BBC Letter from Silicon Valley by Alison van Diggelen: Sexism in Silicon Valley

BBC Letter from Silicon Valley by Alison van Diggelen: Sexism in Silicon Valley

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Are women in Silicon Valley tech doomed? Do they need to “lean in” more? 

After Ellen Pao lost her discrimination case against Kleiner Perkins last week, some said the discussion was closed. On the contrary, her case has spotlighted an important issue and sparked a lively conversation about the dearth of women in Silicon Valley tech companies and what can be done about it. 

I was invited to share a Letter from Silicon Valley with the BBC about Sexism in Silicon Valley.  It aired this week on the BBC World Service program BBC Business Daily.


The program was hosted by Manuela Saragosa and included a report by Gianna Palmer about the impact of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. My Letter from Silicon Valley starts at 07:00.

Saragosa: There is a perception that women are still not being treated as equals in the tech industry in the US. It all came to a head in Ellen Pao’s gender discrimination case against her former employer KPCB, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. She lost her case last week but despite that, it’s highlighted concerns about the lack of diversity in the tech sector in the U.S. So just how bad is it? Over to our commentator, Alison van Diggelen in Silicon Valley…

van Diggelen:

“Women in Silicon Valley tech are doomed!”

That’s one of the comments I heard at a recent gathering of female executives here in Silicon Valley. It came from a manager who’s spent 20 years working in tech human resources. She and her colleagues described the double standard they’ve witnessed at tech firms: women being passed over for promotion, paid less than men and treated as second class citizens.

Last year, major tech companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn published their diversity figures, which underline the sad fact that – at best – 15% of their tech engineering teams are female. The number of women choosing to study computer science is now half of what it was in the ‘80s.

It’s hard to find a woman in Silicon Valley tech who hasn’t experienced some biased treatment at work, because of her sex. Women are expected to be agreeable, generous collaborators, and always look good. One female executive talked about traditional expectations: “We’re supposed to be at home, nuzzling newborns,” she said.

Alison van Diggelen at London's BBC studio

Why does all this matter?

Gender imbalance in tech is a problem for everyone and it needs to be tackled for three vital reasons: innovation, competitive advantage and the bottom line.

1. Studies show, the more diverse your team, the more innovative it is. Since Silicon Valley’s whole modus operandi is innovation and inventing the future, making tech teams more diverse should be a no brainer.

2.Given tech companies are making products for a diverse world population, the more teams are representative of their market, the more chance it’ll make consumer-pleasing products and gain a competitive advantage.

3. There’s a correlation between the number of female executives and success rates of companies. A recent study by the Kauffman Foundation found that companies with the highest representation of women in their top management achieved better financial performance than other companies.

As Hillary Clinton said at a recent Silicon Valley conference,

“Inclusivity is more than a buzzword, it’s a recipe for 21st century success.”

The fact that companies are “coming out” about their diversity stats, and acknowledging there’s a problem, is a great first step.

But much more should be done.

Facebook, LinkedIn and the Anita Borg Institute recently announced a partnership to support female tech students at college and increase the number of women joining the tech ranks.

The pipeline issue is crucial. Encouraging more women to choose computer science at college will help reverse current trends. Megan Smith, America’s Chief Technology Officer is right when she says mandatory computer science needs to start in second grade.

But it’s going to take strong leadership within companies to bolster these efforts and provide an inclusive environment that’s welcoming to women and gives them the respect and opportunities they deserve.

LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner says that with two young daughters, gender imbalance is now a personal matter for him. He and other SV leaders must commit to real change for the long term.

No. Women in Silicon Valley tech are not doomed.

I remain hopeful that the valley will mature and get beyond this ugly adolescent phase…

For the BBC World Service in Silicon Valley, this is Alison van Diggelen



Many thanks to all the wise women who contributed to this Letter from Silicon Valley. I hope the conversation will continue and the issue of bias (both conscious and unconscious) and gender discrimination will be tackled head on.

To read more on this topic at Fresh Dialogues, click here



TV Pioneer Belva Davis on Passion, Curiosity

TV Pioneer Belva Davis on Passion, Curiosity

Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Fidel Castro, Muhammad Ali, Gloria Steinem. These are just a few of the icons that pioneering journalist Belva Davis has interviewed in over fifty years of reporting. This weekend, Davis receives the John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) in Los Angeles.

