Women in Technology: Diversity Breeds Success
May 19, 2015
Not to get too political, but I consider myself a pretty strong woman who takes very seriously the subject of wage gap and career inequality between the sexes. Over and over, stats have come out about how women make $.76 cents on every dollar that a man makes. This applies to women in technology, just as it does to women in any other field.
Women are paid less than a man doing the exact same work, in the exact same position, with the exact same education and the exact same experience. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?
Diversity in Technology
Right now there is a lot of focus on the tech industry’s response to this important issue. Microsoft’s chief executive Satya Nadella would never tell a man: “It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise… women who don’t ask for a raise have … It’s good karma. It will come back.” When women are encouraged NOT to stand up for themselves, to advocate for themselves, to negotiate, to ask for raises, something must change.
Outside of moral or ethical reasons not to discriminate based on the sex or race of a potential employee and to celebrate the contributions of all members of a company, I suppose there are some brands who still see technology, especially computing, as a man’s world, and don’t quite understand the argument for inclusiveness.
Those “business leaders” remain ignorant of what other, more progressive companies have figured out – that 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. Drawing from different experiences allows teams to problem-solve differently, to gather information from a broader spectrum that challenges and transforms the way team members think and, therefore, contribute. Because a diverse team understands there will be differences of opinion, expertise and knowledge, team members know they must be prepared to look at things differently, but also, that they need to be well-versed in their own positions in order to defend those positions. Ultimately, people will have to work harder in diverse environments, both cognitively and socially, in order to innovate, find creative solutions and meet team objectives.
The Value of Female Leaders
In Does Female Representation in Top Management Improve Firm Performance? A Panel Data Investigation, researchers Cristian L. Dezso of the University of Maryland – R.H. Smith School of Business, and David Gaddis Ross of the Columbia Business School – Management, found that “female representation in top management brings informational and social diversity benefits to the top management team, enriches the behaviors exhibited by managers throughout the firm, and motivates women in middle management.” In fact, they also found on average, “female representation in top management leads to an increase of $42 million in firm value.”
Women in leadership, especially in technology, have achieved great things that have changed the way various technologies and inventions have come into being. In fact, women were generally responsible for programming the first computers. Look at Grace Hopper, who joined the Navy Reserve during World War II. She went to Harvard to work on the first programmable computer in the United States: the Mark I. Later on, Hopper helped write COBOL — a programming language still used today that allows computers to talk to each other – something that didn’t exist previously. She saw the opportunity for people who didn’t understand complicated mathematics to program in English. We wouldn’t be creating software the way we do today, had it not been for Grace Hopper.
Hopper carved out her own place in an industry that was in its infancy. “Grace Hopper was way ahead of her time. She was disruptive long before that became an expression.” Seriously, spend sixteen minutes watching this documentary on her career. Amazing.
The ‘Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing’ was founded in 1994 by Anita Borg, a 1981 Ph.D. in computer science graduate from the Courant Institute at New York University, who championed the participation of women in technology fields. Borg taught herself to code while working at an insurance agency. According to her website, Borg had an extensive, highly-decorated career, highlights of which include an appointment by President Clinton to the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology in 1999. From 1998-1999, she served as a member of the National Academy of Engineering’s Committee for the Celebration of Women in Engineering that created the Summit on Women in Engineering in May 1999.
Borg held many research positions for global companies. In 1987, Borg founded Systers, the first online email list service for women in technology. The group provided a private sounding board for the very few women in the field to collaborate and commiserate. This is awesome – in 1992 when Mattel Inc. began selling a Barbie doll that said math class is tough, members of the Systers list protested and played a huge role in getting Mattel to remove that phrase from Barbie’s microchip!
Over the course of her career, Borg not only envisioned how technology was changing and the many ways that technology would impact our lives, she also questioned how positive that change could be as long as only a narrow slice of the population participated in deciding and shaping that change.
Borg believed in the power of storytelling – something I appreciate very much as a marketer. She asked the question – why not have as many people telling the story of technology advancements as possible, and tell it especially to women.
“This is really, really hard work. But I can’t think of anything that I could spend the rest of my life engaged in that would be more exciting and would have more potential to make a tremendous impact. And I can think of no challenge that would draw young women in that knowing what they are doing is not sitting in a lab doing stuff that is disconnected in the world; they are sitting in a lab doing something that is very, very connected. And they can bring their whole selves to it. The intuition that we are so famous for.” – Anita Borg
Borg’s biggest legacy lives on in her friends and colleagues that continue to carry out the mission of the Anita Borg Institute: We envision a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies they build it for.
To learn more about Anita Borg and Systers, check out this documentary. Love seeing all these industry veterans talk about being women during the early days of computing. It is so inspiring. Love learning about strong, women leaders!
Creating Positive Change
While the current landscape might not change as quickly as we women want it to, there are companies that are working toward making their cultures more supportive of women, and more supportive of families. There are conferences and mentoring programs geared toward encouraging more women to enter the field of computer science. More companies are diversifying their teams and enjoying the value that women and minorities bring to the table.
Even in our small company, though we try not to get too mired in a “Silicon Valley-esque” culture, we are intentional about bringing together talented people from different backgrounds who will positively contribute to our financial and cultural success. I’m a marketer. I’m not a programmer. And even though I get teased for taking notes with a paper and pen, I still feel very much accepted by our incredibly talented all-male team of developers.
But I really look forward to the day we have female developers knock on our door, resume and code samples in hand. We need talented, technically-oriented women. Until then, we are bringing women like myself on board in other leadership and organizational roles that appreciate technology, value the incredible talent of our coworkers and are passionate about evangelizing the amazing things happening in this industry. I may not have the same skills as a developer, but my skills in building relationships, story-telling, client engagement and brand building ensures that new clients have a talented team to guide them through the complexities of software development and that our developers’ work is celebrated and publicized to our community.
Working in an environment that respects those contributions makes stable|kernel a pretty awesome organization to belong to. Happy hour doesn’t hurt either.