Closing the Tech Industry Gender Gap

The fourth industrial revolution is using digital technology to revolutionize almost every part of our life at an unprecedented pace. But one of the biggest implications is just how harmful this revolution may be to the progress of women because they are underrepresented in tech.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

I just returned from this year's annual gathering of the World Economic Forum at Davos, where leaders from around the world gathered to discuss the implications of a new industrial revolution. This fourth industrial revolution (after the revolutions brought about by steam power, electricity and electronics) is using digital technology to revolutionize almost every part of our life at an unprecedented pace, from self-driving cars to AI-enabled assistants.

One of the biggest implications, outlined in The Industry Gender Gap report, is just how harmful this revolution may be to the progress of women because they are underrepresented in tech. As market forces transform industries to favor technological skills, women only hold 26 percent of all tech jobs. Worse yet, they only stand to gain one new STEM job for every 20 that are lost in other disrupted industries. For men, that ratio is a much more favorable one to four.

As the report makes clear, "If current industry gender gap trends persist and labour market transformation towards new and emerging roles in computer, technology and engineering-related fields continues to outpace the rate at which women are currently entering those types of jobs, women are at risk of losing out on tomorrow's best job opportunities."

I found the conversations at Davos and the findings of the report very troubling, but also familiar. Last October, I traveled to the Grace Hopper Celebration in Women in Computing Conference to deliver a similar message: not only do women risk missing out on tomorrow's next great job opportunities, they also risk a more worrying decline in societal influence. As tech remakes the world, women will miss the chance to affect the massive economic and social changes this fourth industrial revolution will bring.

There are many things we must do to tackle this issue, most notably improving the work-life balance which the report correctly cites as a leading barrier to attracting and retaining women in the tech industry. Below, you can find the text of my Grace Hopper where I talk about this impending problem, as well as the steps we can take to ensure women take their rightful place in shaping the future.


What follows is adapted from the keynote remarks for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing by the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology and the Association for Computing Machinery.

Good morning Grace Hopper! It is an absolute honor for me to be here with all of you... so many interesting and brilliant women computer scientists! For all the women who feel alone in their field, this convention is a lifeline--a place where you can feel supported, be inspired, be yourself and come together as computer scientists. That's true for me too.

It's so great to see so many of you here in the audience.. including the 1,000 Googlers and YouTubers who are here today. Thanks you all of you for coming!

So let me start with a story from my own life...

A few years ago my daughter who was ten told me she hated computers.

I don't think you thought I'd start out my speech that way this morning.

When she told me this, I was in shock. She had been coming to Google since she was a baby. She knew that both of her parents worked in technology. She knew that I cared about women working in technology. Suddenly this issue that I cared about so deeply about at work, hit me at home.

What happened in my house might sound familiar to all of you. We had one computer at home, and my son loved it. He loved it so much that he didn't let my daughter get near it. In her words: "he had conquered it," so she had to find something else to do.

She also added that it was "super lame" to like computers, and she had much better things to do in her busy life.

Today, that same pattern is playing out with girls throughout America. Girls are being left out of the conversation when it comes to technology. They're led to think tech is insular and antisocial. And they're never given a chance to correct those perceptions.

This pattern might start in our homes, but it has serious implications for our economy and for women at large.

By 2020, jobs in computer science are expected to grow nearly two times faster than the national average, totaling nearly 5 million jobs.

And those are just the jobs that Pew Research Department considers tech jobs. But of course, tech touches many more jobs than the ones just listed as tech, and as a result has much more influence.

For instance, every car produced today has more computing power than the Apollo 11 rocket that put a person on the moon. IBM's Watson is diagnosing cancer more accurately than oncologists. And farmers are using satellites and weather predictions to increase harvests.

Technology is revolutionizing almost every part of our life at an unprecedented pace. Yet today, women hold only 26 percent of all tech jobs.

If women don't participate in tech, they are losing the chance to influence the largest economic and social change of this century.

