If you look at our team roster, it’s pretty obvious that we’ve only got one male in our beloved ‘Army of Awesome.’ Evan is a good sport about being the only guy in our office (at least for now). We frequently joke that if he needs some male interaction, he only has to visit one of our clients. That’s right, because our PR firm exclusively serves the technology industry, the vast majority of our clients are men. Nationally, only 25% of the tech industry is female and a mere 5% of these women hold executive positions.
It’s a fact we’ve all become painfully aware of in light of the recent Ellen Pao trial, the Tinder CEO’s bashful exit six months ago, and the media’s endless fascination with Marissa Mayer’s gender. Last month, I joined Atlanta Tech Edge’s host Dana Barrett along with female entrepreneur Kenzie Biggins and founder of a girls’ code academy, Bobby John. We discussed gender discrimination, the pay gap and more in this segment. WATCH!
Here in Atlanta, Georgia Tech graduates more female engineers than any other university in the country (national average is 18%, and GATech graduates 28%). Yet, if you look around our city’s tech community and workplaces like Atlanta Tech Village – female CEOs and engineers are very few and far between. Clearly, we’ve got to do a better job incentivizing, attracting and cultivating these female rockstars. Why? Sarah Woodward, business development director at Stable|Kernel, a fast-growing development shop, said it best in her latest blog “when teams are made up of a diverse group of people with different experiences, innovation and success follow far more quickly than on teams where everyone’s backgrounds are fairly uniform. Diversity accelerates creativity.”
In addition, according to Silicon Valley journalist Lisen Stromberg’s recent SMASHD article, “It may be hard to get women into tech, but it’s even harder to keep them.” She writes,
As reported in the New York Times, the National Center for Women & Information Technology indicates that over 56% of women with STEM expertise will leave the industry over the course of their careers. And a new study by Catalyst, which looked specifically at the gender divide in business roles within tech, found that women MBAs are less likely than men to enter these industries, and if they do go in to tech, they are more likely to leave, and to do so quickly.
So, not only do we have to train and compel women to go into the tech sector, but we also have to cultivate environments and opportunities that make them stay. There’s no silver bullet to this complex and complicated problem. Rest assured, it will take more than fluffy mentorship programs and ladies wine nights. Here are my top three ideas to help move the needle on both motivation for and cultivation of women in tech:
- Start ‘em early. STEM programs such as Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code and Atlanta’s own The Loft are critical to reaching females early in their education careers and equipping them with the skills and confidence needed for a future in the tech industry.
- Deliberately change the workplace. Elevating women into entrepreneurial and leadership roles means men must join the conversation and change old-school models. For example, coworking spaces and innovation hubs should proactively recruit women founders; likewise male-centric cultures must shift to attract female engineers.
- Increase access to funding. The facts speak for themselves. Women-led, venture-backed companies boast 12% higher revenues than their male peers. However, only 2.7% of all venture-backed companies have a female CEO. Compounding this problem is that women decision makers in VC firms have declined from 10% in 1999 to 6% today. In my opinion, VC firms are partially to blame, but women CEO’s also need to step up. By nature women are financially risk averse and lack the confidence needed to break into the VC scene. Programs like Atlanta Technology Angels’ LaunchPad2X program are turning the tide by empowering women to prepare, solicit and negotiate funding with success.
I’ll close with one of my favorite Sheryl Sandberg quotes: “Start-ups led by women are more likely to succeed; innovative firms with more women in top management are more profitable; and companies with more gender diversity have more revenue, customers, market share and profits.”