Kara Swisher comments on Marjorie Scardino joining Twitter’s board, but notes that there’s still a huge underrepresentation of women in tech at all levels, and especially in leadership roles.
The tech industry — and, more specifically, Silicon Valley — continues to stumble forward in earnest about how few women are represented in its top ranks of management and on its boards. This, despite the enthusiastic embrace of tech products by many women.
This is not a new problem, of course, but one that rears its head periodically as it becomes clear that the ground gained by women in this perhaps most important sector of the economy — a sector more amenable than most to more tolerance and diversity, too — is being lost rather than gained.
Any gander at the variety of studies, and even a not-very-scientific look at the subject, will show that fewer women are starting companies, are being promoted at companies, are funded, are funders, are on boards, are being rewarded in the same way. At a high-profile party I attended last night, for example, the small handful of women in attendance all seemed to notice and comment on the massive sea of men, though the men appeared blissfully unaware of the imbalance.
“They have no idea at all,” one prominent woman said to me, recounting a story about her visit to an advisory meeting of a tech bank board, where she was the single woman in a room full of men. When she brought it up there — not an easy thing for her, since she was the only woman — she was met with a lot of genuine concern when the penny dropped, but few ideas for action.
• Moreover, given her [Sheryl Sandberg’s] positions first at Google and now at Facebook, it is hard not to notice that her narrative is what corporate America wants to hear. - Anne-Marie Slaughter •
The individualistic, libertarian-leaning Silicon Valley types have absorbed the credo that tech is a pure meritocracy, and if there is an imbalance in the number of women in the industry it is a flaw in society as a whole, education, or women’s ambitions. To some extent that is the message of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, which characterizes the barriers to women’s advancement to senior roles as their unwillingness to ‘lean in’ — to be more ambitious, aggressive, and to take on more difficult work.
As Anne-Marie Slaughter put it in a review of Lean In,
Sandberg’s approach, as important as it is, is at best half a loaf. Moreover, given her positions first at Google and now at Facebook, it is hard not to notice that her narrative is what corporate America wants to hear. For both the women who have made it and the men who work with them, it is cheaper and more comfortable to believe that what they need to do is simply urge younger women to be more like them, to think differently and negotiate more effectively, rather than make major changes in the way their companies work.
So is the dearth of women in top jobs due to a lack of ambition or a lack of support? Both, as Sandberg herself grants, proposing that women should “wage battles on both fronts.” Yet she chooses to concentrate only on the “internal obstacles,” the ways in which women hold themselves back. This is unfortunate. As a feminist and a corporate leader, Sandberg seems ideally placed to ask the question that all too often gets lost amid the welter of talk about what women should do, what they should want and how they should behave. When it comes to ensuring that caregivers still have paths to the corner office, how can business lean in?