Silicon Valley Seeing An Exodus Of Women Tired Of Dealing With Hostile Workplaces In Tech

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Women who are more than qualified are giving up on the tech industry, frustrated with the slow pace of change in the male-dominated workplace culture of Silicon Valley. All the majors–Google, Facebook, Apple–admit that men outnumbered women 4 to 1 or more in their companies. Rather than stay and fight, women are fleeing.

There has been a push to get more women hired as well as a push to get more young girls and minorities to consider a career in tech. But just filling positions with women and minorities won’t be enough. There needs to be an effort to make the environment more welcoming. And so far that hasn’t happened, thus the exodus by female techies.

According to a Harvard Business Review study from 2008, as many as 50 percent of women working in science, engineering, and technology will, over time, leave due to hostile work environments.

Among the hostile work conditions, the women listed such things as a sense of isolation and lack of a clear career path. When the study was updated in 2014 it found nearly the same complaints — six years later. Most say the workplace stresses are based on an undercurrent of sexism present in Silicon Valley.

Because of this tech companies are finding it hard to retain female workers. Over at Google, for example, its engineering workforce is only 17 percent female. In 2013, it launched a training program focused on fighting cultural biases. “Employees play word association games, and are often surprised by how quickly they link engineering and coding professions with men, and less technical jobs with women,” reports The Chicago Tribune.

There are some companies making headway. At Pinterest, which is a favorite among women, its technical team is now 21 percent female. To boost these numbers, the company created an engineering promotion committee to ensure no one is overlooked. The committee is charged with making sure gender, race, ethnicity don’t get in the way of advancement. The company hired a recruiter whose focus is diversity.

And at Facebook, whose technical workforce is 15 percent female, female employees worldwide gather for a leadership day featuring talks, workshops, and support.

However, sensitivity training, mentoring, instruction in negotiating tactics and other “incremental” measures won’t keep women in the tech industry or increase their numbers claims Joan C. Williams, law professor at UC Hastings College of the Law and coauthor of “What Works for Women: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know.”

She says that companies must research the biases that prevent women from getting ahead, she said, and then devise “interrupters.” This needs to be a systemic change.

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