Some call it “The Oscars of Silicon Valley.” This year, the glitzy, red carpet affair celebrated four Wonder Women: Megan Smith, Ann Winblad, Neri Oxman and Linda Rottenberg. Alison van Diggelen reports on SVForum’s Visionary Awards for the BBC World Service. What are the secrets of these Wonder Womens’ success, and what do they think needs done to bring more women into the tech field?
Listen to the report and lively discussion with the BBC’s Fergus Nicoll. Our discussion starts at 26:00 in the podcast.
Here’s a transcript of our dialogue (edited for length and clarity):
Fergus Nicoll: Investigations reveal that women occupy only about 11% of Silicon Valley executive positions…and a tiny percentage of startups are owned by women. Are things going to change? Alison, you’ve been to an event to recognize talent in the sector…
Alison van Diggelen: Last week I attended Silicon Valley Forum’s Visionary Awards. SVForum is celebrating its 20th anniversary and unlike its usual male-dominated roster of honorees (Bill Gates, Vint Cerf, Elon Musk etc.), this year: three of its five honorees were female. I was curious to learn the secrets of their success, and what they think needs to be done to bring more women into the tech field. This is all in the context of Uber’s chief stepping down from the company this week – at least temporarily – and the company tacitly acknowledging that it needs to change what some are calling its toxic corporate culture for women. I was curious to learn the secrets of these Wonder Womens’ success, and what do they think needs to be done to bring more women into the tech field?
[Atmos: Crowd, music, welcome]
SVForum CEO, Denyse Cardozo: Good evening and welcome to the 20th anniversary Visionary Awards….
Alison van Diggelen: Just before she went onstage, I found tech pioneer Megan Smith surrounded by a group of adoring fans. She was President Obama’s Chief Technology Officer and now she’s back from DC her rockstar status is soaring among the technorati. You might even call her Silicon Valley’s Wonder Woman. Tall and forceful, she oozes enthusiasm and credits the valley’s unique ecosystem for her success.
Megan Smith: One of the things I’m going to talk about tonight is this “apprentice- journeyman-master” and Silicon Valley is so good at that. We learn from those who have gone before. I was mentored here in this community by extraordinary people…
Alison van Diggelen: Notably, her list is all men. Women make up less than 15% of most tech companies’ technical teams. Why so few?
Megan Smith: We have this strange idea that there’s technical people and non-technical people and it’s a very un-useful cultural problem: stereotyping…The truth is women and men, people of color from every corner of the earth have been doing extraordinary, heroic and technical things and sometimes the stories get lost…
Alison van Diggelen: Smith blames story tellers for ignoring the significant contributions of women at Bletchley Park, at Apple and at NASA. Although she praises the recent “Hidden Figures” movie for finally highlighting the female heroes at NASA during the space race. Ann Winblad echoes the need to raise the profile of role models. She’s an influential venture capitalist in Silicon Valley and received her visionary award back in ‘99, alongside Bill Gates.
Ann Winblad: Women are not hidden figures in this industry. We’re honoring three really strong women tonight…….The more that we do things like these events where we show there are as many strong women to honor as strong men, it will enlighten women that there is a real opportunity.
Alison van Diggelen: Winblad reframes it in FOMO terms…Fear of missing out:
Ann Winblad: Six of the top ten highest valued companies in the world are tech companies…. We all know their names. For women they’re missing a huge opportunity if they don’t join the fastest growing, most exciting industry in the world.
Alison van Diggelen: Linda Rottenberg knows about huge opportunities. Her visionary award is for pioneering Silicon Valley’s high-impact entrepreneurship model around the world. She challenges women to be braver and bolder; and to break stereotypes:
Linda Rottenberg: Not all innovators are boys in hoodies in their 20s: People are going to be over 50, people are going to be women…Sometimes our view of entrepreneurship gets so narrow cast that we dismiss the talent and creativity right in our midst. The biggest risk is taking none at all….
Alison van Diggelen: Fellow visionary, Neri Oxman believes in risk-taking and passion. She’s an inventor and designer at MIT’s Media Lab, famed for her “material ecology” innovations.
Neri Oxman: It’s not easy to define a new field and to generate new technologies for the kinds of project that we are creating, so it requires a suspense of disbelief; and a willingness to fail…
Alison van Diggelen: For her part, Megan Smith is passionate to launch a new tech startup soon to continue her White House mission. She believes that her computer science initiative will help empower many school kids. Here’s President Obama promoting the program back in January 2016…
President Obama: I’ve got a plan to help make sure all our kids get an opportunity to learn computer science, especially girls and minorities. It’s called Computer Science For All. And it means just what it says – giving every student in America an early start at learning the skills they’ll need to get ahead in the new economy…to make sure all our young people can compete in a high-tech, global economy.
