The world did not topple off its axis and no one’s head exploded, but there it was: An all-women technology panel in the heart of Silicon Valley.
OK, moderator and USA Today tech editor Jon Swartz is a man, but he wasn’t technically a panelist at the Joint Venture Silicon Valley State of the Valley Conference.
And the panelists, Susan Wojcicki, senior VP at Google; Kim Polese, chairwoman of ClearStreet; and Kara Swisher, technology columnist and co-editor of All Things D, were hilarious, insightful, provocative, clever, diplomatic and at times evasive — all of which should surprise no one.
(You can read a few gems here.)
Women in tech, of course, are no longer an afterthought in Silicon Valley. Everybody talks about how there aren’t enough women in tech jobs, about how corporate boards are practically all-male clubs, and about how few women run the earth-shattering companies that reside in Silicon Valley.
It’s just that not enough people do much about it. During the panel discussion, Swisher made the point by recalling something she had written about the thin-skinned Andrew Mason’s Groupon and the lack of women on its board.
Mason was angry at first, but eventually he acknowledged the point:
“It is a problem,” Mason told Swisher. “What should I do about it?”
“Excuse me?” Swisher answered. “I don’t mean to be rude, but get yourself a woman on your board.”
“Can you find me one?” Mason asked.
Wow. Visions of binders of women.
I’d like to think things are getting better. So would Swartz, who mentioned that he sees a lot of women in tech start-ups these days.
“The problem is that were not seeing enough technical women” countered Polese, who was key to the development of the Java programming language, “and that’s what I’m concerned about. For example when I graduated in ’84, 37 percent of computer science grads were women. Now it’s something along the lines of 15 percent. That’s crazy. How could it be going down when we need more, many more, engineers?”
Yes, how could it?
“I think that it’s a complex problem,” Polese continued. “I think it happens when girls are at an age 11, 12, 13, it doesn’t seem cool anymore to be geeky or to be good at math or science. So it’s cultural.
“I think it’s a role model issue,” the role model said, “We don’t have enough women techies who are out there, visible. We just need more of them. It’s a problem that has several different roots, but it, to me, is the biggest concern.”
Swisher, among the best-connected journalists covering technology, said the lack of women in high places is depressing.
“The tech industry is far ahead of other industries, but it’s still depressing to watch the boards of these companies, watch where the senior executives are, to see where the VCs are and where they’re investing. And it’s a quantum level of difference” between men and women.
“You have to really make an effort to do it.” Swisher said of diversifying corporate power, “and that’s why it doesn’t happen.”
Which is the bad news, but also the good news. Because if Swisher is right, that means the dearth of women in technology and business leadership in the valley is something that can be reversed.
How about we get to work?