Women in Tech Need Personal, not Just Professional, Support

Ann All

It's been a little over two weeks since I wrote about Computer Engineer Barbie, a new version of the iconic doll sporting a pink laptop and Bluetooth earpiece that's designed to increase girls' awareness of technology careers. As I noted in that post, while women comprise 46 percent of the American workforce, they hold just 25 percent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs.


I mentioned folks think numerous factors contribute to the relative lack of female representation in tech careers. Among them: a struggling public education system, the tech industry's reliance on H-1B workers from India and other countries, a lack of networking opportunities, and the kinds of ingrained geek stereotypes that toy manufacturer Mattel hopes its Computer Engineer Barbie can help overcome.


In a recent BusinessWeek column, Harvard Law School research associate Vivek Wadhwa cites Kauffman Foundation analysis of Dun & Bradstreet data that found a dearth of women entrepreneurs. Women were primary owners of only 19 percent of the 237,843 firms founded in 2004, and just 3 percent of tech firms were founded by women in that year. Noting that women now outnumber men in universities and that male and female business founders share similar backgrounds and motivation, Wadhwa faults "a societal failure" for the low number of females in tech careers.


Interestingly, according to Cindy Padnos, managing director of Illuminate Ventures, female-led high-tech startups generate higher revenues per dollar of invested capital and have lower failure rates than those led by men, perhaps because of womens' lower propensity for financial risk . Women are also more capital-efficient. On average women start venture-backed tech companies with one-third less committed capital than those led by men, yet achieve comparable early revenue levels.


Wadhwa sees promise in female-led support networks and groups, including Women 2.0 and the Young Women Social Entrepreneurs. While those are important, they won't provide much direct help with child care and other family-related issues. As a working mom, I know that I and most of my female colleagues still shoulder most of the responsibility for child rearing. In my experience, many women still feel compelled to be a bread-maker as well as a bread-winner. A number of women commenting on Wadhwa's article make the same point. Writes a reader named Kristina:

Maybe the reason women in India are getting ahead more quickly than women in the U.S. is because of their extended family networks that help with things like childcare. Professional networks are great, and certainly should help, but if you don't have reliable and affordable childcare, you are not going to have the presence of mind to focus wholeheartedly on business. It would be interesting to ask the men who have been so successful if they have children, and if so, who was primarily responsible for taking care of them.

And from Iyabo Asani, The Entrepreneur Success Coach:

One of the things that you do not mention is that fact that women generally do not have the luxury of being able to singularly focus on their business. Building your business and keeping up with the market requires a tremendous amount of energy and time. Many women have children that they are primarily responsible for. So they do not compete for those positions. However, with the information you have about partnerships, I believe that as more women focus on achieving this goal and partner with others with this goal in mind, they will find success.

Finding a balance between family and business is also mentioned by Denise Coyne, CIO of Chevron and one of the few female CIOs at big companies, in an interview with Forbes. She says female tech executives face challenges similar to those of their peers in other fields. Yet she acknowledges the CIO role is "very demanding." She says:

... And trying to balance all of the different family, children, extracurricular activities in your life with work is a tough juggle. So I think that's one of the reasons that people come to points in their life when they have to make a decision, "Is it going to be work or is it going to be something else?"

Coyne says she got early encouragement from a mentor who let her know it was OK to be flexible and to make lateral career moves. Coyne has paid it forward by mentoring young women entering Chevron's workforce. Just last week, I wrote about a growing recognition of the importance of mentoring in professional development, citing a study from the Aberdeen Group that found nearly one in five companies plan to introduce some type of mentoring or coaching program in 2010 to help prepare employees for leadership roles. Mentoring is probably even more important for women than for men, since there are fewer high-profile women in leadership roles for aspiring female executives to emulate.


Coyne also stresses the importance of females having "a core of self-confidence," which can still be a challenge for many women. (And to be fair, for some men as well.)

