Men Play a Key Role in Helping Women in Tech

10/06/2014 02:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2014

It's well understood now that Silicon Valley, and the technology industry, has gender issues. Women are in the dramatic minority in leadership and in technology positions in most tech companies. There are very few tech leaders who are women, and harassment continues to be a serious issue in the developer and gaming world.

But we can change this. There is a movement gaining momentum to improve technology as a place for women to work, and to change the statistics for women in technology. Non-profits like the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology are growing by leaps and bounds. The Grace Hopper Celebration, run by ABI and being held in Phoenix this week, has grown to 8,000 attendees (of whom 7,705 are technical women this year), up from just a thousand a few years ago. NCWIT is a growing resource for research on women in Information Technology. The HeForShe movement, launched so powerfully by Emma Watson at the UN on September 20 this year, is gaining members fast and speaks to the global need for gender equality.

And for all these organizations, it's time to bring men into the movement for women's equality.

But it's not straightforward for men to speak up and act on behalf of women in the workplace. NCWIT's recent research "Male Advocates and Allies: Promoting Gender Diversity in Technology Workplaces" gives an inside look into how men see the issue. Most are motivated by personal experiences, sometimes within their own family, to support women in tech and yet the barriers around them are significant. They report many factors discouraging them from speaking out: from apathy, to fear, to a belief that the problem is too large.

At the Grace Hopper conference this week our plenary panel is with four Male Allies from four major technology companies striving to improve the environment for women in the technology workplace. Three of these male allies are at companies we already know care about advancing women in technology. Alan Eustace from Google, Tayloe Stansbury from Intuit and Mike Schroepfer from Facebook have been highly active in bringing women into the field, and working hard with their male managers and engineers to keep their female employees. But we also have a maybe surprising panelist in Blake Irving, the new CEO of GoDaddy (well known for it's misogynistic advertising in the past) who has set out to reverse the damage done to women by his company in the past.

The decision to give men a prominent role in the plenary session at GHC this year is an emotionally charged one. Some women are angry "There's a lot of discussion about women in tech, and there's this constant refrain of "what about the men" and I am tired of hearing it" wrote one blogger. Some want to burn the system down. But I believe that, in the end, we can make change happen faster with the support of the tech power brokers who are, today, mostly white or Asian men. And so I, and ABI, want to give the men in power a voice to speak to women about the changes they are making, and what they, and their like-minded peers are doing to create real, sustainable change.

That's why I am moderating the GHC14 Male Allies panel and it will be live streamed from the conference website on Wednesday October 8, 2014 at 6:30pm PDT.