A new report in The New York Times just showed that there are no women in the top inner circle at Google. We were all so thrilled when Marissa Mayer made the big move to Yahoo that we didn’t look closely at why she may have jumped at the chance. She, along with other top women at the company, have been sidelined in the last year due to a reorganization orchestrated by CEO Larry Page. Of the seven people Mr. Page appointed to lead product areas when he reorganized the company last year, just one, Susan Wojcicki, was a woman.“There was a point at Google when the cadre of women leadership was pretty strong,” said a former Google executive. “That has changed.” Does Google, and specifically Larry Page, have an issue with women?
Of course, a minority of women at the top is not that rare in Silicon Valley. Though women are gaining ground there, they are still very much the minority. It is a culture of engineers and a lot of men are engineers. It is another boys’ club. The number of women working in professional computing jobs dropped 8%, to 25% of the total, between 2000 and 2011 while the number of men climbed 16%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “This is a place where technology companies are way behind,” said Marilyn Nagel, chief executive of Watermark. “Tech companies don’t always focus on building the pipeline of women, and so there are not women who are moving up as rapidly. There are not programs in place to ensure that women take a seat at the table in the uppermost echelons of business.”
Not that the Yahoo CEO post (and it’s compensation package) couldn’t lure anybody (though it does have its problems), Mayer, the first female engineer at Google, may have been looking because in 2010 she was given a new assignment that many at Google considered a demotion, and then Mr. Page removed her from his committee of close advisers (it should be noted that Mayer and Page apparently dated many years ago.) Two other women were also removed from that committee and a few men as well. It ended up as a group of 11 with just one woman. But the article featured a handful of Google female employees saying they never felt unwelcomed or discriminated against, but that may be more for the lower levels of the company. Lower level employees have great maternity benefits (five month paid maternity care, on site dry cleaning, meal stipends.) Another former Google executive said, “I don’t think there’s a gender bias per se, but I think the c-suite at Google is going to belong to product owners, not business people. People witness it as a demotion of women. I don’t view it as that. I view it as a demotion of business.”
More than half of women in technology at big companies leave mid-career, but half of those who leave stay in technical jobs, moving to the public sector or start-ups, indicating that there is something about big companies that pushes them out, said Catherine Ashcraft, senior research scientist at the National Center for Women and Information Technology. It may not be so much that women are considered inferior to men in Silicon Valley, but they are just considered different. Ben Horowitz, a high technology entrepreneur and investor best known for co-founding and running the enterprise software company Opsware, said women and men simply approach business differently. During his time as a CEO, it was clear that it is a “real challenge for women in these technology organizations.” According to Horowitz, one big difference is that women are better at confronting people in business over things that men normally overlook. One example Horowitz gave included a meeting that Horowitz cut a woman off mid-speech, and she came by to complain afterwards that he should have let her finish. Other people in the meeting were shocked she did this, but Horowitz saw this as a positive because she was helping the organization overall.