Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) is holding its annual I/O conference this week. Critics and fans alike expect a glut of new devices and new software from the company. Yesterday, the company held a panel talk entitled The Women Techmakers, a conference about the place of women in the tech industry.
The panel is particularly important in the wake of a survey in May from recruitment Harvey Nash Group that showed the prevalence of women in senior positions at American technology companies decreased for the second year in a row. The piece showed that 30% of companies reported that they had no female senior executives at all.
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That report suggested that the lack of visible women at the head of technology companies meant that less women were attracted to the position. A self fulfilling prophecy is created that thoroughly denies women the same opportunities in the industry that are open to men.
The panel waxed lyrical on the way Google works on the inside, but had little to say on the real problem signified by the lack of females at the top positions in the tech industry. General advice was given about working hard and believing in what you are doing in order to succeed.
Some light was brought to the effects of external stimulation on children in the definition of gender roles. 80% of jobs in cartoons are held by men, according to research by actress Gina Davis. Pursuing this line does not explain the recent decline or the inactivity of women in the tech industry in general.
The issue certainly revolves around gender roles and the way that women in the tech industry are seen. Women have managed to make it to the top in some of Silicon valley’s biggest and most important companies but the number of large firms led by women is miniscule.
Likewise the number of important start ups that involve women remain small, and the number of those that make it into the mainstream is even smaller. With the tech industry a major engine of growth in the early years of the twenty first century, this might cause greater disparity in future.
If the tech industry becomes a major employer in the coming years, and not just a major source of value, women might be left outside in the dark. Whether it is few women seeking jobs in the industry, or bias against them when they do the tech industry, despite its trappings of modernity, is not any better than the more traditional sectors in its employment of women.
Gender bias is not the tech industries fault, and the problem is certainly not concentrated there. Very few hedge funds, or Fortune 500 companies maintain anything close to gender parity in their hiring practices.The tech industry is not exempt and should be doing more to promote equality.
The tech industry, since its beginnings in the late 1970s, has generally been the centre of liberal values. It should express those values by providing deeper incentives for women to become involved and learn the skills necessary for a successful career.