Women in Technology Face an Uphill Battle
BY Drew Gannon
In a Facebook Live panel, technology leaders discuss challenges for women in the workplace and solutions for the future.
"The problem is often that in order to contribute more, you have to believe you are able to contribute more." -Sheryl Sandberg
The facts paint a grim picture. Women make up half of the U.S. workforce but represent only 25 percent of the technology industry. Despite growth in entrepreneurship, women lead only eight percent of technology start-ups. And while women obtain the majority of college degrees, they represent only 15 percent of senior management in all industries.
"More women are entering the workforce and still not making it to the top," said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer.
Sandburg shared her concerns Wednesday during Facebook Live's Women in Technology Panel, hosted by White House Senior Advisor and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls Valerie Jarrett. Facebook's director of engineering Jocelyn Goldfein, Stella and Dot's CEO and founder Jessica Herrin, and Accel Partners' Theresia Gouw Ranzetta joined Sandberg and Jarrett to discuss the power of women in their industry and the challenges they still face.
"I think really the challenge for women is really giving themselves credit," said Sandberg. "The problem is often that in order to contribute more, you have to believe you are able to contribute more."
Sandberg, Goldfein, Ranzetta and Herrin drew on their personal experiences, business savoir-faire, and statistical interpretations to discuss issues such as gender stereotypes, workplace flexibility, role models, and education. They identified obstacles and offered hope for the next generation of tech savvy women. A small group of female engineers and Facebook employees created the panel's live audience in Silicon Valley, but the majority of viewers—over eight hundred—watched the streaming video from around the world. Questions submitted through Facebook before and during the panel and from the live audience propelled the one-hour discussion, which followed President Obama's Facebook Live Townhall meeting and preceded Startup America's panel on entrepreneurship.
Jarrett opened the discussion with a question on workplace flexibility, an issue all four panelists agreed posed challenges to women. In households where men and women both work, women still do twice as much housework and three time as much childcare. Goldfein used Facebook's policy as an example of how to rebalance the system. Men and women each receive four months paid leave when they have a child, creating an office climate that embraces the duality of parenting and professionalism.
Gender stereotypes posed an added hurdle in the workplace. Jarrett used her own experience in the private and public sectors to speak candidly about the traditionally weak female persona and charged the audience to act boldly in the boardroom. "I think women hold back," she said. "And they can't. If you are following your passion, if you are doing what excites you, you're doing a great job, recognize yourself."
The panel discussed two solutions for introducing more women into technology. Sandberg introduced the importance of computer access, explaining that every woman she knew in technology played video games as a child. Since peaking around 30 percent in the late 1980s, the number of women taking computer science classes has since fallen to 18 percent. According to Goldfein, increasing this percentage even slightly would encourage more women to stay in technology. "We can do so much better than this," she said.
The panelists also encouraged math and science education from an early age. "My husband and I don't expect our daughters to be Euclid," Hemn says. "But at the same time we have high expectations, saying you absolutely can do this if you work hard. It's not okay to think that math isn't as important as reading."
Despite many obstacles, Ranzetta identified women's influence on social media activity as a key factor for future entrepreneurial leadership. "Seventy-one percent of the daily active fans and users on Facebook are women. Sixty-two percent of all the sharing activity is driven by women," she says. "With these facts, women have not only an important, but I think, a critical and valuable role to play at the founding and executive table of tech startups."