Deep Thoughts on Women in Silicon Valley

In a must-read profile of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, New Yorker writer Ken Auletta dives deep into the prospects for female executives in Silicon Valley and technology in general. Is there blatant sexism? Maybe not, but he says there’s work to be done.

Sandberg and many other women in Silicon Valley think the problems women encounter are usually more subtle than blatant sexism. “I think it is largely innocent,” says Rachel Sklar, a New York writer and entrepreneur who has actively protested against digital conferences that invite too few women to speak. Sklar co-founded a women’s organization called Change the Ratio, and she tries to make sure there are more women onstage. “You can’t know about what you don’t see,” she says. Some suggest that women are also to blame. Michael Arrington, the editor of TechCrunch and the organizer of the TechCrunch Disrupt conferences, defended venture capitalists and Silicon Valley males in a blog post last summer. “The problem is that not enough women want to become entrepreneurs,” he wrote. Referring to Sklar, and her campaign, Arrington added, “Yeah ok, whatever, Rachel. Every damn time we have a conference we fret over how we can find women to fill speaking slots. We ask our friends and contacts for suggestions. We beg women to come and speak. . . . And you know what? A lot of the time they say no. Because they are literally hounded to speak at every single tech event in the world because they are all trying so hard to find qualified women to speak at their conference.

Auletta also quotes a Harvard Business Review study that focuses on male-female work relationships.

Sponsorship, which often involves an older, married male spending one-on-one time, often off site and after hours, with a younger, unmarried female, can look like an affair; and the greater the power disparity between the male and the female, the more intense the speculation becomes that the relationship is more than professional. If the woman is subsequently promoted, her achievement will be undermined by office gossip that she earned it illicitly.

One more thing: Sandberg hasn’t been invited to join Facebook’s board, although she says that’s of little concern to her.

With the notable exception of Admiral Grace Hopper, there’s no doubt the tech world has been male-dominated since day one, though today the Valley in particular has its fair share of powerful female executives (see Yahoo! and Google, and who can forget Carly Fiorina’s stint at HP?). Where can more women in technoolgy be found? At Women in Technology International (WITI), the largest support and networking organization of its kind in the world. It’s well worth a visit, and its frequent conferences are highly praised.

Source: The New Yorker

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One Response to “Deep Thoughts on Women in Silicon Valley”

July 12, 2011 at 9:58 am, R. Emmett O'Ryan said:

Let’s not forget Kim Polese, the founder of Marimba. She was also the original Java Development Team’s PM at Sun and until recently the CEO of SpikeSource. I would say that she is one of the most successful women entrepreneurs in the tech world and the Silicon Valley.

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