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 2, 2010 7:27 AM Vivek Wadhwa Vivek Wadhwa  says:

Ann, here are 2 other articles in which I discuss this important issue and solutions:



The part you wrote about H1Bs keeping women out of tech is just bizarre. Sadly, some people blame immigrants/foreigners for every thing wrong with their lives. It isn't the H1Bs who have prevented women from achieving their potential as CEOs or CTOs.

This subject is important (as is the dearth of African-Americans and other minorities in the tech world) because we are excluding some of the most creative and productive American workers.


Vivek Wadhwa

Visiting Scholar, UC-Berkeley

Director of Research, Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization and Exec in Residence, Pratt School of Engineering,  Duke University

Senior Research Associate, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School

Columnist, BusinessWeek, Contributor, TechCrunch

Research: www.GlobalizationResearch.com, Downloads: http://ssrn.com/author=738704

Twitter: http://twitter.com/vwadhwa

Mar 2, 2010 9:50 AM Jake Leone Jake Leone  says:

The problem is that all U.S. citizens are facing discrimination in the workplace.

The real question in getting hired right now, isn't how skilled you are, it's what country are you from, who you know, and how low can you go?

Simple fact is Indian outsourcing companies do not hire U.S. citizens in any appreciable amount, yet use up a huge number of H-1b and L-1 visas.  Simple fact is, tech body-shops use the next biggest chunk of H-1b visas and run h-1b-only (U.S. citizens) need not apply adds.

And U.S. managers, at companies like Google, Microsoft, and CISCO utilize these same outsourcing companies and body shops.  I have seen the resumes, I have interviewed people from Google who didn't even know how to kill a running Unix process.  They got their H-1b visa, not because they are skilled but because they are from the right country.

From the point of view of the CEO, all they hear is, we can't find enough of the right people.  Who are they hearing it from, their hiring managers.  Why?  It's because of nepotistic hiring practices, plain and simple.

When times are tough, nepotism, bigotry, and discrimination get worse.  And brother things have been tough in India, China, and other 3rd world countries for hundreds of years.

I have been in the industry for 15 years.  I have written several server applications.    I am busy working on SOA apps and cloud delivery.  I have applied to companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, Google, not one response, not one?  What gives?

With very few exceptions, you need to know someone on the inside of these companies in order to get hired.

What do I really care, I have made 6 figures for the last 10 years.  I'm doing fine, the company I work for, while only mid-size is doing fine.  I got in early, before the hegemony started.

The reason I care is because the United States is running up a huge, unsustainable national debt.  We need every worker to be employed and keep the money in the country in order to generate tax revenue. 

Foreign workers simply don't keep the jobs and the money in the country.  There's a 50/50 chance they will, with a U.S. citizen worker that ratio increases greatly in favor of keeping the job and money in the U.S. economy.

The long vetting process, needed to ensure that a person is comfortable and willing to stay in the United States needs to be respected.  Our desire for quick profits and quick gains has created an outsourcing monster that is removing jobs at all levels from the United and sending them to other countries.

And yes, lets end the Corporate Sponsored Visa.  The Visa process should be in the hands of worker.  And so should the Green card process.  No one should indenture themselves (or be allowed to indenture themselves). 

The Slave-1b system must end.

There just aren't that many tech-jobs out their.  Companies can  pick and choose their graduates.  And more often than not, you've got to have connections. 

Mar 3, 2010 1:33 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to Vivek Wadhwa

"The part you wrote about H1Bs keeping women out of tech is just bizarre. "

I'm sure there are plenty of opportunities for women in IT and engineering.  In India.

This is an American organization.  Their interest, I presume, is to see American women (of any ethnicity I also presume) to have an opportunity in IT and engineering.

Although one could argue that the H-1b visa does not displace women as a broader category, it does in fact displace American women.  The laws of supply and demand don't just disappear whenever we choose to be politically correct.

If we were talking cans of soup instead of people, the logic is quite simple.  If the total demand for cans of tomato soup in the US were 100, and the US produced enough soup to meet that demand, any can of soup arriving from India would result in one of two things.  Either soup cans would sit on the shelf and go unused, or the price of soup would drop - in which case more demand would be created because of lower prices.

