One of the themes I encounter consistently in my work as a woman heading a high-tech startup is the theme of gender. Women have long been a small minority in just about every corner of high-tech, from the cubicles to the boardroom, and I feel compelled to use my platform as a female founder of a high-tech startup to call attention to this lack of diversity. Last year, I had the opportunity to speak at multiple conferences and entrepreneur forums about all sorts of issues related to the cloud and enterprise software and the Portland startup community. But one of my comments that resonated the most was my description of the female founder of a high-tech startup as a unicorn with sparkles … that is, a rare breed.
As we start a new year, I’m heartened to see others who have a much larger platform than I do are also speaking about this severe underrepresentation of women, which has persisted too long. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich used his platform at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month to address the lack of diversity in the high-tech sector, and pledged to invest $300 million to improve workplace diversity.
Intel’s initiative, which will strive to improve both gender and racial diversity, is aimed at all levels of the high-tech workforce, starting the universities that educate the next generation of engineers, all the way up to the executive offices. Importantly, Intel is holding itself accountable, tying executive compensation to the success of this diversity initiative.
I’ve always believed that the first step in moving toward greater diversity needs to be an honest discussion. By announcing the initiative at one of technology’s biggest, most watched trade shows, Intel has succeeded in bringing the issue to the forefront, effectively calling out other tech giants to look at their own demographics. This Marketplace piece sketches a rough demographic profile at a few major tech companies, underscoring how the problem is widespread. And, because Intel is acknowledging that the problem starts with a shortage of women and minorities in the “pipeline,” at leading universities and persists all the way to the corner offices, I’m hopeful it will be able to address some of the many factors at play here.
Having headed a large software division at Intel and successfully launched two startups prior to Nouvola, I’m in the fortunate position of working in the senior ranks of the industry. But from this perspective, I see experienced, qualified women facing some of the same challenges encountered at the entry level. The data validate my own personal experience. In the boardroom, women are outnumbered by men more than five to one at S&P 500 companies, many of them tech companies. And, a recent Bloomberg Businessweek survey found that even female graduates of Harvard Business School are underpaid, relative to their male counterparts.
At every level of the industry, the lack of diversity needs to be recognized and taken seriously, not only to ensure that women and minorities are given the opportunities they deserve, but to tap all the sources of talent that will be needed to continue to innovate, compete and serve businesses and consumers with great solutions. Women and minorities are too essential to the success of this industry to be as rare as unicorns.