Where Are The Influential Women in Silicon Valley?

Is there job discrimination against women in Silicon Valley?

I hear this question all the time, often in hushed whispers, as if it’s a secret that men dominate the technology industry. My simple answer: “No.” I believe there exist plenty of opportunities for influential women in Silicon Valley. I know from experience. However, the opportunities may not be what you think, and it may be the women themselves who make it that way.

Ignoring the gasps and cold shoulders I generally get from women who don’t like my “No,” answer, I ask them, “Why didn’t you study engineering in college?” Ah, there’s the rub.

Whether we like it or not, whether it fits the mold of today’s political correctness or not, this is simply a reality we’d like to ignore. Many studies have shown there simply isn’t a lot of interest in the mathematics and engineering sciences—the heart and soul of Silicon Valley—from either males or females in the United States. Those who do work hard to excel in that field generally find a place for their talents here; but is it any surprise SV is brimming with foreign nationals? Whether or not one arrives at the highest executive jobs and coveted board seats of leading SV firms, those who stick with the hard climb up this corporate ladder also carry dedication and people skills on their back—a rare combination of talents for anyone, male or female.

When I ran my own consulting business here, after a non-engineering career in the communications and high-tech fields, I was approached by a board of directors to be the “token woman.” I suppose one could say I was foolish not to pursue that avenue, to be a role model for other women to follow in later years. Certainly, other women have risen to comparable positions, generally in the administrative and finance roles, but also in marketing and business development, which is where most of them can be found today.

I understood the responsibility of executives and boards running these fast-paced, complex, high-tech companies and frankly, I didn’t think I was qualified. Sure, a board member is supposed to bring fresh perspectives and an outside view to the business in general. But when multi-million- (or billion-) dollar decisions need to be made on investing in new facilities or breakthrough technologies, partnering or liquidating assets, all the decision-makers need to have the education and experience to make the best decisions for their shareholders—not just the media or the politicians. Running a business is not an experiment in social engineering. It’s a serious endeavor to leverage capital, and then hopefully profits, in creative directions to create numerous jobs and valuable products. Rinse and repeat, over and over. In hindsight, I see those qualifications mattered more to me than to the boards themselves.

The few women engineers with advanced degrees who struggle in a male-dominated workplace require backbones of steel to advance their projects. But even with very creative solutions, or a uniquely female perspective, the true technology world is ultimately governed by the laws of physics and mathematics, not the laws of man (or woman).

We all wish we could wave a magic wand and make the world a better place.

However, if we broaden the definition of technology to encompass the growing use of applications and advertising, social media and communications networks, then yes, eventually more women will rise to the top. If not, they will start their own businesses because their education, experiences, and skills are more appropriate to the emerging marketplace than the hardware or software engineers’ talents, in my opinion. Steve Blank’s recent article in Inc., comparing women entrepreneurs in New York City vs. Silicon Valley, points to a variety of conditions that explain the difference, adding validity to my belief that decrying Silicon Valley’s dearth of female leadership misses the point.

Women need to earn the high-level, high-paid positions, and invest as many hard, long years in their career as their male counterparts. They need to enter the technology workforce with excellent educational credentials, great work habits, fantastic people skills, relentless ambition, and the desire to rise to the top. Very few people make it to the highest ranks, regardless of gender. If there aren’t women studying math and engineering, and then making their career their highest priority, they simply don’t deserve the top position.

The gender-based argument no longer holds water in today’s world, where transparency and equal opportunity really do exist for those people hell-bent on achieving it.

With all due respect to Maya Kosoff of BusinessInsider.com, I disagree that the statistics are all that dismal—but then I’m a half-glass-full kind of gal. I’m not alone. I suggest you read the comments to that article.

There exists today a great opportunity for women to make significant strides in executive levels across the country. Silicon Valley’s technology enables so many new products and services that no one has to be tethered to a single concept, a single company, or even a single geographical location.

Let’s redefine the opportunities for the next generation of women to excel in their chosen field—whatever that is—and compete for the consumer dollars, the government contracts, and venture capital funding on an even playing field.

After all, isn’t that what the woman’s movement is all about? Equality of opportunity? Who wants to face herself in the mirror knowing she hasn’t earned her place at the table, but that it was given to her just because of her gender? Isn’t that just as discriminatory as not being promoted?

I think so. Let me know if you agree. (Scroll down and Join the discussion below)

(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)

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