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?
The US should create a service to provide no cost child care:
from the article
The cost and the scarcity of day care has helped create what the sociologist Joya Misra calls “the motherhood penalty.” While women without children are closer to pay equity with men, women with children are lagging behind because they find that working doesn’t always make sense after considering the cost of child care. When women earn less than their partners, they are more likely to drop out of the work force, and if they do so for two years or more, they may not be able to get back in at anything approaching their prior job or earnings. The cost of taking care of one’s children outside the home is now so high that many women cannot be assured of both working and making a decent income after taxes and child care costs.
Professor Misra, who teaches sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has analyzed data from thousands of parents from different social classes. One study of middle-class academic parents was based on hundreds of surveys and focus group interviews and 17 one-on-one interviews. Many talked about the shock of day care costs, which can eat up 30 percent of one income in a two-salary couple, Professor Misra says.In 35 states and D.C., even the cost of center-based day care (let alone a nanny) is higher than the cost of a year of a public college. More anecdotally, day care costs for middle-class New Yorkers can easily equal from $25,000 to $30,000 per child. In New York, child care is the single greatest expense among low-income families in the city, surpassing both food and housing.
We see day care as a private responsibility. Part of the problem is that we sometimes have a problem with the idea of “day care” itself. Professor Gerson and other sociologists saw something I had seen as well among my middle class acquaintances: a discomfort with center-based day care and even the term “day care,” preferring terms like “educational enrichment” and, yes, preschool. Across the world, though, people count on the availability of day care and see it as a collective good: Americans don’t tend to do so as readily. More access to quality early childhood care would help. But those solutions go only part of the way. The most radical solution of all is the most obvious: we need high-quality, universal, subsidized day care. And we should not be ashamed to ask for it.
- Elizabeth Spiers, Beware of broken glass: the media’s double standard for women at the top
Spiers does a good job of defending Marrisa Mayer’s decision to end distributed (‘remote’) work at Yahoo, and especially making the case of a double standard for women at the ‘top’. Much of the discourse swirling around the Yahoo brouhaha is explicitly about Mayer as a female role-model.
However, I’d like to make a few points.
Calling working at home (or out of the office) a ‘luxury’ is intentionally derogatory. For those caring for children or aging parents it is a huge benefit, but not a luxury. More importantly, for some people, if they could not work from home then they would be unable to work, because they simply cannot afford the costs involved with caring for those family members.
Secondly — and this is where feminism enters — those caregivers in America are largely women. It is generally women who have to shoulder the burden of caregiving. And, also note, women continue to be paid less for doing the same work as men, and are much more likely to work in industries and roles that pay less, like health care, teaching, and administration.
Last, US Census numbers show that working at home is prevalent in many industries (see below). For example, 846,000 sales people worked from home in 2010, and 956,000 support staff.
I don’t dispute that Mayer has the right to make this call, and she has real incentives to change the culture at Yahoo. But as I have suggested in a recent GigaOM Research post (see Cultural change is really complex contagion), this is probably not the best way to do that.