Submitted Question | The Silicon Ceiling

This week’s blog topic is based on a question submitted by one of my readers.

Q:  After exploring careers both in tech and in finance, I've pivoted my career path towards tech, with the hopes that it would be a more equitable place for women than the typical "men's only" club that Wall Street perpetuates. However, according to various sources, the data shows that even Wall Street outpaces Silicon Valley in terms of gender representation. What factors that you have seen that might contribute to this disparity, and how can today's generation of new talent change workplace culture to make both environments more equitable?

The disparity between men and women on Wall Street continues to be an issue with which many firms grapple. Over the last two decades, the financial services industry overall has seen an improvement in the numbers, but progress has been slow and varies from firm to firm.  

Pipeline

While working in Human Resources almost two decades ago, I can recall the abhorrent male to female ratios. At the analyst level the percentages barely hit 30% and those numbers were even worse for women hired with MBAs at the associate level. To address these issues, the industry began to make a concerted effort to hire more women. However, the pool of female candidates interested in pursuing careers in finance were limited; attracting women into an industry known for its grueling hours and incessant boy’s club was a challenge. The culture required shifting and policies had to change but with management commitment, we began to see the needle move. Additional feeder programs were also implemented and we began to introduce women to careers in financial services as early as high school. The result of all the efforts have yielded near parity at the entry levels.

Retention

Although we were seeing improving ratios at entry, we saw a steep drop offs in retention at the VP levels. While many women were leaving because of life choices of having children, many were leaving because they felt they were losing opportunities to their male colleagues. Breaking into the boy’s club seemed to be too difficult and with so few women in leadership positions, breaking through the glass ceiling seemed nearly impossible.

Today, Wall Street still continues to have retention challenges but as the industry displays a solid commitment to diversity and continues to address the critical issues that women face in the workplace, the situation will only improve.

The Silicon Ceiling

While Wall Street’s main issue today is around retention, the Tech sector is facing a number of challenges that impact its diversity statistics. Silicon Valley faces tremendous pipeline issues as only 15% of tech employees are female. The claim from the industry is that while more women are graduating from universities than men, very few women are majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math which are the degrees sought after by Tech companies. Even firms like Facebook with Sheryl Sandberg, the poster child for women in the workplace as its COO, don’t tout any better statistics. With such a small pipeline of women you can bet that retention is also an issue in Tech companies as there is often a correlation between pipeline and retention.

Culture

Within the bowls of the Tech companies a pervasive “bro” culture runs rampant. With locker room type antics that lead to the ill-treatment of women, it’s no wonder that the number of females that work in Tech has actually seen a decline over the last few decades.

While tech companies claim their issue of gender diversity is a problem that can only be genetically solved if women were to become better at math, their greater issue is culture. The power in Silicon Valley is concentrated within a small group of individuals who haven’t yet been incentivized to change. Their formula for success has worked for them thus far and an impetus for change has yet to emerge.

If Silicon Valley were truly serious about improving diversity in the Tech sector then it could have learned a lot from the lessons of Wall Street. But human nature doesn’t necessarily work that way and when you have an industry where a low levels of EQ are prevalent amongst its executives, awareness and empathy become scarce. Silicon Valley is just going to have to learn its own lessons and endure its own growing pains. Much like Wall Street the driving change won’t come from a sense of moral responsibility or civic duty, but instead, change will come because of UBER lawsuits.

Join me on Wednesday, November 28th at Civic Hall as we discuss issues that women face in male dominated industries. Click here for event details and sign-up.