It’s time for men to champion women in tech

Folks, when it comes to gender equality in the tech world, we haven’t come very far.

Fifty-three years after the Equal Pay Act and supposedly the advancement of women’s rights in the workplace, Silicon Valley still has the feel of a fraternity.

Despite lots of research that shows how tech companies excel when women lead, the playing field is still heavily tilted in favor of men. How do we turn this around? I want to suggest that as a start, we men can make a real effort to use our male privilege on behalf of our women colleagues.

Women in tech face some tough odds. A recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission survey of some of the top US tech companies found that on average, just 18 percent hold leadership positions, and among certain tech jobs, men still make, on average, 28.3 percent more than women.

At some leading tech companies as few as 10 percent of women occupy tech positions.

For women founders, the numbers are even worse.

Only 7% of investor funding goes to women-led ventures, and according to Digitalundivided, a mere 0.2% of venture deals from 2012-2014 went to Black women founders.

And what about the work place environment? Is it conducive to women’s inclusion and advancement?

Not according to a comprehensive survey of Silicon Valley companies conducted by Vassallo and Madansky, who found that 60 percent of women in tech had received unwanted sexual advances from a male superior, and 87 percent had been on the receiving end of demeaning comments from male co-workers. And two thirds reported being excluded when guys were going out for drinks or to other networking events.

So, it’s not particularly surprising that more than half (56 percent) of women in tech jobs don’t stick around, or that they opt to leave the private science, engineering, and technology workforce.

But when women are supported, encouraged, and funded to lead, they excel. In fact, tech companies led by women are more capital-efficient and achieve, on average, a 35 percent higher return on investment than firms led by men, according to a Kauffman Foundation report.

Women tech entrepreneurs (working from the disadvantage of having received 50 percent less VC funding), are still able to generate 20 percent greater revenue than their male counterparts, according to a Forbes study.

Further, tech companies with a woman founder performed 63 percent better than those companies with all-male founding teams, according to a First Round Capital report.

Despite the mounting evidence that equal access for women in tech enhances the value of companies, we’re not doing enough to help women succeed — to say the least.

Despite the mounting evidence that equal access for women in tech enhances the value of companies, we’re not doing enough to help women succeed — to say the least

This is a really big problem, folks, and it’s one that we have the ability to change. We need to do a lot more, and that includes us men sharing some of our privilege and helping women colleagues get a fair shake. How would that look?

 Networking is a big deal in business and the tech world. That’s how deals get done. As part of this, men need to open our doors and share our contacts. If you know of a promising women-led startup, introduce them to investors. Another way to help women entrepreneurs is to offer some mentoring.

So for instance, if you’ve had a lot of success writing winning pitch decks, offer to review their pitch and provide concrete feedback. (Jonathan Beninson recently shared a great post on Medium about structuring mentor/mentee relationships.)

We can also help women in their job searches by spreading the wealth of contacts.  More publicly, you can speak up when women are getting a raw deal (discrimination, harassment, exclusion etc.) And we need to speak up to support women in meetings.

That includes creating space, and letting them say what they have to say without interruption or ignoring what they’ve said. Another way to be an ally:  when we’re invited to a tech panel that is an all-male affair, we can ask the organizer to include some women experts and offer some suggestions about who to invite.

We should all just say no to speaking on panels when organizers refuse to include women.

We should all just say no to speaking on panels when organizers refuse to include women.

“Tech companies want to solve the toughest problems facing our communities nationally and globally, but in order to do so, they must invest in fostering a more diverse workplace culture and where women are at the decision-making table,” says my colleague Allyson Kapin, founder of the Women Startup Challenge. “This is how we will begin to move the needle.”

I’ve been working with Allyson on the Women Startup Challenge for the last year. It showcases and helps fund women-led startups across the U.S. through pitch competitions (like the one we’re doing at LinkedIn in San Francisco on June 14th) and crowdfunding campaigns.

I’ve been learning a lot from our partnership, including some of the small but important things men can do that are a big deal for women.

I figure that if you’ve done well, as Kevin Spacey says, it’s your job to send the elevator back down — meaning we need to be intentional about opening our doors to women and helping them expand their networks and clout. This is about fairness. Plus, there’s the business advantage I mentioned earlier. Let’s do this and become our women colleagues’ best allies.