Alison van Diggelen: Smith challenges tech leaders for not doing enough to make diversity a top priority:
Megan Smith: It’s really outrageous and irresponsible for the leadership in tech…and it’s also bad for the bottom line. Research shows the more diverse the team, the better financial performance…We’ve got to field the whole human team …it’s especially urgent right now with the beginnings of Artificial Intelligence and data science.
Alison van Diggelen: Celebrating these strong role models – these Wonder Women in Silicon Valley – is one thing, but boosting the pipeline of candidates is vital. Across the US, only 18% of computer science and engineering students are women. As the evening winds down and Silicon Valley’s glitterati disperse into the balmy San Jose evening, Ann Winblad throws down the gauntlet to the next generation:
Ann Winblad: I encourage young women to get excited about science and to make those computer science classes, those engineering classes at least 50% women. If it got higher than 50%, women would OWN the tech industry.
[Crowd, music…fade out] Report ends.
Continue listening to the discussion on BBC’s Business Matters podcast to hear our discussion and my BBC colleague Dave Lee’s report on Nintendo’s comeback.
This report also aired several times on the BBC’s World Business Report
The other visionary awards were presented to pioneering venture capitalist, Steve Jurvetson and Don Eigler, an award-winning nanoscientist.
See more photos of the Visionary Awards and watch video here.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Sometimes I wonder if anyone is actually listening to my late night conversations with London on the BBC World Service. Well, I just found out that, YES they are. And some listeners are even sharing these conversation with influential people.
This summer, my producer told me that my conversation with the BBC’s Fergus Nicoll was used for “training purposes” at the BBC’s headquarters in London. We were discussing my interview with Instagram’s COO Marne Levine and how male champions can really help women succeed in business.
Curious? I was too.
Here’s a link to the featured clip at the BBC and a shorter (90 second) version below:
From the BBC’s Business Matters feature:
Instagram’s Chief Operating Officer Marne Levine is mentored by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg – a beneficial relationship given their similar career paths. Alison van Diggelen, from the Fresh Dialogues initiative that focuses on inspirational women and business innovation, describes how women can really benefit when they have male champions too and challenges Mark Zuckerberg to ‘step up.’
Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):
Alison van Diggelen: One thing that female entrepreneurs in positions of leadership have told me that will help, is for women to have male champions. People like Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai have to step up and be champions of women and make it easy for their teams to not just attract, but retain women. Offering childcare on-site is a large part of that…
Fergus Nicoll: So making sure that the onus is not always on female executives to have female mentees?
Alison van Diggelen: Yes, absolutely. It has to be shared. One of the things that was repeated time and time again at the Bay Area Women’s Summit, where I interviewed Marne Levine (COO of Instagram), is that the United States doesn’t have universal paid family leave. Quite a few companies in Silicon Valley are offering it (often in paltry amounts, by European standards), but it needs to be federally mandated in order for the U.S. to remain globally competitive. That was one of the messages that came over loud and clear.
It’s well accepted here (in Silicon Valley), the advantages of diversity: having males and females on the team can increase the bottom line, creativity, innovation and meeting the needs of this diverse clientele. That’s well proven, but these companies are having to step up and try harder to attract and retain these women.
Find out more about inspiring women in business:
TaskRabbit’s CEO, Stacy Brown Philpot is one of the few black, female CEOs in tech. What is she doing for women and diversity in tech?
Meet some of the top women in tech in our Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Why aren’t more women in tech? That was the main topic for discussion yesterday on BBC’s Business Matters. I shared my report from Google’s I/O conference, where almost one in four attendees were women. The Women Techmakers team managed to increase female attendance from 8% in 2013 to 23% this year. How did they do it and what can other companies learn from their strategy?
Listen to the podcast at the BBC World Service (Women discussion starts at 26:40) or use the clip below:
Here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
BBC Host, Roger Hearing: Have you thought how many women there are in the new high tech industries? Not enough is the general verdict. Have a quick listen to this:
Google CEO, Sundar Pichai: Welcome to Google I/O and welcome to Shoreline. It feels really nice and different up here. We’ve been doing it for many many years in Moscone and in fact we’ve been doing I/O for 10 years, but I feel we’re at a pivotal moment in terms of where we’re going as a company…. There are over 7,000 of you joining in person today.
BBC Host, Roger Hearing: That was the boss of Google, Sundar Pichai, opening a recent conference held near the tech giant’s headquarters in Mountain View, Silicon Valley. Alison, you were at that conference. Tell us more about it….