The fact that women represent such a small portion of the tech workforce shouldn't just be a wake up call, it should be a Sputnik moment.

It threatens our country's continued economic prominence and risks our future competitiveness. And it should awaken all of us to act.

So where do we start?

There's been a serious debate about the shortage of women in tech. Is this a pipeline issue? Or is it a retention issue?

In my opinion, it is both.

Let's start with the pipeline. Right now women earn over half of all bachelor's degrees in America but fewer than 20% of computer science degrees.

And this problem, unfortunately, is not getting better, it's getting worse.

Female representation in tech actually used to be higher in the mid-'80s. Other fields like Biology and Chemistry have since improved; while computer science has decreased. The decline is now unique to computer science.

Two years ago, I was in the audience here at Grace Hopper, when, Maria Klawe was here on stage. For those of you who don't know, Maria is the President of Harvey Mudd College, where she helped lead a successful effort to encourage more women to major in computer science. Maria has dedicated herself to getting women excited about tech; and she is getting results. When she spoke, she spelled out the three reasons girls don't go into technology.

And these are in her words:

One, they think it's boring.

Two, they think they won't be any good at it.

And three, they wouldn't want to be seen dead with the people who major in computer science.

I double checked with my daughter, and, unfortunately, for her, these mis-perceptions were true.

But all of us here in the room know that none of this is actually true. But perceptions drive reality. So let's look at what is driving these mis-perceptions and how we can fix them.

First, computer science is boring.

Ok, obviously that's not true. But how would anyone know for sure unless they tried it? The problem is unless you're the person sitting in front of the computer, building your own program, it can look, from the outside, incredibly boring.

We need more girls to have the opportunity to actually show them what computer science is.. they need to see for themselves that computer science can be creative and inspiring.

The second perception, the perception that girls wouldn't be good at computer science... that just makes me mad.

Of course they would be good at it.

Some of the greatest programmers of all time have been women! Ada Lovelace, the world's first computer programmer; Ida Rhodes who designed the first computers to run the Census and Social Security;
Margaret Hamilton who wrote the software that put Apollo 11 on the moon; and Joan Clark who, along with other women, broke the Nazi Enigma code at Bletchley Park.

And let's not forget Anita Borg and Grace Hopper.

And there are many great women in industry today and at Google and YouTube who are working on big parts of our systems. There are too many of them to call out by name, but I bet many of them are here in the audience.

But given the number of men in the field vs the number of women, and given that most women haven't even tried computer science, I can see how women can internalize these misperceptions.

So, let me tell you a little secret I learned along the way from being at the top of one of the largest tech organizations...

Men have no special skills that enable them to run technology companies.

There are just way more of them, and they're more aggressive about getting to the next level.

Now, the gender disparity in computer science is not going to change on its own. Every single time I go to the computer camps in Silicon Valley to pick up my kids, I see the 7 years olds, the 10 year olds the 12 year olds, and I see the same thing as I see in my office. Unless we make a change, the future of tech will look just like it looks today.

So the only way we're going to fix these perceptions is by giving everyone a chance to learn computer science.

I would start with making computer science available to all students in the United States with the ultimate goal of making it mandatory.

I recognize that many schools around the country are strapped for resources and they're budget constrained. I'm not saying this is easy, but on the other hand, the world is changing and our educational system needs to prepare students for the 21st century.

Today, approximately ten percent of schools nationwide offer Computer Science classes, while often the other sciences like biology, chemistry and physics are required courses.

Unless we make CS a priority, we risk making gender, class and racial disparities worse as jobs and opportunities flow to those who have a computer science background. As a nation, we also risk our future competitiveness.

There are other forward-looking countries that have already adopted these standards. Last year, England became the first country in the European Union to mandate computer science classes. Italy will soon implement something similar. And Israel and South Korea have some of the most rigorous computer science curriculums.