Davis began her illustrious career in the 1950’s; became the first black woman to anchor the news on the West Coast and was host of KQED’s public affairs program, This Week in Northern California for almost 20 years. She talked to Fresh Dialogues this summer in Los Altos about why she admires PBS Newshour’s history making Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill; her memoir; and the need for both curiosity and passion in a successful career. Davis also explains her need to prove herself every day. “Go home if you don’t feel some sense of gratitude for the next day’s possibilities,” she says.



ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Hello and welcome to Fresh Dialogues. Today I’m with pioneering journalist, Belva Davis. She has a new book and it’s called Never In My Wildest Dreams. Belva, thank you for joining me today.

BELVA DAVIS: Well thank you. This is a wonderful opportunity.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: So let’s talk about those wildest dreams. When did you feel your wildest dreams were coming true?

BELVA DAVIS: Definitely I know when I decided that this reckless course was the one I was going to take, and that is to try to break into television news reporting. And to do that without having an example of anyone that looked even slightly like me who was doing it, I think took quite a commitment, to say I’ll do what’s necessary…

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: …And a lot of courage. So you really had no role models. Today we talk about role models and we can emulate this person or that. You had no one?


ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: If you were to go back to being 30 or 40 years old, what advice would you give yourself?

BELVA DAVIS: I always tell people, if you are not doing…Number one: if you don’t have curiosity about what you’ve chosen to do with your life, and if you don’t have passion for what you say you want to do with your life, you should keep looking.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Right, so passion and curiosity. They’re both really important.

BELVA DAVIS: Right, because one keeps you going, and wanting to know more about what you’re doing. By wanting to know more, then you get better. You don’t just sit there from wherever point you entered whatever arena you’re in. And you have to have passion to give the extra time. You can’t just do something that at 5 o’clock you turn off a key. That just doesn’t work.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: And what about today? For young aspiring journalists, who are the good female role models today? Who would you point to and say: she’s got it right. She’s nailing it. Is there anyone you tune into?

BELVA DAVIS: (Laughter) I love everybody…

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: You don’t want to pick favorites?

BELVA DAVIS: But I do think that the PBS team, you know Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill is hard to beat.


BELVA DAVIS: I wouldn’t put them in the “young girl category” but they’re both really intelligent, smart, good reporters and I admire them.


BELVA DAVIS: I’ve long…as a young woman…Soledad O’Brien I think has been a brave woman, you know raising her children and taking these really dangerous assignments. So, they’re still out there.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: I saw that wonderful interview with you and Judy Woodruff and you said something that really made me pause because there you are, you’ve been doing this for 50 years, and you said “I feel I still have to prove myself every day.”


ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Talk about that. What is it that’s driving you? You don’t feel that hey, I’ve interviewed Muhammad Ali, I’ve interviewed Fidel Castro, I’ve interviewed…presidents…

BELVA DAVIS: You should go home when you don’t have anybody else you want to interview. You should go home when you can’t feel some sense of gratitude for the next day’s possibilities. The next day’s possibilities are what keeps you going forward. I mean if she (Sheryl Sandberg) talks “leaning in,” that keeps you going. Just realizing what could be, if you just do a little more, push a little harder, give someone else an opportunity.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Wonderful, Belva Davis. We’ll leave it on that note. Thank you so much for taking time for Fresh Dialogues.

BELVA DAVIS: Thank you.


Find out more:

See Fresh Dialogues Interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose on the burning curiosity that got him in trouble as a youth and today drives his “great and glorious life.”

See Fresh Dialogues video: Sheryl Sandberg on why women today should “Lean In.”

Columnist Leonard Pitts on The Hard Truths of Being Black in America

Photo credits: Lina Broydo

Cisco’s Warrior Shares 7 Secrets of Success

Cisco’s Warrior Shares 7 Secrets of Success

Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Cisco System’s CTO Padmasree Warrior discusses the “Lean In” Movement, and what lessons she’s learned in her remarkable career. Warrior, an influential Silicon Valley tech leader, on the Forbes List of 100 Most Powerful Women, says women shouldn’t hold themselves back, they should be “out there and leaning in to opportunities.”


Warrior emphasizes the importance of authenticity in leadership, letting people see “who you truly are.” Of course, being approachable…coaching, mentoring, and brainstorming ideas with your team are also key, she says.

On the question of finding balance in your life, Warrior is blunt. “I don’t like the word ‘balance,’” she says. “To me that somehow conjures up conflict between work and family…as long as we think of these things as conflicting, we will never have happiness. True happiness comes from integration…of work, family, self, community.”

Warrior dedicates Saturday as her digital detox day where she puts down her smartphone and busies herself with family and gardening, painting, cooking, even haiku. Check out her eclectic Twitter feed to learn more.

