The two social network powerhouses, Facebook and LinkedIn, are joining forces to launch programs that will encourage more women to pursue degrees and careers in what has long been a man’s world — the world of tech. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg (COO) and LinkedIn’s Jeffrey Weiner (CEO) are launching mentoring and support programs at colleges to inspire more women to pursue tech-related education in hopes that they will, one day, fill the thousands of job availabilities in the heavily male-dominant tech industry.
How dire is the gender imbalance in the tech sector? The highest percentage of women enrolled in computer science programs — at a whopping 35 percent — was back in 1985. Today, those numbers have dwindled to an embarrassing 17 percent.
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According to Sandberg, the norm for gender distribution across Silicon Valley companies is 70 percent men and 30 percent women, with a majority of these women holding non-tech-related jobs (e.g. HR). For instance, at LinkedIn, “women comprise 17 percent of its tech employees and 39 percent of employees overall,” as reported by Inc Magazine.
The lack of diversity in tech limits innovation, according to Telle Whitney, president and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute, which is also a partner of the Facebook-LinkedIn initiative.
“A lot of our consumers, at least half, sometimes more, are women,” says Whitney in Inc. “We build a product that gives people a voice. We know we can’t build a product for the world unless our teams reflect the diversity of the people who use the product.”
Fortunately, women aren’t giving up without a fight. Just this week, Cathy Engelbert made history as the first female U.S. CEO of a “Big Four” firm (Deloitte). As big of an achievement Engelbert’s promotion is for women in business, it’s also a sad reminder that women are just now making history in the business world in 2015. In her interview with Fortune, Engelbert attributed her climb to the top at Deloitte to its “inclusive culture,” which “always strive[s] to pick the best person for the job regardless of gender or ethnicity.”
Fortunately, more tech companies are starting to realize the value in having more women on board. For instance, take a look at Google’s Diversity site, which openly states, “We’re not where we want to be when it comes to diversity. And it is hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.”
It’s this type of culture that allows women to thrive as employees, leaders, visionaries, and as mothers. Bonita Stewart, Google’s VP of Sales, boasts in the Women@Google video that she’s been able to thrive as a woman in tech because “Google allows women to be women.” Plain and simple.
It’s great to see that tech companies such as Facebook and LinkedIn are taking the initiative to empower a more equal, cohesive workforce that will not only level gender inequality, but, more importantly, promote innovation and growth for one of the most important industries of the future — technology.
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Leah Arnold-Smeets, owner of Emiko Consulting, is passionate about helping entrepreneurs capitalize on their strengths, improve on their weaknesses, and reach their full potential. Leah obtained her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration & Entrepreneurial Studies from the University of Southern California (USC).