THE BLOG

Breaking Silicon Valley's Glass Ceiling

10/16/2013 07:48 pm ET | Updated Oct 16, 2013

Yesterday, the U.S. Navy announced that the crews of two attack submarines based in Groton, CT will be the first to welcome female officers among their ranks. Six women have been added to the crews of the USS Virginia and the USS Minnesota.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced, "Female officers serving aboard Virginia-class submarines is the next natural step to more fully integrate women into the submarine force."

Comparatively, companies across America face few if any obstacles in ensuring women have paths to leadership. That is why it is shocking and deeply disappointing to see more and more evidence that the boardrooms of corporate America remain exclusively a men's club.

Twitter, which just filed for an IPO, is the most recent company to bring this issue back into the spotlight. Twitter has no women on its board of directors, an almost exclusively male leadership team and an all-male investor group.

Sadly, Twitter is not alone in Silicon Valley. According to the New York Times, "just 5.7 percent of employed women in the U.S. work in the computer industry and only two percent have a degree in a high-tech field."

This should be shocking to anyone paying attention -- including investors. The new ideas that spark revolutions in the way consumers experience products are rarely a product of group-think. The companies that are most responsive to their consumers are those that do best in the marketplace. And, a company that is led by a diverse group of individuals, more reflective of its own user-base, is much more likely to challenge itself into thinking big and taking the risks necessary to succeed in a highly competitive tech sector.

Often, these companies retreat behind a stale refrain to justify their lack of diversity -- they explain there just aren't enough women in the pool of qualified candidates to fill senior-level posts or open board seats.

I find this unpersuasive. As explained in the New York Times, board meetings are not hackathons. Ensuring the interests of investors are being met is the first and most important role of a company's board, and there are thousands of highly qualified women that can fulfill this responsibility throughout Silicon Valley.

That isn't to say there isn't a lack of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. President Obama's Educate to Innovate campaign recognized this, and launched a public-private partnership that is bolstering STEM education, training STEM teachers, and broadening the talent pool that will fuel economic growth and technological advancement in the future.

Grassroots movements led by Girls who Code are attacking this problem as well.

Although the number of women on corporate boards is an important measure, it is also low-hanging fruit as a metric for whether glass ceilings are broken. When we evaluate whether women are advancing in the workplace, it is worth considering what percentage of director-level positions and higher are held by women; what percentage of women are in technical roles; and whether there is compensation parity by gender and level.

This is an issue of opportunity and investment in women. It is also an issue of transparency, because tech companies - -and all companies -- should disclose where they stand on equal work for equal pay and other issues that matter to women across the country.

It would be nice to see the innovative companies of Silicon Valley not only helping to encourage more women to take up STEM careers, but also ensuring women of all backgrounds can find a seat at the male-dominated board room table.

Although tech companies are innovators and leaders in many areas, it is concerning that so much remains to be done in their own workplaces. Hopefully with these metrics and more transparency, in the months and years ahead, we will see progress.

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