How the Gender Bias Hurts the Tech Industry
I’m fortunate to work with an inspiring group of women across all departments and offices. In LivePerson’s New York headquarters (my “home away from home”), 40% of the employees are women — a figure that’s disproportionately high for the tech industry. While campaigns like Girls Who Code, where I've taught in the past, and #ILookLikeAnEngineer work to dispel the typical male stereotype of Silicon Valley, women still only make up 30% of the tech sector even though we make up 59% of the US workforce.
Across industries, the gender gap is even more apparent in the C-suite. Only 4% of S&P 500 CEOs are women — a point our very own chief of staff, Kristy Sundjaja, brings up to illustrate how gender inequality filters from the top down. It got me thinking: Why aren’t there more women in tech?
Ellen Pao, former CEO of Reddit, has said, “If we do not share our stories and shine a light on inequities, things will not change.” Today, women are defying gender norms and breaking into traditionally male-dominated industries. We’ve also been thriving. White House CTO Megan Smith, Slack build-and-release engineer Erica Baker, Apple SVP Angela Ahrendts, Kristy, and many others are powerful role models for me and the next generation of women in tech. Here are just a few reasons why the industry is in need of more female players, particularly in positions of leadership.
1. Women are the dominant users of technology. We’ve racked up more hours online, use mobile more frequently, and are the biggest adopters of all Internet-enabled devices. So, why aren’t we powering the industry? “The number of women studying engineering is rapidly increasing, but the opportunities in the workforce don’t necessarily match the opportunities for men,” explains Kristy, who went to school for engineering, economics, and business. The gender bias begins early, and it permeates throughout the tech industry. For companies, women offer an immense intelligence resource that remains largely untapped. We spend more money than men on technology and electronics, and to exclude the single most significant economic force in the world is a definite omission for a supposedly forward-thinking, customer-centric field.
2. Diversity in the workplace leads to better products, fewer failures. Let me preface this: Don’t hire me — or anyone — to fill some arbitrary diversity quota. Always hire the right fit for the job. But you can’t discount the importance of having a diverse workplace. It’s been shown that companies with a diverse employee base innovate more, produce better products, have fewer problems, and solve any problem more quickly. The more perspectives expressed — on a policy, technical issue, campaign strategy, etc. — the more solutions you’ll find and the more likely it is you’ll arrive at the right one. “Women at the top are more conscious as they develop policies — from both a men and women’s perspective,” Kristy asserts. The benefits of workplace diversity are starting to be felt in the C-suite. “Diversity creates dissent, and you need that,” says Paul Block, president and CEO of Merisant. “Without it, you’re not going to get any deep inquiry or breakthroughs.” Seán McCarthy, CEO of Build America Mutual, lays it out another way: "If you have everyone who thinks the same way and has the same background, you'll miss the same issue every time."
3. It’s easier than ever to “have it all” — if that’s what we want. “It’s a hot topic right now,” says Kristy, because the concept of a “work-life balance” is dying out. The new way of thinking accepts work as an important part of life but by no means as a totally separate yet equally weighted half. It’s no longer an “either-or”; they’ve become integrated with the advent of technology, remote office capabilities, and companies emphasizing a culture that supports employees both personally and professionally. Whatever the “life” part of the equation means for a woman — be that motherhood, travel and adventure, an outside project, or anything else — doesn’t come at the expense of the job or career.
4. We have the strongest support network yet. The list of role models I previously laid out is much abridged. Every generation sees more women in tech than the last, and we can draw infinite inspiration from them. I certainly do. Since the mid-’90s, hundreds of active organizations have come to the scene to mentor, fund, educate, and empower others in the field. Because it’s not just about men making room for women; it’s women making room for and elevating each other. This keeps us individually accountable and makes us stronger as a whole. We are working hard to bring the industry up to speed, and, step by step, it’s getting there.
I’ll leave you with some words from Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer: “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.” We have to keep the momentum going and the tech world on its toes. We have more reasons and resources than ever to crack that glass ceiling and disrupt the boys’ club. All we need is a few more players on our team.