Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In' Spotlights Shortage of Women in Top Tech Spots

Silicon Valley Trails Wall Street in Diversity

Men Only: Sheryl Sandberg offers plenty of advice for women in corporate America. Why is Silicon Valley even more of  a male preserve than Wall Street?
getty images
Men Only: Sheryl Sandberg offers plenty of advice for women in corporate America. Why is Silicon Valley even more of a male preserve than Wall Street?

By Reuters

Published March 09, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg is taking a drubbing for prescribing from a privileged perch the keys to female success in her upcoming book “Lean In,” but she’s struck a chord among many in her backyard.

In her own technology sector, women remain woefully underrepresented in leadership roles, even more so than in fields generally considered heavily male-dominated like financial services. Sandberg’s willingness to tackle the issue of women and leadership is drawing plaudits from many in Silicon Valley.

“She is bringing a topic forward that a lot of people want to talk about,” says Blair Christie, chief marketing officer at networking company Cisco Systems. “It doesn’t matter what side of the debate you’re on.”

Sandy Kurtzig - one of the first women founders to take a company through an initial public offering when her software company, Ask, listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1981 - brushes aside the criticism that Sandberg is speaking from heights unattainable for most women.

“To put herself out there is how she’s chosen to contribute,” says Kurtzig. “You need more role models.”

Of all the top executives working for a Standard & Poor’s 500, midcap or smallcap indices technology company for at least a year during the decade ended in 2009, just 5.5 percent were women, says George-Levi Gayle, an associate professor of economics at Washington University in St. Louis specializing in gender and pay issues in the workplace. The data is the most recent available; other studies on women in the workplace tend to include technology in the “services” category, which includes other unrelated fields.

Technology’s 5.5 percent compares to 5.9 percent for financial services, 6.8 percent for industrials, and 8.1 percent for consumer goods. Sectors that did worse than technology when it comes to women leaders included health care, materials companies, and energy companies, according to Gayle’s data.

He blames the underrepresentation on the low number of women majoring in engineering and computer science. Just 13.3 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in computer science, computer engineering, or information go to women, according to the Computing Research Association, a trade group. That represents a decline from 17.5 percent 10 years ago, according to the most comparable data from the CRA.

Sandberg’s book is the follow-up to talks she gave starting in 2010 on why the world has too few women leaders. After working at the U.S. Treasury Department, Sandberg scaled the heights of Silicon Valley, moving from Google to chief operating officer at Facebook while raising two children. The 43-year-old is adamant about making it home every night for dinner.

While the book does not come out until Monday, advance press for “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” has sparked a fierce debate between supporters and detractors on the Internet. A bestselling book could ensure the debate has practical results in workplaces across the United States.

“Lean In” offers tips for women in the workforce in general, such as how to command more respect through simple acts such as sitting tall at a conference table and speaking assertively at meetings.

Points like that might sound lightweight, but can have a big effect, says Theresia Gouw Ranzetta of venture firm Accel Partners, the firm known for backing Facebook in its early days.

“It impacts the way people perceive you,” she says. “But you have to have the substance to back it up.” She recalls receiving similar coaching early in her career when she worked as a management consultant at Bain & Co.

Kurtzig, now founder and chief executive of software start-up Kenandy, says too often she has seen women walk into a conference room and automatically head for chairs around the edges of the room rather than the main table. The message: “You’re a support person,” she says. “Not a main character.”

She is not as positive about Sandberg’s pitch for women to join “Lean In Circles,” or groups where they can support each other and learn how to achieve more success in their careers. “In business, you need to assimilate into the world, and the world is men and women,” she says.

Many technology veterans believe employers need to do more to help women gain entry to executive suites.

“How women show up and really drive their success in the workplace is important,” says Cisco’s Christie. “But there’s a huge role for employers to move the topic of gender diversity where it needs to be.”

She lays part of the blame on the paucity of women executives in technology on the relative immaturity of the sector. More established companies have strong development programs that have tried to foster the advancement of women, she says, while technology companies have generally focused on keeping up with their rapid growth.

Ellen Pao, a former partner at venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers who is suing the firm for gender discrimination and retaliation in a case closely watched in Silicon Valley, believes individuals and companies should pay more attention to attitudes. “A lot of the stuff that happens seems to be very subsconcious or unintentional, but it happens,” she says.

Some women in technology say they are encouraged by changes they see at the upper echelons. “What I’m seeing on the ground is really a sense of momentum, and increasing momentum,” says Accel’s Ranzetta.

She points to companies like Hewlett Packard IBM , Xerox, and Yahoo, where Meg Whitman, Ginni Rometty, Ursula Burns and Marissa Meyer, respectively, are chief executives, as well as the growing numbers of female founders and executives she sees at start-up companies.

“Merissa Meyer and Sheryl both rose very quickly by first joining small entrepreneurial companies,” she says, referring to the boost both of them got by working at Google while it was still a private company.

But she sees an even speedier route to the top in technology. “If you want to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I would say go start a company,” Ranzetta says. “It’s the fastest way to the C-suite.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.