Addressing The Shortage Of Women In Silicon Valley

  • Although Silicon Valley faces challenges in recruiting more female employees, woman have played vital roles throughout the history of computing. Augusta Ada Byron King, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, assisted Charles Babbage in the 1840s with his description of the Analytical Engine, the original design for a computing machine. Her notes on the theoretical machine are thought to be an early m...
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    Although Silicon Valley faces challenges in recruiting more female employees, woman have played vital roles throughout the history of computing. Augusta Ada Byron King, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, assisted Charles Babbage in the 1840s with his description of the Analytical Engine, the original design for a computing machine. Her notes on the theoretical machine are thought to be an early model for software, over 100 years before it became a reality.
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • Grace Murray Hopper was a Navy rear admiral who in 1946 compiled a 500-page manual for the Harvard Mark I, one of the earliest programmable computers.  She developed the first compiler, which allowed programmers to code in their own language instead of rows of 1s and 0s, and later worked on computer languages.
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    Grace Murray Hopper was a Navy rear admiral who in 1946 compiled a 500-page manual for the Harvard Mark I, one of the earliest programmable computers. She developed the first compiler, which allowed programmers to code in their own language instead of rows of 1s and 0s, and later worked on computer languages.
    Courtesy Anita Berg Institute
  • Fran Bilas Spence (left) and Jean Jennings Bartik are among a group of six female programmers inducted into the Women in Technologies Hall of Fame for their work on the ENIAC, an early computer built in 1946. The women had backgrounds in math, but their job also required physically managing over 3,000 switches to route the data. Many went on to develop computer storage capabilities and programm...
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    Fran Bilas Spence (left) and Jean Jennings Bartik are among a group of six female programmers inducted into the Women in Technologies Hall of Fame for their work on the ENIAC, an early computer built in 1946. The women had backgrounds in math, but their job also required physically managing over 3,000 switches to route the data. Many went on to develop computer storage capabilities and programming languages.
    U.S. Army Photo
  • Anita Borg received a Ph.D. in computer science from New York University in 1987 – a rare feat at the time. Realizing how few women were in the industry, Borg created Systers, a community email discussion group for women in computing. In 1997 she founded the Institute for Women and Technology, which was later renamed in her honor.
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    Anita Borg received a Ph.D. in computer science from New York University in 1987 – a rare feat at the time. Realizing how few women were in the industry, Borg created Systers, a community email discussion group for women in computing. In 1997 she founded the Institute for Women and Technology, which was later renamed in her honor.
    Paul Sakuma/AP
  • Meg Whitman joined eBay as its CEO in 1998, when the company had approximately 30 employees. Two years later, she became the first female billionaire in the Internet industry. She stepped down in 2008 after expanding the company to more than 15,000 employees, and in September 2011 she was named the new CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
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    Meg Whitman joined eBay as its CEO in 1998, when the company had approximately 30 employees. Two years later, she became the first female billionaire in the Internet industry. She stepped down in 2008 after expanding the company to more than 15,000 employees, and in September 2011 she was named the new CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
    Jae C. Hong/AP
  • In October, Virginia Rometty was named IBM's first female CEO in its 100-year history. She studied computer science at Northwestern University before joining IBM as a systems engineer in 1981. In recent years, Rometty led IBM's Gobal Business division and oversaw its $3.5 billion acquisition of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting.
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    In October, Virginia Rometty was named IBM's first female CEO in its 100-year history. She studied computer science at Northwestern University before joining IBM as a systems engineer in 1981. In recent years, Rometty led IBM's Gobal Business division and oversaw its $3.5 billion acquisition of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting.
    Jon Iwata/Reuters

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This week thousands of women gathered in Portland, Ore., for the Grace Hopper Celebration, the world's largest technical conference for women and computing. High-tech companies are hiring, but there aren't nearly enough women to meet the demand.

Kate Schmalzried, a graduate student at Stanford, recalls one of her very first classes at the university — Computer Science 106A.

"That was really a good introduction to women in tech — there weren't many women in the class," she says, chuckling. "I distinctly remember being the only girl in my section."

It's no secret that beginning in middle school, young women often lose interest in math and science. So it's not surprising that relatively few women sign up for computer courses in college. When they do, they are often at a disadvantage.

"I remember on the first day, the guy sitting next to me telling me how he had coded a search engine — are you kidding me?" she says. "I'd never coded anything."

Schmalzried was able to catch up, but says by the second semester fewer than half the original women were still in the course.

Indeed, nationwide only about 20 percent of the bachelor's degrees in computer science go to women.

Mark Bregman, the former chief technology officer at Symantec, says it's not nearly enough.

"One of the things that's a barrier to our ability to grow is our ability to hire the best talent," he says. "If we could get more women to go into computer science, we would have more talent to hire from."

Women attend a talk on Wednesday at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Portland, Ore. The conference offers mentoring and recruiting for women in technology fields. i i

Women attend a talk on Wednesday at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Portland, Ore. The conference offers mentoring and recruiting for women in technology fields. /Courtesty Anita Borg Institute hide caption

itoggle caption /Courtesty Anita Borg Institute
Women attend a talk on Wednesday at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Portland, Ore. The conference offers mentoring and recruiting for women in technology fields.

Women attend a talk on Wednesday at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Portland, Ore. The conference offers mentoring and recruiting for women in technology fields.

/Courtesty Anita Borg Institute

Bregman, now a senior executive at a company called Neustar, says there's an acute shortage of computing talent. He worries not only about the small number of women coming in the door, but also about the industry's inability to retain them. They leave their technical jobs far more often than men.

Bregman cites empirical and anecdotal evidence that teams with men and women are often more productive and build products that are more interesting. Take Symantec's effort to develop software to limit what kids could see and do on the Internet.

"The initial engineering approach was, 'We will just block the bad stuff.' And through some of the internal discussion, it became clear that that's not really going to work because the kids will get around it," he says. "So rather than do that, let's do something that enhances the dialogue between parents and kids about what is safe behavior on the Internet. That's very different than the engineering-driven — I'll use the term 'male' — approach, which just says ... yes or no."

In an effort to bring in more women, Bregman began requiring hiring managers to interview women for engineering jobs even if on paper they weren't as strong as the male candidates. Once in the door, they often demonstrated their worth and got the jobs.

Other companies have their own initiatives.

At Facebook's sun-drenched offices in Silicon Valley, you'll find nursing rooms and premium parking slots for pregnant women. But Jocelyn Goldfein, a director of engineering, says there are far more substantial efforts to hire and retain women.

"One of the things Facebook has that I love is the parental leave," she says. "Facebook offers four months' paid parental leave not just to women but also to men. And because the men are taking it, it's not this abnormal thing that only affects the one person on the team who is a woman."

Over time, that should help women whose careers have often been derailed by maternity leave.

But there's something quietly insidious happening in many high-tech companies: Female engineers, more often than men, end up in testing or in project management positions, which usually pay less and carry less status, so moving up the career ladder becomes more difficult. And when women aren't promoted, they are more likely to leave.

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