I recently asked a close girlfriend of mine for an update on the fund raising process for her startup. She seemed a bit disappointed, mentioning that during her pitch to investors, many were hesitant to make eye contact with her. To make matter worse, when questions were asked, inquiries were directed towards the male engineers who accompanied her to these meetings.
Another good friend of mine who works in the finance sector decided she wanted to leave the large investment-banking firm she was with for a smaller venture capital firm. When I asked her about the interview process, she told me that one of the men who interviewed her called the next day to say that she did not get the job, yet "offered" to take her out to dinner.
Unfortunately, these scenarios are far from uncommon in Silicon Valley.
Gender Bias Exposed
Gender bias, particularly in Silicon Valley's tech sector, is obvious and has evolved into an issue that has become the topic for a slew of articles lately. Here are five rather alarming statistics that caught my attention:
- Out of 500 companies, there are only 24 women CEOs
- Only 14.2 percent of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women, according to a CNNMoney analysis
- The median earnings of information technology managers (mostly men) are 27% higher than human resources managers (mostly women), according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data
- On average, about 30% of females held leadership positions at top ranked technology companies (according to a diversity in tech report last updated on November 24, 2015)
- Of the 30 highest-paying jobs, including chief executive, architect and computer engineer, 26 are male-dominated, according to Labor Department data analyzed by Emily Liner, the author of the Third Way report
Combating Gender Bias
As a result, many female-led organizations are taking new initiatives to combat Silicon Valley's gender bias. Here are four examples of how female founded companies are ensuring gender equality for women:
# 1. The Expat Woman - Last week I attended a "Female Founders Pitch to Female Investors" Meetup in San Francisco, hosted by The Expat Woman. This public, co-ed Meetup included twelve female startup founders who were pitching to a group of four women investors from different venture capitalist firms located in Silicon Valley. Nyna Caputi, Founder and CEO of The Expat Woman, explained the concept behind this pitch event, mentioning how it aims to help women founders raise funding from likeminded investors. Nyna said,
"I found that at many of the SF Bay Area pitch events, women founders and investors, especially women of color, were underrepresented. Many women founders, especially the expatriate women, shared how they didn't feel comfortable pitching at these events. Many of these women-led startups had huge potential, but were unable to expand because they couldn't get funding. We launched The Expat Woman's Female Founders Pitch Female Investors event in October 2015 to give women founders a chance to pitch on a level playing field. The event also creates opportunities for women angels and VCs to be part of our investor panel of judges."
#2. The Women Startup Challenge - With only seven percent of investor money going to women-led startups, The Women Startup Challenge recently launched a national campaign to help women funded ventures. Backed by Craigslist Founder, Craig Newmark, a group of industry leaders and high-profile investors, The Women Startup Challenge will select 10 women finalists for a live pitch in San Francisco in June. Allyson Kapin, founder of Women Who Tech and the Women Startup Challenge, said in a press release,
"If we're going to solve the toughest problems facing our communities nationally and globally, we must foster and invest in a culture of innovation from diverse perspectives. This means helping to fund startups led by diverse founders."
#3. Blendoor - A new mobile app called "Blendoor" also aims to reduce gender bias in the tech workplace. Created by MIT and Stanford graduate Stephanie Lampkin, Blendoor lets job seekers upload their resumes, while hiding their name and photo from employers. This will ultimately circumvent unconscious bias by removing gender and ethnicity from the hiring process. Stephanie, an African-American female engineer, created Blendoor after she applied for a software engineering gig at a well-known tech firm in Silicon Valley and was told that her background wasn't "technical" enough (even with a Stanford engineering degree and MBA from MIT). Stephanie, however, couldn't help but wonder if being a young, African-American woman had anything to do with not getting the job.
#4. Arjuna Capital - Arjuna Capital, a Massachusetts-based investment firm, has created a new project to encourage major tech companies like eBay, Amazon, Google, etc. to achieve gender equality in the workplace. Arjuna is asking seven major tech firms to submit detailed reports that show policies and goals to reduce the gender wage gap. Apple CEO, Tim Cook, has already announced that the company has closed its internal wage gap, achieving an average of 99.6 percent equity of pay between men and women. Facebook is expected to release its report to shareholders by October. According to a recent article featured on TakePart, Natasha Lamb, Arjuna's director of equity research and shareholder engagement mentioned,
"Silicon Valley is a man's world," said Lamb. "They have a gender issue. No one sets out to say, 'We're going to improve our margins by paying women less.' It just happens, and without examining it fully, companies just aren't aware."