Women in Tech: Look around the World and Stop Complaining

Yep. I’m going there again.

When I looked at the “Summer Davos” program, the panel I was most excited to attend was about the role of women in Asian workforces. The role of women in China is fascinating: Despite real problems of gender equality issues—not to mention the role karaoke bars play in business negotiations – women have also helped power China’s rise, migrating en masse to factories and aggressively learning new skills to climb their own socio-economic ladders.

And new research by the World Economic Forum shows that for the first time women and men are entering college at the same rate in China. And while only 20% of leadership roles in China are held by women, it does better than many Asian neighbors. In terms of professional equality, Japan lags far behind and India ranks as one of the worst. I was fascinated to talk about these differences, hoping maybe there was some sort of gender-equivalent of the “greenfield advantages” emerging markets face over the developed world.

I got two surprises at the session. The first was that it was mostly another session about how women don’t get enough opportunities with the same reasons cited as the ones we hear in the Valley all the time: Not enough role models, not enough mentoring and problems with work-family life balance. We tried for an hour to come up with solutions but most came down to “Men need to hire more women.” I felt comforted and frustrated at once. On one hand, at least everyone in the world seems to have the exact same issue. On the other hand, are we doomed to keep having the same conversation with little apparent progress until the end of time?

But the second surprise was more shocking. According to the World Economic Forum’s statistics, there is almost gender parity when it came to technical and professional jobs and leadership roles in the United States. Huh?

You don’t have to be a business reporter for fifteen years to know CEO and director level jobs are highly lopsided towards men. Tech or not in tech, there are simply not as many of women in successful, high-profile leadership roles, and many of the most successful don’t want to do media interviews because they are sick to death of this topic that some people say – constantly—doesn’t “get enough attention.”

I challenged the numbers and was told they get thinner as you go up the ladder, which explains the disconnect. But the numbers show that in the US women are equal to men in getting a foot in the door, which is more than developing markets can claim. A few women law partners in attendance said that they had challenges getting women up that ladder, because they’d usually chose to go part-time after their second child, despite having the resources to hire help.

Here’s what we need: A serious study that looks at choice. Are more women not in management decisions by choice or because the chose not to be or because of a glass ceiling? Until we have some new way to look at this issue, I’m done discussing it because the discussion doesn’t ever get us anywhere new. Bloggers saying this needs attention are playing to a crowd or just haven’t been doing their homework because I have written about or been on panels to discuss this issue more than two dozen times in my career, and I’m not alone.

But suffice to say for all those people who jump up and down about the problem in the Valley: Statistically you are the envy of the world. Statistically, women have enough leadership roles at lower levels that you should be able to move up if you are talented and you want to. Maybe you’re at a disadvantage, but for most immigrants, women or other minorities being at a disadvantage has made them stronger.

One of the best speakers I’ve heard at Summer Davos was also one of the most successful people, and he came from a far more challenged background than the average American. His advice in an off-the-record mentor session was this: “The most successful people in the world never complain. I’m tired of people saying their opportunities were taken away from them by others.” Amen.