She told me that letting go of guilt is a vital lesson. “When my son was growing up, I was always guilty, no matter what I did, ” she says. “Make decisions and be happy with the decisions you’ve made. I tell myself in the long run, it’s the love, the quality of relationships that you have with your family, your friends and giving back to the community that matters.”

Here’s a summary of Warrior’s Seven Secrets of Success. Watch the video for all the details.

1. Be authentic, approachable
2. Mentor and coach others
3. Be out there and “lean in” to opportunities
4. Forget “balance” – integrate work, family, self, community
5. Avoid guilt
6. Be happy with your decisions
7. Think long-term and focus on relationship quality

The interview was recorded at SVForum’s Visionary Awards in Silicon Valley, June 26, 2013. Warrior was one of four honorees. Find out more about Warrior and her advice for getting more women in STEM.

Alison van Diggelen asks Fresh Questions and gets Fresh Answers. Find out more about her green interview series. And join the conversation on Facebook

This is part of a special “Inspiring Women” series at Fresh Dialogues featuring Meryl Streep, Sheryl Sandberg, Jennifer Granholm, Maureen Dowd, and Belva Davis.

Women Power: Sandberg Inspires Four Thousand

Women Power: Sandberg Inspires Four Thousand

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

A frisson of excitement swept through the crowd as ABC’s Cheryl Jennings introduced Silicon Valley’s most famous woman. It was definitely a “rock star” moment for many of the four thousand women attending San Francisco’s Moscone Center May 23.
Jaws dropped, eyes shone, and the applause was deafening. Cheers and whoops rang out as Sheryl Sandberg strolled across the stage and did her thing. With a remarkable nonchalance, she managed to engage every person in the room by asking them to do something for her. “Put your hands up if you’ve ever said, I’m going to be CEO of this company.”
Her experiment was powerful. I think I saw about five hands go up in the packed hall of the Professional Business Women in California Conference.
“We’re here to change that today,” she said.
In her best selling book “Lean In” and in dozens of interviews, Sandberg has been coy about using certain terms. She calls her book “a sort of feminist manifesto” and in her interview with Google’s Eric Schmidt, she talked about “unleashing a movement,” but on Thursday, she was feeling the women power. Referring to the handful of men present, she said, “You’ll get a pass when the inevitable revolution happens.”
Here are highlights of her speech. Check back soon for video highlights with Sheryl Sandberg and Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
The Problem
“The rate of change for women in getting top jobs in corporate America has stalled out in the last 10 years. It’s been flat at 14%. Women are held back by sexism, discrimination, bad corporate policy, bad public policy and a leadership ambition gap.” Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg in San Francisco, Photo by Fresh Dialogues
The Vision
“I believe that a world where more women were running organizations, where women ran half of companies and countries and men ran half of our homes, would be a better world.” Sheryl Sandberg
On Warren Buffett
“Warren Buffett said he was successful because he was only competing with half the population.” Sheryl Sandberg
The Economic Argument
“The laws of economics tell us that if more people compete, if you are sourcing talent from the full population you will get better outcomes.” Sheryl Sandberg
The Growth Opportunity
“In every industry, sector, government, we’re picking from roughly half the pople. If we source from the whole population our performance as companies, as countries will improve. This is not just about equality…this is about creating growth and opportunity.” Sheryl Sandberg
The Solution
“In order to change…it’s going to change person by person, woman by woman.”
Find out more about the Lean In movement and Lean In circles for inspiring women.
Sheryl Sandberg Leans In with Eric Schmidt In Silicon Valley

Sheryl Sandberg Leans In with Eric Schmidt In Silicon Valley

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

If you think you’ve read everything about Sheryl Sandberg and her book “Lean In” think again. Last night, Sandberg joined her ex-boss, Google’s Eric Schmidt in conversation at Silicon Valley’s Computer History Museum.  As the guy who recruited Sandberg to Google back in 2001, Schmidt used his intimate knowledge to give us something new: an insider’s view of this remarkable woman. He describes her as “One of the great leaders of our industry who has built two multimillion dollar businesses already and has a lot ahead of her.”

Sitting with “Lean In” on his lap, Schmidt casually thumbed through her book, quoting excerpts, asking astute questions and making pithy remarks about topics such as gender bias, finding “the perfect” partner and even shared some of his business philosophy. To close, he asked her to read a short passage and the audience appeared to hold its collective breath. Check out the video.

Here are some highlights:

On leaning in while Parenting 

“Wake up Silicon Valley. Put more girls into computer camp!” Sheryl Sandberg

Sandberg was appalled to discover that only 5 of the 35 kids enrolled in a Stanford computer science camp last year were girls.