Alison van Diggelen: Google I/O is the annual Google developers’ conference. I/O stands for Input/Output and Innovation in the Open. It attracts thousands of developers from around the world who use Google’s open platforms, such as Android and Chrome, to build apps for your smartphone, smartwatch, or computer.
Google has been battling to increase the number of women in its tech teams, and I was pleased to see a decent number of women making presentations on the keynote stage. The company managed to triple the number of women attending the conference by partnering with other tech organizations like the Anita Borg Institute, Women Who Code and Hackbright academy.
At the conference, I spoke to Natalie Villalobos. She’s Google’s Head of Global Programs for “Women Techmakers.” I began by asking her WHY Google is seeking more women in tech…
Natalie Villalobos: We need everyone to contribute to make the most innovative technology. The more diverse voices we have, contributing, participating, and building the technology, the better technology we’re going to have…We always need more diverse voices at the table: for women, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities because the people building the tech should be as diverse as the people that the technology serves.
Alison van Diggelen: You went from 8% female attendance in 2013 to 23% this year, almost a quarter today. How did you do that?
Natalie Villalobos: ‘What could only Google do?‘ is a big rallying cry of my work and it was partnering with community organizations, locally, nationally and internationally to bring women to the conference, by providing travel grants, access to tickets and so we wanted to create these lasting partnerships…And one of the things we worked really hard at is how can we really engage women across the spectrum? We welcome all types of women: whether you identify as non-gender binary, women of color, Latinas…Also geographic diversity: We have women from South Africa, Taiwan, Tunisia, China…a lot are coming here to the U.S. for the first time for Google I/O.
Alison van Diggelen: What makes you special, is it just deep pockets? (Google has earmarked $150M this year for its diversity programs)
Natalie Villalobos: We’re really looking at how we can engage and meet developers, designers and entrepreneurs wherever they are. Diversity and inclusion in the tech industry is not just in the United States. There are people all over the world who want to be here in this industry who can’t move to Silicon Valley. How can we meet them where they are and share our new platforms, our technologies?
People who can’t come to Mountain View can join a local extendedI/O event – I believe we have over 400. Our biggest this year is in Sri Lanka with over 2000 attendees. It’s about reshaping the industry and supporting people where they are.
Roger Hearing: Alison, we’ve heard this a lot before…there aren’t enough women involved in the high tech industry. But it doesn’t seem to get any better.
Alison van Diggelen: It seems to be moving in the right direction but it’s very slow going. I actually had the chance to speak with Sundar Pichai and he said that this is a long long road. He’s talking about 10 years, 15 years before they can get close to equality. It’s a pipeline issue, it’s a role model issue. There are inherent biases in companies that make it more difficult for women to get into tech companies and thrive in tech companies. He did point out an encouraging fact that at Stanford University in Silicon Valley, the most popular major is no longer Biology but Computer Science. So anecdotal evidence like that says that perhaps we’re reaching a critical mass, perhaps a turning point, where women can feel at home in that geeky, computer science world.
Roger Hearing: Let me posit that maybe that’s because it’s Stanford…it’s California. Simon, let me come to you (in Singapore) In the high tech world where you are….where some of the most cutting edge stuff is going on. Are there many women involved?
Simon Long, The Economist: I’m struck when I visit multinationals (in Singapore) like Google and local startups how dominated they are by the young…and men. Alison put her finger on one of the main problems: who’s studying what at university? Who has the right skills? There are these ingrained prejudices…people recruit people like themselves.
Alison van Diggelen: The pipeline issue is not the whole excuse. I did speak with Ellie Powers, a product manager at Google and she was on the keynote stage. It’s a lazy excuse, she says, “if you’re looking for gold, it’s rarer, you have to look a bit harder” and you have to figure out how find and connect with people outside your network. She put a challenge out there to Google and beyond for any company looking for women, in order to make a better team.
Roger Hearing: Perhaps the women are not there, they don’t want to do it? Is it a cultural bias?
Alison van Diggelen: I think there is a bias…there’s the stereotype of the geeky coder, but I think that’s changing. After being at that conference for an entire day, and seeing that one in four of the attendees were women. It was different from other tech conferences I’ve been at where if feels more like 10%.
Unconscious bias training will help. I think role models like Ellie Powers, up there on stage, wearing a dress, talking tech, being geeky…that will help get more young women to say, maybe coding is for me, maybe computer science is for me?
Roger Hearing: Simon, does it matter what the gender balance is?
Simon Long: I think it probably does…if everyone had equal access to do what they’re good at, the world would be a better place. As Alison says, if the problem is not just a pipeline one… If there are biases inhibiting women from doing as well as they might, then we’re all losing out.
Roger Hearing: If women were involved in designing the Apple Mac, would it be different, better?
