a boss to report to.

"I waited for years," she said. "But then I learned I wouldn't have a person telling me what to do. I had to figure it out. I had to act like an owner. I had no one to go to for direction," she said. "It was sink or swim."

Wojcicki swam.

But stories of success rarely comfort those still floundering.

An audience member asked what recommendations women who are outside the Googleplex should follow.

You could almost cue the crickets.

"That's a hard situation to be in," said Wojcicki. She related how important it was to form bonds with other women, by, for example, going out to lunch.

According to Wojcicki, it's ultimately about believing in what you're doing and making sure your work can shine through.

Sounds easy enough. So... where are the women?

The panel highlighted research brought to light by the actress Geena Davis that suggests cartoons for children under six are sending gender-biased messages. There was only one Dory in a sea of male fish; there was only one Smurfette in a village of Smurfs. Eighty percent of jobs in cartoons are held by men.

"It's boys will be boys. And girls will be boys," says Megan Smith, VP of Google's new-business development.

And, let's face it, tech is often portrayed as a nerdy, isolated, go sit-in-your-cubicle kind of career.

The answer to attracting more females exists in how you tell the story. But more importantly, when you tell the story, according to these Google execs.

"We need to tell the story of technology; the story of what we do, to girls... not women, because it's too late then," says Gayathri Rajan, the director of product management.

"Creating something out of nothing...that appeals to women," said Angela Lai, the VP of payments.

A recent survey by the recruitment firm Harvey Nash Group indicates that the number of women in senior technology positions at U.S. companies is down for the second year in a row. In statistics cited at the panel, in the 1980s 40 percent of computer science majors were women. Last year, merely 14 percent of computer science grads were female.