It is 2017 and I still see a big gender imbalance in the tech industry. Why? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
I work with tech companies, in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, to address the half of this battle that no one ever talks about. You can’t just solve the lack of women in leadership as a stand-alone problem in a vacuum. You have to make sure that women and men are given equal opportunities to address work-life issues and be caregivers at home. Sheryl Sandberg agrees with me and says this in my book: Women can’t “lean in” unless men and women can be all in.
Let’s break this down.
First, to be fair to the tech industry, this problem exists everywhere. Modern work cultures were built in the Mad Men era. Our laws, policies, and stigmas were designed to keep women at home and men at work. Why is there no paid maternity leave in the U.S.? Because the thought process was, “She’s a woman. Who needs her money? Men should work, while women stay at home.” (See my five minute opening remarks at the U.N. here.)
But even when you get the laws you need, such as paid family leave, and corporate policies that treat men and women equally, you’re still left with the biggest issue of all, the stigmas. I tell companies that fixing the problem of gender inequality is usually about 20% policy and 80% culture.
There are the really egregious examples of sexist cultures, like the disgusting behavior described as having happened at Uber. (See this open letter from Freada and Mitch Kapor, who were in a panel I hosted at the Bay Area Women’s Summit.) And there are many cases in which other cultural factors push gender inequalities. For example, companies that prize employees who put in tons of extra hours and work on weekends are less likely to see women rise up the ranks (and hurting themselves in the process, because overworking employees bad for business).
Another piece of tackling this issue is to frame it in a way that men don’t feel afraid to take part. Many men have told me they don’t feel welcome in groups focused on equality and work-life balance. Leaders of women’s groups inside many companies also tell me that they’ve noticed that. Men are afraid that if they speak up, someone might say to them, “You privileged man in a patriarchal society, who are you to join in?” But of course men must join in to help push these cultural changes forward. That means emphasizing the extent to which gender equality benefits everyone.
Of course, there’s lots more to this as well. The limited numbers of women in STEM are a huge contributing factor among many. But the half I focus on generally gets the least attention of all. And until that changes, companies , sectors, and entire societies won’t see gender equality flourish.
(For more on this, see my interview on KQED in San Francisco.)
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