In the US, we're also starting to see momentum. Cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco are making progress but we still have a long way to go.

The best thing about raising a generation where all students understand computer science is that it will have a significant impact on women and minorities that are otherwise underrepresented in tech.

And now for that last misperception... I'd never be caught dead taking a class with a computer geek.

First, we need more of these girls to come Grace Hopper to see the extraordinary women we have here in computer science.

Usually for these kinds of misperceptions, we blame the media for reinforcing stereotypes...

People love to blame the media for our stereotypes.

Humm.. there is a problem with this in my case... I cannot blame the media... I run one of the largest media platforms in the world. We have over 1 billion people coming to it every month!

So I started looking to see what could YouTube do to change the perceptions.

Well, the first thing we can do is help people understand that there is a problem.

So I'm proud to announce that we're working with Oscar winning-producer Lesley Chilcott, who produced "An Inconvenient Truth" and "Waiting for Superman." Lesley created a new documentary about the role girls can play in technology and the importance of getting them involved.

Lesley's new film is called "Code Girl," and not only is she in the audience with us today but she's brought an exclusive teaser for the film that I'd like to share with all of you right now.

Let's roll the clip.

I'm proud to announce that together with Google's Made w/Code team, we're going to host "Code Girl" for free on YouTube for five days before it hits the theaters. I want to thank Lesley for the tremendous passion she's brought to the project to help raise awareness of this important issue.

But our support doesn't end there.

Over the next year, you'll hear about how YouTube is working to bring more women behind and in front of the camera, and how we will be encouraging content that shows women in technology in a positive light.

But even if we do change perceptions and strengthen the pipeline of female candidates in tech, we have to be honest that there are many cultural problems that are pushing women out.

For tech companies like Google, this is a huge loss of talent in a field where we constantly have shortages. Today, women working in STEM fields are 45 percent more likely to leave the industry than their male peers.

There a few issues behind this. One of them is a culture that praises people for working all night and embracing long hours.

It can get particularly extreme, especially at start-ups. Putting in those long hours shows your seriousness, your commitment, your potential as a 10Xer. There are all-night code jams and coders drinking Soylent so they don't have to get up to eat. And the mini-fridges are stocked with Red Bull for when you need some extra energy. It creates a culture that intimidates people who want to have a normal life and punishes those who have important commitments at home, male or female.

I could never participate in this kind of tech culture since I had my first baby soon after joining Google. Throughout my career, I've made it a point to try to be home every night for dinner with my family.

At first this wasn't really a choice. My kids were in daycare. And do you know what happens if you're late for day care pickup? You're charged a dollar a minute! And that's not the worst part... The worst part is your kids are really mad at you that they were the last ones to be picked up.

But that constraint enabled me develop a work style that focused on efficiency, productivity and prioritization during office hours.

There are times in your career where long hours are appropriate and necessary. There are emergencies when you need to come in on weekends and evenings. But it is not a sustainable long-term solution.
A recent study in the Harvard Business Review, found that employees who took regular breaks saw a 30 percent higher level of focus compared with those who didn't. And employees who felt encouraged by their bosses to take breaks reported a nearly 100 percent higher loyalty to their employer!

So here's my advice to all of you: focus on working smart. Work hard, do a great job. But then.....go home.

Being in it for the long term, and not burning out is more important than a short and fiery stint in technology. And tech companies, if you want to attract and retain the best talent, you need to help employees find a balance.

The other way we can make our industry a far more inviting place for women is to advocate for paid family leave.

I have been lucky in my life. I was Google's first employee to go on maternity leave and last year I became the only person to take five maternity leaves at Google. Each of those leaves enriched my career and more importantly, enriched my life. They left me with the peace of mind, knowing that I could return after spending the time I truly wanted and needed at home with my new baby.

Interestingly, I also found that each break gave me a chance to reflect on my career. During my second maternity leave, I decided to make a change and work in advertising, where I then spent the next 12 years of my career.