H-1b visas and offshoring have an impact on the demand for IT and engineering services.  A major impact.  It will always result in one of two things: either our services go unused (unemployment) or we produce our services at a lower cost (reduced wages).  Either way, we are harmed.  You can't argue about an unmet demand when we have such high unemployment.

It's as easy as soup, Vivek.  I realize that the basic law of supply and demand is one you would like to ignore because it doesn's support your theories, but it's not one we have the luxury of ignoring.

Get a real job again, in the trenches, and you would find out.  You are twice removed from reality.  One hat of yours is as entrepreneur and the other hat you wear is academic.  Either way, you have no idea of what it is like in the trenches of the IT and engineering workforce.  No idea.  I commend your success in those fields, but you really have no idea beyond your theories about life in our field.

Mar 3, 2010 12:02 PM Donna Conroy Donna Conroy  says:

Oh, stop with the "women need special treatment" claim.  No nation can remain strong when US laws allow corporations to prevent us from competing for job openings in our own country.

Corporations legally bypass US citizens and family-based green card holders for their US job openings - and even displace Americans from their jobs in favor of citizens from abroad - and it's legal!

In the last 6 weeks, I've reached at least 4 millions Americans via radio and TV with the message that we can restore Equal Opportunity to the US workforce by passing S. 2804 and S.887.  These media outlets are horrified that our domestic laws allow such corporate behavior and thrilled to hear that techies are standing up and shaping the circumstances of their lives.

S. 2804 will prevent companies like Microsoft and Intel from displacing Americans from their jobs.  S.887 will require employers to post their US job openings on the DOL site before they hire abroad.  Bonus: employers won't be able to place visa staff on a client's site when S. 887 passes, thus ending the outsourcing of top dollar, white collar jobs.

This legal discrimination has produced an overabundance of highly-skilled tech professionals along with an oversupply of new sci & tech grads whom we have paid dearly to educate. 

Bright Future Jobs is showing that US tech professionals have the power to end this legal discrimination which opened the flood gates to the exploitation of Indian techs.  The American public is with us. 

Mar 4, 2010 1:44 AM Jay Jay  says: in response to Indian_H1B

Not only the numbers have dwindled, but more importantly the quality of students and workers coming has decreased much.  Many years ago, the top graduates and top employees with high aspirations and seeking career success would come to the US. But now the deperate, not so smart ones who are just around to make a quick buck and return to their home countries, who are taken advantage of by their position by the body shops, who come here purely for economic reasons dominate the crowd. The smart ones and ones with higher aspirations than just a goal to make a quick buck, arent coming here anymore, they are scared off by cumbersome paperwork, uncertainties of visa/green card process, indenture to employer, lack of career growth, etc.

The cause-effect should be simple to understand. Making a process or a thing extremely cumbersome, uncertain(almost like gambling every time applying or renewing), not much rewarding, expensive and almost worthless, it will only bring in the most desperate, stupid and ignorants who are being mislead, who will go through any trouble and pay anything to get that meagre reward in the end taking a big risk. The smart ones wont do that.

Mar 4, 2010 5:10 AM jake_leone jake_leone  says: in response to Indian_H1B

Would hope that demand can always be elastic, but unfortunately, limited resources won't let it, under-supply will always trumph demand with higher (eventually out-of-control) prices.  

The rise in oil prices that preceded and coincided with the recession.

The housing bubble did not lead to an increase in demand.

The only thing that stopped the increasing oil prices was the recession.  I believe one may have caused (or at least contributed to) the other.

This cycle of boom-and-bust, is what you can expect.  It is like a clogged freeway, where you are going real fast for a few seconds, breaking hard, (or cleaning up the bodies in the case of capitalism).

Much like the freeway, the solution to our current energy problem (or I should say, the one that we will have if the economy picks-up), is infrastructure.  Freeways are government produced infrastructure, increase the lanes, the traffic jams lessen.  Much the same for energy, we definitely need an energy policy in the United States that is geared toward created more energy.

