Leadership & Management

How Do You Get More Women into Technology?

Top executives discuss workplace diversity, leadership, and Silicon Valley.

January 09, 2015

| by Shana Lynch


Women sitting at computers

Women make up a small portion of technology companies’ work forces. Could more role models and women-centric programs increase those numbers? | Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage

You’d imagine the head of YouTube wouldn’t have to convince her kid that computer science is fun. Yet when Susan Wojcicki’s school-age daughter admitted she didn’t like computers, Wojcicki said she realized she had the same problem at home as she does at work. (The solution for her daughter was a computer camp geared specifically for girls.)

Wojcicki joined a panel of top executives to discuss how to get more women into computer science fields, how to integrate career and family, and where MBA grads can find the best opportunities.


Gloria Duffy

Gloria Duffy, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Club of California | Courtesy of Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture/Lydia Daniller

The panelists:

  • Susan Wojcicki, CEO, YouTube
  • Padmasree Warrior, Chief Technology/Strategy Officer, Cisco
  • Katarzyna Kacperczyk, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Poland
  • Gloria Duffy, CEO and President, Commonwealth Club of California

Following is an excerpt from the event, sponsored by Stanford GSB’s Women in Management, Stanford Global Studies and the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research.

Regarding women earning computer science degrees/working in technology:

Padmasree Warrior: Fewer women are enrolling in engineering and in the science and technology disciplines, and women leave the workforce in a larger number compared to men. According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, the number one reason that women cite when they leave the workforce is lack of role models.

We have to fix both issues, by things like participating in organizations like Girls Who Code, getting women to think about science and technology as fields where they can have successful careers. We can do mentoring.

Susan Wojcicki: Research on why women don’t go into it suggests three reasons. First, they don’t understand why computer science is interesting – they don’t think it necessarily applies to anything, and they don’t associate with the people they see who are in it.

The problem is people take the first class and they don’t see how it relates to creating something interesting. Google has invested millions of dollars in Girls Who Code and other nonprofits serving girls to try to explain that you can build things and then you can see what the result is, whether it’s an avatar, a picture, a bracelet, something.

The second reason is they don’t think they would be good at it. Of course they can do it, so that’s just a perception issue.

The last one is when you have too many of any one group, it sometimes alienates the other group. I experienced this with my daughter. She was telling me, “Oh, I don’t like computers.

I’ve been working hard to get her interested. I first sent her to computer camp and she came back and said, “It’s all boys. I don’t like them.” I talked to the camp, and this year they did an all-girls one. She came back and said, “I love it. The people in it were cool.”

It becomes a self-fulfilling cycle: You have all boys, so then the girls don’t want to come. We need to break that cycle.

On career and family balance:

Padmasree Warrior: Balance suggests that you’re going to be perfect at everything, and no one is going to be perfect at everything. I like the word “integration” better. That means you have to prioritize. I always talk about integrating yourself, your family, your work, and your community.


When my son was young I was feeling guilty all the time ... The realization is that you make the decisions you make based on whatever is important for that day, and that’s fine.
Padmasree Warrior

When my son was young I was feeling guilty all the time. I would come to work and leave him at the daycare, and I would feel guilty that I was being a bad mom. And I would stay home and feel guilty that I was missing a customer meeting. I would work from home and feel guilty that I wasn’t at the gym working out.

The realization is that you make the decisions you make based on whatever is important for that day, and that’s fine.

Susan Wojcicki: A lot of times if you’re in your 20s and you have kids, at that period you’re paying most of your salary to your childcare.

Then you start having questions like, “I leave this child with my nanny or my daycare, then go to work and pay all my money to them. Why don’t I just stay home instead?” The problem with that logic is that you miss the investment in yourself. For every year that you’re out of the marketplace, it’s estimated you lose 10 percent long term of your annual earning capacity.

I joined Google pregnant. I had four kids. My last one went to kindergarten last year. If I had stayed home until my kids went to kindergarten, I would have missed all of Google. And if I applied to Google now, it would be really, really hard for me to get a job.

Biggest opportunities for female MBAs in the tech industry?

Susan Wojcicki: Probably something involving mobile technology.

Padmasree Warrior: More and more, policy and regulation is influencing technology, whether it’s privacy policies or security policies. If you’re a business major, having an understanding about how policy regulation impacts the progress of technology is another thing that’s going to be very useful going forward.

On the disconnect between Washington and Silicon Valley:

Gloria Duffy: Silicon Valley is still the single largest concentration of technology business. But we are still, in terms of representation, pretty small. I believe we are down to virtually no members of Congress who have a true science and tech background or science background. There are some medical doctors and so, perhaps, the understanding of biotech issues is a little higher.

The resources available to our legislative representatives to understand science and technology issues are pretty limited.

Can Poland build its own Google? Or any other country?

Katarzyna Kacperczyk: I don’t think so. We came with a delegation representing over 200 companies to explore what is the reason or what is the recipe for the success of Silicon Valley. I think the major lesson is that there is no universal model you can replicate and move from Silicon Valley to Poland.

Every country has to look at what is developed somewhere else, and then try to find a model on how to commercialize this idea and how to build an industry around it. I don’t think we can replicate Silicon Valley, but I think we can become a European hub of innovation.

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