Alison van Diggelen: Natalie’s point is relevant here: if your end product is for the world – 50% of which is women – you have to include women in the process. By attracting a more diverse employees base, you’ll get a better workforce. I talked with Steven Levy, a well-known tech author and he said, the days when a credible company can have an all-male conference or panel are just “way over” – it’s about sending a message to all people that they’re welcome. It’s about getting a better workforce and building better products. That’s the bottom line.
Read more about women in tech in Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series
And find out more about The Anita Borg Institute
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Why are women still struggling to reach parity in the Indian and Silicon Valley jobs market? Why is rock star economist Thomas Piketty predicting that revolution could be the great equalizer? And what explains the unexpected and dramatic rise in popularity of Bernie Sanders in the US election? All this and more was discussed last night on the BBC’s Business Matters.
I joined a lively discussion with BBC host Anu Anand who’s based in Delhi, and Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. Listen to the podcast here (Jan 29, 2016)
Here are some highlights from our conversation, (starting at 20:43, edited for length and clarity):
Anu Anand: Alison, you’ve reported from Japan where there’s a real impetus to bring women into the workforce. Any lessons from there?
Alison van Diggelen: Prime Minister Abe has a goal of reaching 30% of women in positions of leadership by 2020. What he’s doing is mandating that large companies reveal their diversity statistics. Someone I interviewed there -Elizabeth Handover – called it a “shaming and blaming” strategy. In other words: release your figures and the shame upon you will incentive you to get more women into positions of power…But as in India, there is a big cultural pressure in Japan for women to stay at home, especially if they’ve had children.
Anu Anand: You’re in the heart of Silicon Valley. Would you say that women have achieved parity in the high tech workforce?
Alison van Diggelen: No, not at all. Women make up only 30% of these tech companies, and then tech jobs within that are only between 12% and 18%. We have a long way to go, but we’re moving in the right direction…
Justin Rowlatt: In India we see very rapid growth, an economy growing at 7%. In a society growing that quickly, surely inequality is less of an issue?
Thomas Piketty: Inequality is an even bigger problem in emerging countries. One important lesson from my historical study of inequality is that it took very big shocks, major shocks – World War I, Wold War II, the Great Depression, the Bolshevik Revolution for the Western elites to accept the kind of social, and fiscal reforms which brought a reduction in inequality and increased economic growth….
The big risk here in India like in other parts of the world, is that extreme inequality tends to lead to sometimes violence, some politicians to try to exploit…that’s why it’s so important to have more transparency about the complex relationship between caste and income and wealth; and address it through adequate reservation systems, adequate social policy…
Anu Anand: Let’s turn to Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues in San Francisco and Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics here in Delhi….Women are bearing the burden of growing inequality?
Jayati Ghosh: The proportion of women who get any kind of income from working (in India) is only about 2%. About 90% of women are working and they’re really engaged in unpaid work. Policies and processes don’t even bother to recognize this work so they don’t do anything to reduce it…for e.g. piped water, which would reduce the burden of going to fetch it. Piketty is right: India is one of the higher inequality countries in the world…the elite in India… holds on to most of the assets, grabs the natural resources, concentrates the wealth and shapes policies to make more of this…This leads to violence.
Anu Anand: Alison, inequality in the US has been growing too. It’s certainly a big point of debate at the moment, especially with the presidential candidates sparring with each other?
Alison van Diggelen: Absolutely, it’s a huge issue here. The inequality is the highest today since the 1930’s. The surprise popularity of Bernie Sanders – who has made inequality and poverty one of his number one issues – he calls it “The Great Moral Issue of our Time”…He came from nowhere – it’s to do with his message resonating that income inequality affects us all. A lot of people thought Hillary Clinton had the Democratic nomination in the bag. Sanders has really grasped on that and he’s riding on inequality and really giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money for this Democratic nomination.
Anu Anand: Do you see a world in which we’re not going to have to talk about inequality? Both india and America are very market driven economies?
Alison van Diggelen: I think inequality is rife here however, two studies in 2015 confirmed that people – both rich and poor alike – still believe in a brighter future. It may be misguided, but there is that aspirational idea and the class system in my experience – especially in Silicon Valley full of inspiring entrepreneurs – is less prevalent than I experienced growing up in Britain, where you’re encouraged to stay in the class you’re born. For example, when I was offered a place at Cambridge University, my father, a working-class union man from Glasgow asked me: what do you want to go there for? Aren’t the universities in Scotland good enough? There was that “stay in your place” attitude that I broke away from.
Check back soon for a report on online education and its potential to help close the income divide by increasing access to education and tech jobs.
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…
“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.
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