Trying to solve the women-in-tech problem? I volunteer as tribute

Commentary: For years, women have been told they need to ask for raises and work harder for promotions. A new study finds that may not make any difference.

Connie Guglielmo
Connie Guglielmo Editor in Chief
Connie Guglielmo is editor in chief of CNET, overseeing an award-winning team of reporters, editors and photojournalists producing original content about what's new, different and worth your attention. A veteran business-tech journalist, she's worked at MacWeek, Wired, Upside, Interactive Week, Bloomberg News and Forbes covering Apple and the big tech companies. She covets her original nail from the HP garage, a Mac the Knife mug from Macweek, her pre-Version 1.0 iPod, a desk chair from NeXT Computer and a tie-dyed BMUG t-shirt. She believes facts matter.
Expertise I've been fortunate to work my entire career in Silicon Valley, from the early days of the Mac to the rise and fall of the dot-com era to the current age of the internet (Web 4.0?) Along the way, I've interviewed notable executives from Steve Jobs, Steve Credentials Member of the board, UCLA Daily Bruin Alumni Network; advisory board, The Center for Ethical Leadership in the Media
4 min read
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" New York Premiere - Inside Arrivals

Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of "The Hunger Games," isn't the only woman willing to make a sacrifice.  

Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage/Getty

Forget men being from Mars and women from Venus. When it comes to diversity in the workplace, men and women may not even be in the same universe.

That's one way to read a joint study out this week from LeanIn.org, the organization founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and McKinsey & Co. In what may be the largest study of its kind, the "Women in the Workplace 2017" report concludes that some well-worn assumptions are stunningly wrong. Thought women don't have the guts to ask for raises and promotions? Wrong. Believe women are more likely to be promoted over men by "social justice" fanatics? Wrong again. Assume the US workplace is a meritocracy? Let's not even dignify that one.

In fact, after talking to 70,000 workers at 222 companies that employ more than 12 million people, the landmark study found that women are "underrepresented at every level in corporate America, despite earning more college degrees than men for 30 years."

Let's allow a few of the findings to speak for themselves:

• About 37 percent of women believe their gender played a role in missing out on a raise, a promotion or a chance to get ahead, compared with 8 percent of men.  

"The gap begins with entry-level jobs and widens the higher you climb," Sandberg wrote Tuesday in an op-ed piece summarizing the report for The Wall Street Journal. "This isn't because of attrition; women and men stay with their companies at roughly the same rate."

• Women ask for promotions at the same rate as men but are promoted less often. The study found that "at the first critical step up to manager, women are 18 percent less likely to be promoted than their male peers." Looked at another way: If women were promoted at the same rate as their male colleagues, then the number of women in SVP and C-suite jobs "would more than double."

That's sobering.

• More men than women think their company is doing "what it takes to improve gender diversity."

• Nearly 50 percent of men think women are "well represented in leadership," even at companies where only one in 10 senior leaders is a woman. Sandberg calls it a sign that "we're too comfortable with the status quo."

The report has lots of numbers highlighting the very real differences in how men and women view their treatment in the workplace. (Note: The numbers are even worse when it comes to racial equality.) Yes, companies should strive for fairness and equality in the workplace. But the norm is also bad for business: The numbers prove that companies with more-diverse workforces and more-diverse boards are more productive and deliver higher profit than their rivals

That's from a McKinsey study of 366 companies from 2015, by the way.

The male-dominated tech industry knows it must do better -- and not just in workplace equality. Over the past several months, tech executives and venture capitalists have witnessed a wave of sexual harassment scandals, starting with Uber. According to The New York Times, this has led to "unintended consequences" that may set women back even more: Some VCs are avoiding solo meetings with women entrepreneurs and job candidates, even to the point of shunning critical networking meetings.

"A big chill came across Silicon Valley in the wake of all these stories, and people are hyper-aware and scared of behaving wrongly," one VC who asked to remain anonymous told the newspaper. "They're drawing all kinds of parameters."

What a mess. And it comes down to the fact that the leaders at many of these companies -- who say they're focused on addressing the #womenintech problem -- simply can't see what they can't see.

What do you do when that happens? You bring in people who can see it for you.  

And so, in the immortal words of Katniss Everdeen, "I volunteer as tribute."  

I'm willing to give up my long-time career as a tech and business journalist to serve on the boards of a few tech companies that are flummoxed by the lack of progress in their equality efforts.

After more than two decades covering Silicon Valley and the tech industry for MacWeek, Wired, Upside, Bloomberg, Forbes and now CNET, I know a few things about how the industry operates, even though I, like many board members at tech companies and some VCs, don't have a STEM degree.  

And while I may not have "binders full of women," I do know many talented, ambitious, smart women whom I can recommend for leadership jobs across a variety of tech companies, from service providers to product makers to social network builders. Oh, and let's not forget, I bring perspective that should prove valuable to companies where qualified women are just too hard to find. 

Yes, leaving journalism would be a sacrifice, given that serving as a director for tech companies no doubt requires very long hours for dismal pay. I think I can manage. And I'm certainly willing to step up for my fellow #womenintech and help those brave, forward-thinking companies that truly want to solve this diversity problem, if only to stop having to read reports about how dismal the situation is.

Let the revolution begin. 

Solving for XX: The tech industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about "women in tech."

iHate: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.