Here’s How To Stand Up, Stare Down Tech’s Anti-Woman Backlash

The backlash has been unmasked, and it is somewhere between surreal and revolting.
Prompted by Google’s justified firing of James Damore, a Silicon Valley software engineer who authored a memo that questioned a woman’s biological ability to master technology, the network of listservs and support groups that fosters male-centric reactionism is in the spotlight. A New York Times story highlights some men who believe that things have gone “too far.”
Good. Only when we smoke it out can we confront it.
I wish I could say the pseudo-science advocated by some men in the tech industry — such as James Altizer and Paul Graham— was an isolated phenomenon. It isn’t. Over my career, I’ve seen these attitudes and their adherents in the world of finance, in real estate, and in virtually all the boys’ clubs into which a generation of women have forced entry to gain opportunities to the best earning jobs in the country where they can contribute to our economy.
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Even in 2017, it’s important to remember that giving women an equal shot at jobs and promotion in sectors where they’ve long been sidelined doesn’t ‘discriminate’ against or ‘punish’ men. It’s about removing barriers that obstruct women, hold us back and push us out of high-earning career tracks.
Thankfully, as someone committed to building a feminist tech sector here in New York, and to seeing more women in the top ranks of all kinds of companies, I’m also confident the backlash is the fringe, and not the mainstream. Nearly every CEO I meet with from the tech sector, or any industry, understands that having more women at their company, more women in positions of authority, and more women on their board makes them more successful.
I know plenty of leaders who believe that it’s important to include women in their ranks, from the lowest to the highest, out of principle. I know just as many who believe it based on profitability.
And the jury is in: Study after study shows that firms with higher female representation tend to achieve more and lower risks, in terms of litigation and of having blind spots with your client or customer base. According to Catalyst research of Fortune 500 companies, firms with the most female representation showed a 35% higher return on equity and 34% higher return to shareholders.
When McKinsey studied public European companies, it found those with higher percentages of women in leadership positions and on boards had a 10% higher return on equity, a 48% higher operating profit and higher stock price growth. Similarly, MSCI just concluded a study showing that companies with at least three women on board had 11% higher return on equity and 45% higher earnings per share.
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That should be a wake-up call to the one in ten U.S. firms without a single woman on its board. It’s just not a matter of principle; it’s good business practice all around. Diversity reduces business blind spots. It increases the pool of good ideas and perspectives.
The mainstream gets it. Certainly, corporate leaders responsible to shareholders get it.
Of course, ‘getting it’ and acting on it are not the same things. For leaders and businesses looking to distinguish themselves from the fringe and to make meaningful headway on gender diversity, start with the basics:
First, just hire more women. If the stack of resumes you are looking at doesn’t have an amazing female candidate in it, you haven’t done your job. Cast a bigger net. Still can’t find women with the precise skillsets you need? Partner with a college or bootcamp to train them--something we’ve done in New York with our Tech Talent Pipeline. Make the conscious decision to bring more women onto your team.
Second, get your company to commit to pay equity. There are companies and governments making conscious decisions to get women, in the same positions and with the same qualifications as men, equal pay for equal work. Yes, it means real money.
Companies like SalesForce, with its 25,000 employees, took two years and $3 million to achieve pay equity. The City of New York is doing it across its workforce of more than 300,000 workers. Start by diagnosing the problem, and create a rapid plan of action to fix it within your company’s budget.
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Finally, give women on your team the chance to prove themselves on the most complex deals, cases, transactions and projects. I have seen it everywhere in my career as a lawyer, as a policy maker, and on Wall Street. The same guys get handed the best deals over and over. It’s no wonder they are the ones getting the bonuses and fast-tracks to promotion. When a big project comes across your plate, find a promising woman on your team to take it, so she gets a shot to prove herself.
Let’s take all our frustration — with the backlashers, with the challenges women are clearly facing at some tech firms, with the recent revelations about decades of sexual harassment covered up and ignored — and channel it into activism for real gender parity. We can fundamentally change the nature and power dynamics of the workplace, though hiring decisions, by urging our bosses to change policies, by getting organized with other women in our industries to shift from passively accepting inequity to engaging in workplace activism.
This is what we’re doing in New York City. Women comprise a greater share of tech company founders and workers here than in Silicon Valley. Our culture is more inclusive and less insular.
Bringing more women into tech and helping them rise to the top isn’t a moon shot. It’s our policy. It’s undeniable that our City and our tech industry are better for it.
Alicia Glen is New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development
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