Diversity in tech takes center stage at ‘Superwomen Summit’


For all its cutting edge innovation and talk of egalitarianism, Silicon Valley remains an industry rife with issues.

Just ask Cathryn Posey, a senior manager at software management maker Electric Cloud. On Thursday, Posey held the first annual Tech Superwomen Summit in San Francisco, California, a conference highlighting issues faced by women in STEM (science, mathematics, engineering and math).

She cites a Harvard Business Review study last May reporting that 56% of all women in STEM leave their jobs mid-career for something entirely different. One likely culprit: issues caused by a lack of gender diversity in their workplace.

“At the end of the day, you can get depressed if you think about the stats, or if you think about how biased work is, and you can shut down,” says Posey. “We’ll never solve the problem if we don’t have women and men talking together about how to address this.”

So last year, Posey began organizing the summit, a one-day event that tackled issues such as entrepreneurship and motherhood and navigating power dynamics between genders. She also assembled an impressive roster of speakers that included Code for America founder Jennifer Pahlka, Twitter VP of Trust and Safety Del Harvey, Federal Election Commission Vice Chair Ann Ravel, Federated Media founder John Battelle, and DJ Patil, LinkedIn’s former chief scientist. In all, nearly 400 people attended.

“I always found it difficult to be a minority within a minority,” says Kimberly Bryant, a conference speaker and founder of Black Girls Code. 

“I always found it difficult to be a minority within a minority,” says Kimberly Bryant, a conference speaker and founder of Black Girls Code. The former Genentech engineer and senior project manager started her nonprofit organization in fall 2011 to help educate young girls like her daughter Kai understand that for them, engineering is a viable career.

Although Bryant remembers her four-and-a-half years at Genentech fondly, she says it was difficult being a woman in a leadership role. The same small mistakes her male colleagues made became bigger “to-dos” if Bryant made them. She also got flack over heated exchanges with employees, while male colleagues walked away unscathed. Recalls Bryant: “They’d say, ‘Oh, my god. Kimberly is being aggressive.”

Still, Posey and Bryant contend that STEM diversity is slowly improving. Last year saw more than 15 tech companies — Apple, Facebook, Twitter, among others — disclose internal data for the first time about employees by gender, ethnicity, as well as leadership and technical roles. Indeed, if 2014 was about company disclosure and striking up a dialogue on the topic, Posey and Bryant predict this year those companies will take action and offer solutions.

“We’re going to see companies try to put some tangible effort behind what they’ve been saying for the last year or two,” says Bryant.

“I really do think we can reach that tipping point,” echoes Posey. “The worst message you can send to women or other marginalized groups is you’re here in spite of who you are or because of who you are. Ultimately, the message should be, ‘You just are who you are, and you’re here.”

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