It may sound counterintuitive, but the research--and Google's own experience--shows a generous paid maternity leave actually increases retention.

When women are given a short leave, or they're pressured to be on call, some decide it's just not worth it to return. That's why, when Google increased its paid maternity leave policy from 12-to-18 weeks, we saw the rate at which new mothers quit fall by 50 percent.

I've been inspired to see other companies like Netflix and Microsoft offer more generous paid family leave in recent months. Sadly, the United States is the only nation in the world besides Papua New Guinea not to offer paid maternity leave. Today, 88 percent of American women do not get any paid family leave. It creates an awful situation where a quarter of all women in the U.S. return to work just ten days of giving birth.

If tech companies want to boost their retention, they need to offer generous paid leave. And by raising awareness about the benefits of paid family leave, they can hopefully inspire the nation to do the same.

If you work for a company and you feel you can not work a balanced day, and the maternity leave is bad or non existent, then I recommend you start looking around and try to find a company that will support you.

And by the way... we're hiring!

But as we work to reform the culture, I would advise all of you to become an advocate for yourself and not feel guilty about it.

Let me give you an example:

A few years ago, there was an important invitation-only conference that convened all of the top leaders in my industry. I worked with these people. They were people I had relationships with, strong partnerships with, and somehow my invite never came.

I could have just let it go. But I didn't. I wanted to go this event since it was important for my job. I reached out; other people reached out on my behalf. I asked and I asked... but the invite didn't come.

Some people seemed annoyed that I kept asking about this. Honestly, it was kind of embarrassing to tell people that I hadn't been invited. At one point I began to think that maybe I didn't even belong at this event in the first place.

But then when I had almost given up hope, I found someone who had the right influence. And when I told him, he supported me and made it happen.

Within a day of telling him, like magic, the invite came. And when I got there, it was obvious-- I had a rightful place there.

After going through this experience, I realized that we've all gone through something similar. It may be a meeting, an event, a class, an offsite where you would like to attend but you weren't invited.

There are many ways people can deter you from going.

So my advice is for you to keep asking. Look out for yourself, advocate for yourself. And don't feel guilty about it.

I also realized something else important during this experience...

Someone in the organization who had more power and influence than I did, reached out on my behalf and made it happen.

It crystallized for me how people get that next job, how they get that promotion, how they get that invite. Power and influence is passed down from those who have it.

So, if you see a company with poor diversity numbers, look to its leader.

So, just to get back to my daughter now.

I'm happy to report that she now likes computers. After my wake-up call at home, I enrolled her at a local computer camp. She came home complaining that her class was all boys--and that no one there was like her. She hated computers even more than she did at first!

But I didn't give up then either!

I switched her to an all-girls coding camp, and soon, she started to see the light. Soon afterwards she sketched out a drawing of a computer watch, complete with phone, video and her friends contact info, just the way she wanted. And this, by the way, was before Samsung and Apple had released their watches.

I could see that she was starting to see that technology was a tool to build out her ideas, and make the world better for her. By supporting and encouraging my daughter, I was able to turn her around. But she is just one girl.

So, I'd like to ask all of you to support and encourage each other. And reach out to the next generation of girls in your life who think tech is inaccessible, or uncreative, or hard, or boring --and show them just how wrong that stereotype actually is. No matter where we are in our lives we can make a difference.

If you are a student in college, you influence high school students or other students at your school. If you just started working you can help those in school get their first job. If you are a manager, you can identify talented women in your organizations and help them get to the next level.

And if all of us do that together, we'll make progress in changing these perceptions and overcoming these statistics.

So we have to strengthen the pipeline of girls entering CS by reforming our educational standards for the 21st century. We have to improve the work culture in our industry to make it friendlier to women.

And above all, we have to make it our personal responsibility to show the next generation of girls and the current generation of women that they belong in computer science and with it they can change the world.

Thank you and enjoy the conference!


What's Hot