Silicon Valley's Problem with Women is Everyone's Problem

   Image credit: NPR.org

  Image credit: NPR.org

A recent article titled “What is Silicon Valley’s Problem with Women?” summarizes the latest research on the entrenched gender divide, and discriminatory workplaces that discourage women in the tech field. There’s been no shortage of media coverage on this challenge - from the misogynistic work culture at Uber, to widespread solicitation of sexual favors in exchange for start-up capital from investors, to an anti-diversity memo published by a ex-Google engineer trashing the company’s equity and inclusion programs, and numbers of other stories.

At Quantum Impact we are closely following and taking notes on the tech industry’s engagement and response to these exposures. As companies like Salesforce, Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and Uber move to hire diversity and inclusion (D&I) officers and enact new strategies to attract and retain an equal number of skilled women and employees, we can learn lessons that can benefit the global social impact / international development space.

Most major technology companies now post staff diversity statistics on their websites, and track trends year to year. Last year after seeing the number of women in its workforce dip, Microsoft announced it would start tying executive bonuses to reaching its diversity hiring goals. This is not to say that the investments tech giants are making to close the gender gap in STEM and promote greater hiring and retention of minorities are yielding commensurate returns. For example, despite the lean-in advocacy of COO Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook staff remain just 35% women (and that numbers drops to 19% in technical roles), 3% black, and 5% Hispanic.

That brings us to our sector - we do not know the percentage of women, blacks, Hispanics, or LGBTQIA, among U.S.-based staff in the global social impact sector; nor are companies citing statistics on their websites. However, our women’s storytelling project launched this past Spring is beginning to fill in some of these blanks. Using an intersectional approach, Diversity in Development has asked women to share stories of overcoming adversity at work on account of their identity.

"The global social impact sector, like tech, is founded on human determination and a desire to make the future better. However, unlike the tech sector, our industry is just in its infant stage of grappling with how gender disparity and prejudices in the workplace directly hinder innovative development."

Through this initiative, we’ve heard women across the industry share stories that echo the stories also heard from Silicon Valley - pay discrepancies, gendered performance feedback, harassment, implicit bias based on race and religion, impediments to hiring, etc. This Fall we will be sharing a series of stories that shine more light on this critical discussion.

Our point is simple: the tech sector is not exceptional in its lack of diversity and inclusion (notwithstanding some cases of egregious discrimination and toxic work cultures). Endemic bias and discrimination exists in the fabric of our society, and prejudices all industries and workplaces. A mere 20% of the U.S. Congress is female, 9% is black, and 7% are Hispanic; while these communities make up a respective 50%, 13% and 18% of the U.S. population. Women in the U.S. workforce in general earn 83% of what men earn. Only 5 per cent of Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO.

Silicon Valley’s problem with women is everyone’s problem. The global social impact sector, like tech, is founded on human determination and a desire to make the future better. However, unlike the tech sector, our industry is just in its infant stage of grappling with how gender disparity and prejudices in the workplace directly hinder innovative development.

Quantum Impact is excited to be working with leaders and influencers in the social impact space and the diversity and inclusion space to start these courageous conversations, gather evidence, and empower teams to access their full potential and reach greater results. Ultimately, we believe that this will not only make our workplaces better, but that it will improve the quality of development programs, as well.

We’d love to hear from you directly - what are you and your organization doing to make the workplaces a safe space for all employees, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, religion, etc? Reach out to us and stay tuned for more announcements coming soon about our storytelling series, diversity and inclusion resources, and blogs.

Please note, this blog was originally published on September 7, 2017 at DevAction.com

Gender equitySarah Grausz