People who get a 4-year degree make a long-term bet that it will pay off.  When you let greed run your economy, such bets are practically meaningless.

Companies have simply gone for the cheapest workers.  And in software, the cheapest workers (even if all else were equal) are from India, China.  Unfortunately, what I have seen first hand is that Foreign workers only hire people of their own nationality  They actively discriminate.  

As you go up the food-chain in these companies, you hear over-and-over again, the garbled message, "We can't find enough workers".  But the original message was "We can't get enough people here on Visa and make sure you spread the lie that we couldn't find a qualified local candidate".

I have been on the front lines of hiring.   We get hundreds of resumes, interview about 10% (maybe 10 workers for 1 position), half of which were easily qualified.  The foreign worker, here on some Visa, gets the job.

I keep my mouth shut because I want to keep mine. 

The Visa process needs close oversight.  We can't let companies use the H-1b and L-1 visa to remove jobs (jobs that pay the taxes that pay for the infrastructure). 

Mar 4, 2010 11:06 AM Aim Aim  says: in response to jake_leone

jake_leone or others, I am a female who listened when told get into IT. I graduated with honors, and for years I have been looking for an IT position. I'm continuing to take classes to maintain my training. I am beginning to believe that my investment in a BS in IT is worthless. You mentioned that you are on the inside with regard to hiring. What did the female or American applicants (who were hired) do or have that got them hired? I'm most interested in the entry-level hires, but I'm sure others would be interested in other career levels.

Mar 4, 2010 11:25 AM Indian_H1B Indian_H1B  says: in response to R. Lawson

A basic fallacy in your formulation is that you think 100 is a fixed number. If demand were a vertical line (perfectly inelastic), we wouldn't need half the world's economists.

Well assuming you can move to a more typical representation of demand as being downward sloping, the D-S formulation does not even begin to scratch the surface of market dynamics in technology industries. Aspects such as network effects can lead to winner-take-all outcomes, something microeconomics can do little to explain. We need behavioral interpretations at that stage.

Your formulation also is static in time. To resemble real life, you need a temporal dimension. If the addition of soup cans from India may increase supply for a split-second, but the resulting increase in economic product may well feedback to demand boost in future whereby you need a larger shelf and where you can now sell 200 cans of soup.

The Indian H-1B is apparently ubiquitous, as sensationalist media would have it. My alma mater in India has always served as a decent bellwether of where a 22 year old should  go to succeed. 10 years ago, my graduating class sent 60% of the students to the US (95% to grad school, the rest to jobs). 16% of 2010's graduating class will seek to come to the US (close to 100% will seek graduate studies). I expect many would prefer to leave upon graduation rather than face a xenophobic job landscape. The rest will seek opportunities in India, east Asia and Australia. Many will get business school degrees in 3-5 years.

Mar 5, 2010 4:33 AM jake_leone jake_leone  says: in response to Aim

Aim, I am sorry for your situation.  Sadly, the truth is, you must be of the right nationality.

I haven't been able to switch jobs, for 10 years.  I have applied to Google, Cisco, and Microsoft.  Not one response from any of these companies.  At the same time all 3 companies were lying, repeatedly, to Congress about needing more workers.

What I believe is happening is that people who come in from other countries tend to hire only within their nationality.  These hiring managers then tell their upper management that they can't find qualified local candidates.  When the message reaches the CEO, it come out as we need more Visa's, and american workers are unqualified and uneducated. 

Then the CEO tells the lie to Congress.

In the case of foreign IT outsourcing companies, the hiring within their own nationality if blatant and obvious.  TATA, Wipro, Satyam hire almost exclusively Indian engineers for jobs on U.S. soil. 

I have talked with people, who were hired into these companies.  Without exception they all knew someone on the inside that could get them an interview.  In every case they were having problems at their current position and needed to move.  These guys were not the best of the people that I have worked with.

Microsoft reviews less than 1% of the submitted resumes.

I have  interviewed candidates who were trying to come to my company from Google.  Very poor quality candidates.  They got their jobs at Google through body-shops.   And couldn't even answer basic Unix questions let alone solid programming questions.

