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A status update on women in tech

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The atrium of the Zynga building in San Francisco,  home to the social gaming company behind Farmville, is a huge sunlit space filled with ping pong tables, pool tables, arcade games and foosball tables. One is the scene of a fierce game among a group of guys.   

“There are all guys playing,” says Sukrutha Bhadouria, a female software test engineer at Citrix, who works in the building.

Bhadouria believes if she asked the guys to play, they’d be cool about it. But she’s not going to do that and she can’t say exactly why.

“I think it’s the case where nobody wants to go to a place where they’re a minority,” she says.

Kellie McElhaney, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, says the same is true of the tech world.

“It’s very complex why there aren’t more women in industries like tech,” she says. While there are exceptions, women in tech aren’t facing the kind of overt discrimination past generation of women had to deal with. It’s more about attitude and that’s really squishy.

McElhaney recalls the time a friend applied for a position at a start-up. When she submitted her salary request, she got this response:

“Wow, you’re really over-valuing yourself as a female.” But, McElhaney is hopeful that women are starting to push back — though there’s still a long way to go.

For example, about 15 percent of  Fortune 500 companies have a woman on the board. But in Silicon Valley, “the number drops to 7 percent, and we continue to have companies that have zero women in senior management,” says McElhaney, who points out that Apple’s management team is made up of 12 men.

The absence of women at the top might be discouraging women from entering the field.

“In 2000, women made up 29 percent of the computer science degrees, but by 2009, that number had fallen to less than 21 percent,” says Kristen Gil, the VP of Business Operations at Google who also leads the Women at Google group.

To change that trend, Google has been trying to recruit and retain more women. It has extended maternity leave and put more women on hiring committees.

Gil says having more women in the workplace is about maintaining Google’s competitive edge.

“If you have a diverse workforce that has different perspectives, you’re going to be in a better position to come up with more innovative solutions, and research shows this,” she says.

And innovation is what has made Google a leader — not just in tech — but in business.

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