(Bloomberg) — Attending an all-girls high-school or college can keep women on the technology track. The panelists at the Women & Tech Next Wave session in Sausalito, California, said that being in asame-sex academic environment erased some of the stereotypes and stigmas that prevent girls from pursuing a passion for technology.
“It makes you realize how important it is to look at the environment we create in our schools,” said Bahija Jallal, who heads up MedImmune, a biotechnology company that was acquired by AstraZeneca Plc.
Debate over the technology industry’s diversity has been fueled by a recent report from Google Inc. that disclosed just 30 percent of the world’s largest search engine’s 50,000 employees are women. Companies including Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Apple Inc. have also either faced investor pressure or criticism about the lack of women in key positions. Last year, 74 percent of U.S. workers in computer and mathematical occupations were men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In software development, a fifth of the jobs were held by women.
In a blog post on May 28, Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, highlighted the lack of qualified female technology experts, citing a U.S. Department of Education study that found women earn just 18 percent of computer-science degrees in the U.S.
At the Bloomberg conference, Citigroup Inc. Chief Innovation Officer Deborah Hopkins said she was struck by how few women-led ventures come to her for funding and added that there is plenty of talent for those who want to find it. All of her direct reports are women, she said.
Lise Buyer, a principal at Class V Group, a consultancy for emerging companies, took issue with the notion that there aren’t enough qualified women to serve on the boards of technology companies.
“Everybody says they want a Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer,” said Buyer, referring to Facebook’s chief operating officer and Yahoo! Inc.’s CEO respectively. “You know what? They’re busy, and there are a lot of other women who have the skills you need.”
The discussion made clear the impact that stereotyping continues to have. Caroline Pugh of fitness-technology startup VirtualU Inc. said in most of her meetings with venture capitalists, the men would turn to her for marketing questions and ask her male co-founder about the technology behind their product, “even though I’d be sitting there with the specs.”
Eileen Tanghal of Applied Materials Inc.’s venture capital arm Applied Ventures, recalled one trip to Japan with male colleagues where people assumed she was the translator or an assistant, even though she was the technologist and one in charge.
“You can’t take it personally,” she said. “If anything, it makes you more memorable.”
Networking with other women executives is key to success, said Caroline Ghosn, co-founder and CEO of Levo League, a network that links young women to each other and to mentors. Levo is working with companies to help them set up internal networks to keep people engaged and aware of opportunities within their own firms.