Gender diversity in Silicon Valley: Women’s gains in top ranks in past two decades

There’s been a spotlight on the low numbers of women at Silicon Valley companies, but a new report shows the companies have fared better in some areas of gender diversity in leadership compared to other public companies in the nation over the past couple of decades.

“Diversity numbers for the top 15 largest companies in the SV 150 are generally closer to — and in some cases exceed— those of the S&P 100,” says a new report from Fenwick & West, which was released this week.

The law firm, which is based in Mountain View and serves many tech and life-sciences companies, looked at public filings and other information — including using the Mercury News’ annual identification of the valley’s largest public companies, a.k.a. the SV 150 — from the past 21 years and concluded that change is coming, albeit slowly.

It’s probably no surprise that size matters. Fenwick’s study found that “the bigger the company, the more diverse the leadership.”

Here are some specifics:

“In the 2016 proxy season, the number of executive officers identified per company in the SV 150 ranged from 2 to 12, with a median of 6 (and an average of 6.4), while in the S&P 100, the number ranged from 3 to 21 executive officers, with a median of 10 (and an average of 10.4),” the report said.

However, 7 percent of S&P 100 companies had female CEOs as opposed to the 6 percent of SV 150 companies that did in 2016.

Meanwhile, when it comes to company boards, “in recent years, the top 15 largest companies in the SV 150 have surpassed the S&P 100 in percentage of women in board leadership positions, including board chairs, lead directors, and committee chairs,” the study found.

Still, the gender makeup of many boards of directors continue to be overwhelmingly male, as shown in this graphic below.

(Fenwick & West)

Why does it continue to be so lopsided? The factors cited in the report include: “CEOs generally serve on their own boards, and women are underrepresented among CEOs.” Also, there is a dearth of females in the venture capital industry, where many board members come from.

Another finding: Although U.S. (and Silicon Valley) companies are making gains in gender diversity, the numbers lag behind other countries, such as those in Europe.

For other specific numbers and findings, Fenwick’s 8o-page-plus report can be downloaded from here.

“Although there is still a dearth of comprehensive long-term data tracking gender diversity in Silicon Valley, more and more companies are proactively issuing diversity reports and exploring ways to make meaningful progress,” Fenwick said. “This survey is intended as a contribution to that growing conversation.”


Illustration from Thinkstock


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