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Closing the Gender Gap in Silicon Valley – and Everywhere

The media frenzy over the naming of YGL Marissa Mayer as CEO of Yahoo drew attention to the challenges women leaders face, as personal decisions become fodder for other people’s agendas. It also set the stage for the second Silicon Valley Summit July 24-27, where the Forum of Young Global Leaders took up the challenge of closing the gender gap –a particularly salient issue in the tech industry. Not just a women’s issue, the gender gap affects business competitiveness and the health and success of every single man, woman, and child everywhere in the world.

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The media frenzy over the naming of YGL Marissa Mayer as CEO of Yahoo drew attention to the challenges women leaders face, as personal decisions become fodder for other people’s agendas. It also set the stage for the second Silicon Valley Summit July 24-27, where the Forum of Young Global Leaders took up the challenge of closing the gender gap –a particularly salient issue in the tech industry.

Not just a women’s issue, the gender gap affects business competitiveness and the health and success of every single man, woman, and child everywhere in the world.

YGLs visited Facebook, which recently appointed YGL Sheryl Sandberg as its first female board member after outside pressure. It was a first step, with a long way more to go. Research shows that companies whose boards have 30% or more women outperform. What’ more, some 64 percent of Facebook users are women –a significant demographic which the firm must consider in its business strategy.

At a panel discussion on women in technology –where close to half of the room was men- YGL Sheila Marcelo of Care.com cited both encouraging and sobering statistics. Thirty years ago, the ratio of boys to girls who scored 700 or above on Math SATs was 13:1. Today, that ratio is just 3:1. In 2009, firms majority-owned by women had risen to 40% of all private companies in the U.S.

Yet huge disparities remain, particularly in science and technology. Today in Silicon Valley, women make up just 9.1% of board members –versus 16% of S&P 500 companies. Only 11% of investing partners in venture capital firms are women; only 8% of technology companies receiving venture backing have a female CEO or founder.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report shows that countries have made significant progress in closing the gap between women and men on health and education, with only single-digit gaps remaining. Yet on economic outcomes and political participation, huge gaps remain.

How can we close the gender gap? A group of YGLs are working to advance change in each of our own spheres of influence, and to encourage others to do the same. We seek to educate people on the business case for closing the gender gap, provide mentoring and sponsorship -particularly in science and technology, connect women candidates to boards, push organizations to track their progress through initiatives such as the Gender Equality Project, connect investors with women-led companies, find ways to counter hidden bias, develop leadership potential in women, incorporate flexible work solutions for men and women, share best practices, and highlight women role models.

The need is clear; the next step is for everyone to commit to specific steps to close the gender gap in the ways where we are best able.

Michele Wucker is President of the World Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank focused on emerging challenges, thinkers, and solutions, and Publisher of World Policy Journal.She was named Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2009.

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Closing the Gender Gap in Silicon Valley – and Everywhere

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