Women leave technology careers at a much higher rate than men do, and encouraging more girls to pursue STEM careers is just the beginning of the solution—real change comes from first recognizing the sexism that exists in high-tech careers, including more women at all levels in high-tech companies, and then bringing about a real change in the work environment.
In the series of interviews above, the Wall Street Journal talked to several female entrepreneurs who lead technology-heavy companies. They talked about the problem of sexism in the workplace culture at their companies (and at many other companies), and they called on corporate leaders not only to make a real change but to be accountable for it.
- Applying the growth mindset to the workplace culture (Paradigm)
For starters, people at all levels have to talk about sexism in the workplace. This has perhaps been made easier for both women and men with the start of the #MeToo movement earlier this year, which was itself, perhaps, a response to the election of President Donald Trump, who has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior by several women.
“Being discouraged from talking about the nuances of this problem,” says Rachel Cook, founder and CEO of Specs, “has been one of the biggest hurdles to addressing it.”
Schools have responded in recent years by encouraging girls to take an interest in studying science, technology, engineering, and math, the so-called STEM disciplines. But there’s more to fixing the under-representation of women in STEM-related careers than percentages.
“If you’re just bringing in people for the sake of upping your numbers,” says Lisa Wang, co-founder and CEO of SheWorx, “you’re not actually changing anything about the environment or making it more inclusive.”
Actual equality for women would resemble the World Series in baseball: some teams win a lot more than others, but unless games are intentionally fixed, the best team wins, regardless of what city that team calls home.
In high-tech fields, women are in general no better or worse than men. Some men are maybe more interested than others, as are some women, in certain aspects of technology, corporate management, finance, customer relations, sales, and whatever else it takes to make a company successful and its employees happy.
But the one who ends up on top should be the one with the best work ethic (moving past and learning from adversity and mistakes, teaching and learning from others on the team, etc.) for whatever is being manufactured or sold. The game should not be fixed but malleable, and it certainly shouldn’t be determined by a person’s sex.
Whether or not companies are willing to make changes that bring about a level playing field, where each person is judged and promoted (or demoted) based on contribution to the team, remains to be seen. Many companies are talking about these changes, but whether any of it actually happens may force us to consider a more complex picture.
“One of the things I notice a lot,” says Joelle Emerson, Paradigm co-founder and CEO, “is that companies want to change, but they don’t want to be held accountable for changing. Those things can’t both be true.”
Our best and most progressive schools are fine with being evaluated by several different instruments or assessments. The best teachers want to be evaluated, and test scores can be an important piece of the puzzle for understanding the work they do.
Companies are mostly driven by profit, which is why I would advocate for boycotting companies that don’t show a true commitment to positive changes toward a sexism-free environment. I also strongly advocate for eliminating schools that don’t show a true commitment to providing a well-rounded education for US students.