Women make up half the population and account for 60 percent of online purchases. So naturally you would assume that women play a large role in Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) presentations, right? And you would think that its executive team consists of an equal mix of men and women – right?
You would be wrong. Really wrong.
In a great article on RWW this week, we see, thanks to researching 16 hours of WWDC keynote addresses over the past seven years, that 57 men have spoken v. two women (not counting Siri). TWO.
And we also see that Apple’s leadership group is a 9-1 ratio (men to women) and that one woman, Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of retail and online stores, was just added in October.
What gives? How is this possible?
Well, for one, the industry itself has a problem. Apple isn’t alone. Google recently released information on its gender and race imbalance, which revealed it consisted of 70% male. And I can personally attest, after binge-watching seven episodes of the awesome show Silicon Valley, that this is a male-dominated industry. (How’s that for scientific evidence?)
Whether in real-life or HBO, this seems like a major challenge for the industry moving forward. So I thought I’d ask some of the women leaders here at AKHIA for some suggestions on how the industry can address this issue:
It’s not about asking the industry to change, it’s about asking women to change the way they view themselves, especially in their formative years. Girls, as early as age seven, need to be empowered to believe they are worthy of math, science and technology careers, and encouraged to participate. The industry plays a role, certainly. But so do each of us who can help to change the inequities we see in our education system and in our attitudes about girls and science.
I’m not sure there’s anything the industry can do in the very near future to influence change other than to begin placing their female leaders in the spotlight and creating positive role models. I recently read that women make up only about 24 percent of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce. Yikes! As a mother of a three-year-old girl, this is of particular interest as I want her to have every opportunity possible and not be pigeonholed by the status quo. We are constantly explaining how and why something works, and encouraging her to
explore and experiment.
With the adoption of new technology happening at earlier ages than ever before – kids as young as two or three years old playing with apps on mom and dad’s smartphones – girls are getting introduced to technology much earlier than previous generations. The question is how does the industry harness this interest and encourage it to foster the next wave of technology leaders, regardless of gender. With time, this early adoption of technology is likely to help narrow the gender gap, but in the interim, I’d encourage the tech industry to look to greater collaboration with colleges and universities to identify and recruit top female talent and make a more conscious effort to recognize the accomplishments of females who are currently shaping today’s technology advancements.
As my sons have heard me say too many times to count, “girls can do anything boys can do.”
Gender inequality in major tech corporations isn’t anything new, and the phrase “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” comes to mind. Clearly these companies are managing to succeed despite the disparity. But in my opinion, it’s not only wrong, it’s restricting. Women bring a different perspective. They have the ability to not only expand internal operations through strengthened leadership but also create new consumer ideation and application. And they’re really freaking smart. Certainly not something that will change overnight, but if companies continue down this path, they’ll be left behind by others who embrace a leadership team based on talent and results, not traditions and fear.
As an 18-year-old girl going off to college, I never thought to myself “I aspire to work at Apple!” It’s not because I didn’t like technology – technology is the center of our world and it’s only growing (talk about job security!) It’s because the tech industry was an undefined space and I wasn’t really sure what it consisted of. To me, it was a bunch of scary tech talk that kept me away. So what can the tech industry do to increase female participation?
• Shed some necessary light on the industry. Make it a safe zone for women to feel comfortable by establishing a campus lecture tour – create a more hands-on experience
• Require all business majors to take tech courses
• Make the industry more inviting by highlighting all of the details we don’t actually know about the tech world
• Re-establish job descriptions
If the tech industry wants to increase female leadership, companies should begin to groom internal superstars by empowering those women to make choices and take risks. At AKHIA, we’ve seen many strong and successful women emerge from this same philosophy.
The key to attracting women to a company, an industry, an association, etc., is to make them feel as though they are heard and understood. Women have so much to bring to the table, but if they feel they are not being valued and trusted, they have the confidence to walk away from it. I truly believe one of the reasons AKHIA attracts so many women is that we are given great opportunities here and are trusted with so much, but we are also given the flexibility to meet the needs of our families and lives outside the office.
Perhaps the disparity among women in leadership positions in the tech industry is more of a symptom of an underlying problem. What’s the problem? It could be that less women choose STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) degrees. Just 15 percent of freshmen women at American colleges plan to declare a STEM major, compared to 29 percent of men. Given this disparity in chosen fields of study, I’m concerned the landscape of the industry won’t change much in the next five years. What can change the landscape? Parents and teachers working together to inspire female students to explore the power of science, technology and math instead of letting them shy away from those subjects because they can be challenging.
I’d say this starts way earlier than mid-career and proves why offering STEM classes and encouraging girls to explore interests typically seen as “boyish” is vital. But we can also empower the young women starting college or careers with an interest in tech, engineering, etc., to pursue those routes by highlighting the successes of those few but incredibly strong, smart women. And having powerful male leaders saying the same thing – that women are equal (sometimes better) in the field – will be important to change. Let’s celebrate the ‘Stephanie Jobs’ of the world and bring on the GoldieBlox.