Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Women in the Silicon Valley

They don't have it so good.

Check the stats on women at the highest level in California and specifically Silicon Valley public companies. [Reg. Req'd.]

Key excerpt:
For every nine men in the executive suites and boardrooms of California's largest companies, there's only one woman -- and Silicon Valley firms have the fewest females at the top, according to a University of California study released Thursday. [snip] Women hold only 10 percent of the combined board seats and executive officer positions at the state's 400 biggest publicly traded companies with revenue over $100 million, the UC-Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders showed. About half the companies have no female directors, while a third count only one woman among board members or executives.

A quarter of the companies in the study are based in Silicon Valley, and they have the fewest women on their boards and among executive ranks. Female executives are mostly absent from semiconductor, telecommunications and electronics companies.

Merc reporter Michelle Quinn lists the common theories, AKA excuses found in the original article, and elsewhere, including:
The Pipeline Theory: Girls go "yuck"' when faced with math and science, limiting their options too soon, which contributes to the shortage of women in technology fields.

The Opt-Out Plan: Many talented women climbing the ladder pull the rip cord at critical career junctures to have children or downshift to jobs with less responsibility. And they don't or can't re-enter or ramp back up.

The Individual Contributor Syndrome: Women focus laser-like on doing their jobs but fail to schmooze or work in groups, all of which would help build up their base of support when they want to move up. (Note to self: Take off the earphones at work.)

And there is, of course, straight-out bias. Maybe the way meritocracy is defined around here is flawed. It's like kickball all over again. We're not getting picked, so we're not getting better at it.

Quinn actually favors another theory:
"The Despot Decides" theory: The person in charge of a company is the Sun King, the company his fiefdom. He radiates influence with grand pronouncements, little asides or even raised eyebrows. He tends to favor people he feels comfortable with . . . usually male.

So, let's see. I think there are some interesting resources to debunk some of those theories. I personally blogged about a study that debunked the Opt-Out Myth. And I find the Individual Contributor theory odd, since people more often generalize that women are great at collaboration and therefore rarely take individual credit and gain star status. The non-schmoozing I can understand, the theory that women don't work in groups seems counterintuitive.

Now, the Pipeline Theory. That's one that could probably be endlessly debated. There's a ton of interesting data at the National Science Foundation. This is just one part of it. Yes, women trail men in both academic enrollment and in employment in most segments of the science & engineering world. BUt not to the degree that they trail men in getting to the highest levels within those fields. And the pipeline should be fairly healthy. Their most recent tables (which are granted a few years old) indicate that women are now even with men in obtaining science & engineering bachelor's degrees. You could dig in and spend days in the data, but I think it's fairly easy to say that, again: at the highest levels women trail men disproportionately to how much they trail them at lower levels.

I wish I could say that I thought that it made a difference that they were focusing on large and public companies, that the Silicon Valley would look a lot better if they included smaller or private start-ups. But I don't really think so.

And I'd really appreciate if people stopped looking at theories that only analyze women's role in this (they reject it at early levels of education; they opt out to have babies; they don't self-promote enough) and also look at what society and corporate hierarchies and current traditional management practices might have to do with it.

Unless, of course, you're convinced that:

a) the corporate world really is a meritocracy and if a woman was as good as a man she'd automatically and organically get just as far


b) it's not that important

What are your thoughts?

Did you see cnet's list of top ten geek women? It included Lisa Simpson and Paris Hilton. Arrrgggggghhhhh.

I opted out of the executive ladder at Oracle when I found my style and temperament wasn't suited to the kill-or-be-killed atmosphere. Maybe women drop out and opt out because they find it unpleasant to work in male dominated fields.

Coming back to tech I remember why I left sometimes. Too often I find myself the only woman involved in a discussion. It's tiring, I'm always watching how I act to try to root out the female (talking weakly, bringing in my personal experiences instead of generalizing everything, etc.)

I agree we need to look at the entire set of interlocking influences in which women and men make decisions.
I did see that list and thought it was beneath even blogging about. Don't forget Daryl Hannah. She was there too, mostly for playing a replicant in Bladerunner. WTF?

I say screw "rooting out" whatever is natural to you. I know men in management who refuse to make a real decision or conversely, simply agree with whatever the last person told them. Isn't that "talking weakly"? I know men in management who will talk about how much their car cost, their golf game, and precede every statement of their business opinion with a "back when I was at [insert name of whatever prestigious company they used to work for here] we did this." Isn't that bringing in their personal experiences?

Don't buy into the very stereotype about what is "female" or "male" words or action, especially when it's been a male-dominated corporate culture that has defined that. That's how I have ended up getting told I manage or think like a man, when I'm pretty sure that's not what it is!
I think there's a lot to be said for the despot theory. It doesn't even have to be at that scale. People choose to work and collaborate with people they can relate to, so anyone who doesn't easily socialize with the "in" crowd gets left out. The first part isn't necessarily bad, but the second half is a disaster.

I remember seeing a newspaper article about this wrt women in science research, where they found that women lost out by not being part of the social structures that men were sharing useful career information through.

Women can do a certain amount to fight back: get involved, get noticed, make connections, be aware of the system, but there's a real limit to that. It works okay for me right now because I'm young and have enough free time to go to tech group meetings and learn the talk, and the local people in my field are mostly friendly. It's much harder for my mother, who has really struggled to find long-term work since 2001, and doesn't fit into most people's idea of what someone in the tech industry should look like at all.
Audrey: you have a point. In fact ageism in the tech world or in any industry may be as bad a problem as any other 'ism'. Perhaps not so much as the very top...where gray-haired lions have fought their way to the top and manage to stay there, but at every other layer older people are loathe to ever leave the job they have without another one, for fear that job will be their last.

More experience and know-how = lower employability.

Who'd a thunk?
Women certainly make a difference in the Silicon Valley. I was in retail for over 11 years. My family/work balance changed with the arrival of my daughter. I chose to make a difference through association and involvement in my community.

Now I work for whose mission is focused on involvement in children schools events, projects and trips.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?