By Naomi Shavin
Featured in Forbes
Silicon Valley Bank’s fifth annual Innovation Economy Outlook survey is out, and this year, SVB decided to focus on one topic in particular, in addition to conducting its general survey. “We asked,” reads the group’s report, “1,200 tech executives in innovation hubs around the world about the representation of women in leadership positions at their companies.”
SVB’s findings are in accord with most estimates: Less than 50% of technology companies have women in the C-suite or serving on the board of directors.
Only one region in the US broke 50%, the southeast. The national percentage of tech companies with women in leadership roles is 45%. Europe is at 50%, Asia is at 56%, and “other innovation centers” reached 58%.
These percentages may well be splitting hairs, though. Companies were only asked if they had any women in the C-suite or serving on the board, and so whether a company had only one woman who served on the board, or was a start-up had 90% female employees, the two scenarios (and anything in between) counted the same way. If 50% of companies in Europe have women in power, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those companies are more empowering or more diversity friendly than companies in the US.
What European companies do have going for them, though, said SVB Chief Information Officer Beth Devin, is generally greater acceptance of parents needing flexible schedules in order to meet family responsibilities. Men and women are both granted this understanding, and adopting a similar attitude here could affect US companies where women are hired straight out of college into entry-level positions, but then cannot rise within the company past a certain point if they choose to become mothers and primary caregivers for their children.
That said, we do have a recent movement in our country toward workforce transparency. In the last couple of months, major companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and Yahoo have come forward about where and how they still lack gender and racial diversity.
Putting aside our technological behemoths, we also have problematic industries. As SVB’s survey demonstrates, within the greater context of technology companies, not all specializations hire women equally. Healthcare, it should come as no surprise, lead the pack with 56% of related companies having at least one woman in an executive or board-level position. Of course, healthcare has had strong female representation for as long as people have had midwives. Following healthcare’s statistic were software-related companies at 44%, hardware at 36%, and cleantech at 35%.
A breakdown also occurs when companies are parsed by size. “Larger companies are more likely to have women at the helm,” reads the survey, which goes on to show that regardless of whether the perspective is global, or focused on the US, the UK, or other innovation centers generally, when start-ups are in the pre-revenue stage, they tend to put fewer women into executive positions. Larger companies with revenues promote more women, but globally, the percentage that do so is still only 49%, and in the US, it’s 44%.
Breaking down these statistics further, it seems that most companies are basically all or nothing when it comes to promoting women. Though 26% of survey respondents reported having women on the board of directors, and 37% have women in the C-suite, the number of companies with neither is made particularly clear when the total percentage of companies with one or the other falls so short at 46%. This means that almost 20 percentage points are accounted for by overlap – companies that have women in both kinds of executive positions – and 54% don’t have women in either kind of executive position. Over 70% of respondents are likely on the more extreme ends of the spectrum.
SVB isn’t merely presenting this data, though. The group is also looking for ways to impact change, and one of its strategies is a five-part video series that interviews women in executive positions at tech-related companies. The videos each focus on a topic related to how the women got to where they are and what their best practices are. “Creating Opportunities” just went live. “Starting Early” and “Climbing the Ladder” will be out on July 29th and August 5th respectively. “Getting into Tech” and “Being a Leader” were already released. The videos have, so far, incorporated women across the tech spectrum, from Kate Mitchell, a partner at Scale Venture Partners and Elisa Jagerson, Speck Design’s CEO to Maggie Philbin, founder and CEO of TeenTech and co-founder of LastMinute.com, Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho.
According to a statement from Devin on the SVB website, the video series sprang naturally from the results of the survey. Her team was eager to hear and to share the stories of women who had made it into executive positions despite the odds – an experience Devin understands on a personal level. She described a recent dinner with colleagues and clients where she looked around the room. “It was 24 men,” said Devin, “and me.”