She was right. We were at the tech industry equivalent of the Oscars, and the only women on stage were TechCrunch CEO Heather Harde and a performer.
This is one of Silicon Valley’s most glaring faults: It is male-dominated. You don’t find many women in the executive teams of tech firms. Apple, for example, does not have a woman in its executive leadership. Other than a handful of notable exceptions like Padmasree Warrior of Cisco and Sandy Jen of Meebo, women chief technology officers are nowhere to be found. It’s equally bad in the venture capital world. Only one of the 84 venture capitalists on the 2009 The Funded list of top VCs was a woman.
This is all despite the fact that girls now match boys in mathematical achievement. Not to mention that, for every 140 women, there are 100 men enrolling in higher education. In addition, women earn more than 50 percent of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees and nearly 50 percent of all doctorates.
Is the dearth of women in tech because they are inferior in some way or have different motivations? To determine this, I shared datasets that my research team at Duke University had previously gathered, with the National Center of Women in Technology. The findings, which I highlighted in 2010, were surprising.
We learned that there was almost no difference between men and women technology company founders. Both groups had an equally strong desire to build wealth. Both wanted to capitalize on business ideas, were attracted to the culture of startups, had long-standing desire to own their own company and were tired of working for others. There was also no difference in life circumstances between men and women founders. Their average ages when founding their companies were about the same: 40 for men, 41 for women. Likewise, successful men and women entrepreneurs founded their companies when they had similar numbers of children living at home, though men were more likely than women to be married. The only perceptible differences were in the encouragement that women received from co-founders and what men received. Women received slightly more funding than men did from business partners.
Why then are women being left out?
Over the last two years, in an effort to understand this phenomenon, I have interviewed roughly 300 women in the technology sector. My conclusion, as I’ve written previously, is that the problem starts with Mom and Dad—very few parents encourage their daughters to study science and engineering. Women also lack role models. Nearly all of the tech leaders we celebrate—Apple’s Steve Jobs, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg—are male. Then, when women join engineering companies, they are a small minority and they don’t get the support or encouragement they need. Meanwhile, they have to battle negative stereotypes, making it nearly impossible to reach the rank of manager.