On Gender Bias

“I’ve written the book on it and it’s still happening to me!” Sheryl Sandberg

On Pay Negotiations

“Women still pay a penalty for negotiating for themselves.” Sheryl Sandberg

She was delighted to hear from women who’re now saying to their bosses: “Sheryl Sandberg wants me to ask you for a raise.”

John Hollar makes humorous introductions  at the Sandberg/Schmidt event. Photo: Fresh Dialogues

John Hollar makes humorous introductions at the Sandberg/Schmidt event. Photo: Fresh Dialogues

Best Advice from Eric Schmidt

“Don’t be an idiot. Google is a rocket ship and when you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat.” Sheryl Sandberg

On Choosing a Partner

“Marry someone who wants equality…(including) night feedings, and changing 50% of diapers.” Sheryl Sandberg

On Motherhood

“Work efficiency grows when you become a mother.” Sheryl Sandberg

On Stay At Home Mothers (SAHMs) and the Mommy wars

“I can feel guilty or grateful….(choose) to be more generous with each other. ” Sheryl Sandberg

On Re-entering the workforce (after time off being a SAHM)

“Ask where are my skills needed. Experience is less relevant. Be flexible, adapt.” Sheryl Sandberg

On Mandating Quotas for Company Boards

“I’m not arguing for it…it hasn’t moved other numbers in places like Norway (like the number of female VPs, other leadership roles).” Sheryl Sandberg

On Stupidest Criticism of her book

“I’m blaming women…I’m not!” Sheryl Sandberg

On Best Criticism

“I’m embracing stereotypes…I don’t want to, but that is what’s required till we get many more women leaders.” Sheryl Sandberg

On what happens next

“We’ve set up a community at and people are starting circles, even fathers and daughters are starting circles. We’re unleashing a movement.” Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg urges all women to Lean In. Photo: Fresh Dialogues

Sheryl Sandberg urges all women to Lean In. Photo: Fresh Dialogues

On political aspirations

“I’m rooting for Hillary in 2016. I’m happy at Facebook and helping women get into office.” Sheryl Sandberg

Eric Schmidt also had some memorable remarks

On Finding the Right Partner

“Dave (Sandberg’s husband Dave Goldberg) is indeed perfect.” Eric Schmidt

On the work-life juggle, guilt trips

“Redefine your situation as success.” Eric Schmidt

On Feminism

Feminism 2.0 means understanding stereotypes and becoming empowered.” Eric Schmidt

On Succeeding in Business 

“Revenue solves all known problems. Concentrate on cashflow.” Eric Schmidt


Michelle Obama: How big is her green influence?

Michelle Obama: How big is her green influence?

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

How much influence does First Lady Michelle Obama have on the President and his green policies? I put this question to David Axelrod, President Obama’s chief political strategist and his answer was candid: ENORMOUS.

Michelle Obama is well known for her Let’s Move campaign which puts good eating and anti-obesity front and center, so it’s easy to imagine this talented Harvard educated lawyer and mentor in chief is also making her views heard in the White House on issues beyond healthy eating and healthy living….including the health of the planet, climate change and even energy policy.

It was her organic kitchen garden at the White House which put Michelle Obama’s true (green) colors in the international spotlight in 2009. Fans have applauded her bold green action – planting the first kitchen garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden – but Obama’s raised beds of organic arugula, spinach and Thai basil also caused a firestorm of complaint in the agriculture industry. It even inspired a priceless Little Shop of Horrors segment on the Daily Show.

In April this year, just in time for Earth Day, Michelle Obama’s first book American Grown, will be released and we’ll learn more from the First Lady about how her daughters, Malia and Sasha inspired her to rethink healthy eating and develop green thumbs. Like legendary chef, Alice Waters, she believes that increased access to healthy, affordable food can promote better eating habits and improve health of families and communities across America.

In a New York Times article, Obama explained her kitchen garden rationale. For children, she said, food is all about taste, and fresh and local food tastes better.

“A real delicious heirloom tomato is one of the sweetest things that you’ll ever eat,” she said. “And my children know the difference, and that’s how I’ve been able to get them to try different things.

“I wanted to be able to bring what I learned to a broader base of people. And what better way to do it than to plant a vegetable garden in the South Lawn of the White House?”

For his part, David Axelrod declares that the vegetables served at White House dinners are tasty but attributes it to both the organic garden and the wonderful White House chefs.

Read transcripts, see photos and check out our ARCHIVES featuring exclusive interviews with Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, Vinod Khosla and many more green experts and visionaries…

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