Technology Tuesday

Women in Silicon Valley 

It is not news that women are under represented in the STEM fields. Tech companies have this reputation for being bro clubs and this perception is not alleviated by the fact that there’s an age-old stereotype that “nerds” don’t know how to interact with women. As a result, the overwhelming white male appearance of senior leadership across STEM organizations has drawn significant criticism. As a result, many companies are adopting a quota system to fill those gaps.

I read an article this morning addressing this phenomenon. While I do not support people being appointed to positions they do not qualify for, I think authors of the piece is masquerading as a genuinely concerned individual, while in reality they’re saying: “Don’t be so focused on the numbers. So what if your organization doesn’t accurately represent the overall demographic of female and minority STEM degree holders?”

There are a lot of studies cited throughout their article, but none of them support exactly what the piece is saying. Perhaps they’re counting on the fact that no one will click on the link and take their word for it. Both the NPR and the Harvard Business Review pieces cited do not 100% support their negative view of a quota system.

The NPR article focused more on how social conditioning negatively influence women by lowering their confidence, thus impacting their performance. This doesn’t necessarily say that having a 15% woman or minority quota is a roadblock to success. By the time these women reach a level where they qualify to be appointed as a board member or promoted into a senior level management position, they’ve already dealt with decades of hearing that “boys are better at math than girls.” This psychological damage is not caused by the CEO of Twitter who’s showing enough confidence in them to hire them; it’s already present.

Their HBR reference is equally misleading. The article explicitly criticizing stereotyping women and minorities by now allowing them to blend in and integrate seamlessly in the organization.

they set them apart in jobs that relate specifically to their backgrounds, assigning them, for example, to areas that require them to interface with clients or customers of the same identity group. African American M.B.A.’s often find themselves marketing products to inner-city communities; Hispanics frequently market to Hispanics or work for Latin American subsidiaries.

The point is not to avoid quotas completely, but to implement a diversity management program that is equitable to all parties, including the majority of the employees. Don’t limit people’s potential by segregating them in stereotypical roles. Not only does it put a ceiling on their professional development, it also robs their colleagues of crucial interactions with possibly brilliant individuals.

For those who may dismiss my position because you think that quotas are unfair, I will simplify the concept for you to help you grasp it. Imagine you live in a house with 9 other people. 2 are of one gender (female 20% of the household), 8 are of another gender (male 80%). However, since there’s only one vehicle, only 5 of you can ever leave the house at a time. Do you think it’s fair that the only 5 people who get to leave are men? Shouldn’t 1 of the girls also be represented among the group of people leaving? Women don’t tend to study STEM at the same rate as men, but what sense does it make that organizations wouldn’t want to try and have their companies reflect the percentage of women and minority STEM degree holders as much as possible?

Like everything in life, execution is key. If you have a sprained ankle, you fix it and nurse it back to health. You don’t amputate it. The right approach is what Silicon Valley needs to deal with the under presentation of women and minorities. Not throwing their hands up and saying “tough luck”.

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