The One Area Where Silicon Valley Lags Behind The Rest Of The World


Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

The United States may think it’s a leader in technology innovation, but it’s getting left behind in at least one category: women in leadership positions at technology companies.

When Silicon Valley Bank polled 1,200 technology executives across the globe, it found that less than half of the companies, or 46 percent, have at least one woman on their boards or in their C-suites. That breaks down to women holding just 26 percent of board of director positions at tech companies globally and 37 percent of executive roles.

The United States lags even further behind, however. Just 45 percent of U.S.-based technology companies have at least one woman in leadership. By contrast, Europe at 50 percent, Asia at 56 percent, and all other regions at 58 percent easily beat us.

Some large, high-profile tech companies in the U.S. have recently released diversity statistics on their workforces and help show why the country may be behind. Google’s leadership team is 21 percent female; Twitter’s is 21 percent; Facebook’s is 23 percent; Yahoo’s is 23 percent; and Pinterest’s, whose users are nearly 70 percent female, is the lowest, at 19 percent.

In general, half of American tech companies don’t have any women on their boards. At the top ten Silicon Valley firms, executives and top managers are 17 percent female.

Part of the problem is how few women get into the field in school, getting steered away from science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) studies. Women earn 41 percent of STEM college degrees, yet male graduates end up actually working in these fields at twice the rate of female grads. Men outnumber women in tech jobs seven to three. Even when women make it into these jobs, they are far more likely to leave after their first year and to end up with jobs outside the field.

The attrition may be in part due to the challenges women may face in balancing STEM careers with family needs. They also often have to confront entrenched sexism. Examples abound, from IBM executives overheard saying they won’t hire women because they get “pregnant again and again,” to a former Github employee who alleges rampant harassment and misogyny, to a female startup CEO who was told by a male prospective employee he’d take the job if she slept with him. Studies bear out the fact that women are at a disadvantage for STEM jobs just because of their gender.

Tech, of course, isn’t unique in a lack of diversity at the top. Women hold less than 15 percent of executive positions at the country’s largest companies and less than 17 percent of board seats. But these companies may be missing out on talent and ideas that could boost their performance if they don’t add more women.