Here’s a fact for you: In 2010 according to USA Today, 57% of college students were women. So now I wonder, why are there so few women in Silicon Valley?
Being a college student myself, I recognize just how women-packed my campus is, and I refuse to believe that every one of them is simply a sorority girl aiming for an MRS. degree. These women are smart, competitive, and share the same “work hard, play hard” attitude as most male students do.
I’m not saying that women don’t end up in the Silicon Valley workforce, but I feel like there could always be more women in Silicon Valley simply because innovation and intelligence have no gender. However, when it comes to engineering, computer science, and the hard sciences, men typically outnumber the women so to understand how this came to be we must rewind.
In a Time Before Tech
The first stop in our “back to the future” experience is to 1916 when Margaret Sanger opened up the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn. This act led to her arrest because it was giving women the information, tools, and power to decide if and when they wish to be pregnant. Before Sanger came onto the scene, contraception did exist, but it was kept largely underground because it kept women dependent upon their male counterparts who provided financially for the family while the women would raise the child. Birth control removed the dependency out of the equation because now women had a choice whether to conceive a child or not and they were enabled to pursue careers that they did not have to leave because of pregnancy. The invention of maternity leave laws also helped to bridge the gap between men and women in the workforce. However, inequality was still abundant because the occupations themselves that men and women undertook were vastly different due to the differences in education opportunities.
Don Draper Would Not Approve
My grandmother was a part of the first generation of women to attend college in the 1940′s where she studied economics, which was even more of a rarity at the time. The point I am trying to make is that women were now beginning to regularly attend college, but their major courses were not pre-med, law or physics like the collegiate male population. Instead, they were shepherded largely into the social sciences because it was believed that women naturally had an affinity for the arts and soft sciences. It took until the early 1970′s for women to really begin to make headway into the corporate, legal, medical, and scientific echelons of the workforce. Even then however, sexism still existed as men were beginning to feel marginalized by women’s voracious struggle to attain equal education, work, and payment rights. The glass ceiling was cracking, and if Don Draper actually existed her would be quaking in his tailored suit.
So now that as a society we have evolved enough to welcome women to study what they want, and get whatever jobs they want, why has Silicon Valley and the rest of the tech World remained male dominant? Maybe women simply don’t want these types of jobs? False.
My theory is that old sentiments die hard. I believe that the modern education institutions are still subtly pushing females away from pursuing math and science degrees, which naturally prevents women from having the necessary required skills for many jobs in the tech industry. This gender division is also present in the marketing sectors, which I believe is caused by unintentionally sexist biases being at work in justifying the hiring of male employees over female ones.
My solution: change how we think. We don’t need affirmative action to get women into tech, we need our core opinions and actions to be focused on equality so that the majority of women are not led to believe that they excel in only social sciences and the hu sciences manities. The earlier these thoughts gets eradicated, the more women will join in the computer, engineering, and business sides of tech. Does that mean more competition in the workforce? Maybe, but I would rather live in a culture where true gender equality exists instead of one where the problem is only believed to have been fixed.
In the Teens in Tech summer incubator program, we have one female teen involved. We want that to change, and I know it can. Everyone is creative and innovative, and those traits simply need the right priming to come out in order to keep improving everything for everyone.