My recommendation to you is to join the campaign to end the massive discrimination against U.S. workers in the IT industry. 

The last 3 hires into my department, all of whom were right out of college, were of the right nationality.  And placed over 2 other, more qualified, very experienced, U.S. citizen applicants were of the right nationality.

One U.S. citizen had 10 years of experience in software engineering, and coming from a very successful project, doing nearly the same thing we are working on now.  Doesn't mean much, if you are not from the right country.

I am not going to point fingers at one group or nation.  I think we can all guess.  I did reccomend 2 of the 3 U.S. citizens, was neutral on the third, and reccomended the best 1 of the non-citizen hires (but that was just a cover).  My views were part of a composite that went into the hiring decision (gives me about as much comfort as the empty chamber in firing squad).

Listen I can't make waves at work, I've got a family.  And you know I like people generally, and I don't care what country they are from, citizen or not.

I love other cultures, I am not a Xenophobe.  As a certain professor likes to paint all people who are advocating a responsible immigration policy.

We need to end the I.T. hegemony that is occuring the in United States. 

Discrimination against U.S. citizens is a hate-crime.

People in the 3rd-world hang on to discriminatory ways.  Things are tough in India and China, and that kind of an environment preserves bigotry.  

Mar 5, 2010 10:51 AM Indian_H1B Indian_H1B  says: in response to jake_leone

Should you have started entertaining a career switch, I sure hope your new role doesn't depend on your ability to be subtle!

Not sure there's any logic to the following:

You applied to Microsoft. Microsoft did not call you back. Microsoft has been telling Congress that they need more talent. Therefore, they must be liars.

Your grievances apart, I think the larger investment community is well capable of dispassionately backing the true tech leaders in industry. Last I heard, Microsoft, Google and Cisco are all doing pretty good.

I haven't heard for a while from another good old troll who would point out that Apple's stock was worth quite a bit more than Microsoft's (and he wasn't even comparing market caps, merely face values!) and that Apple doesn't hire as many H-1Bs as Microsoft.

Well, in case you haven't noticed, Apple is wildly successful because of their marketing appeal and aestheticity. They're artists. You don't need the best technical minds when you know exactly how to read the needs of a huge market.

Mar 6, 2010 10:10 AM jake_leone jake_leone  says: in response to Indian_H1B

Apple has always been committed to quality and technical excellence.

Some of the most difficult hardware engineering problems involve graphics and sound, and Apple basically rules that area with respect to professional applications and hardware.

Firewire was way ahead of USB.  USB needed an upgrade to come close, but really isn't there for many of the realtime applications served by Firewire.  USB really suck for MIDI, real-time signal processing.  USB is basically good for file transfer, keyboard and mouse.

Apple iPhone was technically way ahead of its competitors.

And there are dozens of cases where Apple is way ahead of its competitors.

I can tell you subtlety is for sand-baggers. 

You need passion to create good hardware and software.

Microsoft has always followed Apple from day one.

Don't you wish any O.S. Microsoft put out in the last 20+ years was even close to the quality and features of an Apple O.S.

Oct 25, 2010 1:54 AM James James  says: in response to R. Lawson

At present, the Indians and to some extent the Chinese, are using the immigration laws to promote nepotism.  They hire their own.  India is a giant slum, open sewers even in the large, 'sophisticated' cities.  High crime, corruption, poor health etc.  The place is a basket case with a billion people, most of whom are trying to emigrate.  In years to come, when our social services are stretched past breaking point, when our health care systems break down, when crime has really sky rocketed, our children will ask what where we thinking when we allowed ourselves to be colonized.  These people are a slimey nation of chancers.  With phoney degrees, references etc. they will use the good nature of Americans and the 'give a person a break' laws to suit their narrow needs.  What where we thinking giving away jobs through outsourcing, and now giving away our country.  The Indians manage their publicity, they form pressure groups etc.  but they never deliver on time, the quality is poor and their work ethics are non existent.


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