Where do women executives in Silicon Valley work? Not on tech-company boards

06 Feb 2014

Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, Meg Whitman, Virginia Rometty: They're all highly influential women in the tech sector. But they make up just a tiny percentage of women who are cutting deals in Silicon Valley's boys club.

As Sandberg herself has pointed out  regarding the workplace gender gap -- there is a real shortage of women in top leadership positions across corporate America - but the numbers in the corporate world are nothing compared to the dearth of female chief executives in Silicon Valley companies.

The tech industry is notorious for being a boys club -- with low numbers of women among Silicon Valley engineers (one in seven women work as engineers), start-up founders (90% are men) and venture capitalists (10% are women), a new study by Fenwick & West really hammers home just how low the number of women are amongst the high ranks of Silicon Valley. 

Using data collected between 1996 - 2013, the law firm tracked the number of women serving on boards and executive management teams of companies in the Silicon Valley 150 index and compared these figures to large public companies in the US.

The figures revealed that almost half of Silicon Valley's top companies have no female board members, compared with the boards of the 100 biggest public companies in America (S&P 100), where almost half the companies have at least two female board members (the average number of employees at these companies, according to the report, is 8,500).

The distribution of women on the boards in the Silicon Valley 150, compared to the boards of the Standard & Poor's 100. 


When it comes to women in the executives suite it's even worse. Nearly half of SV 150 companies have no female executives at all, while 84% of S&P 100 companies have at least one. 


How women are represented in the executive suite in the SV 150 compared to S&P 100 


There is indication that some progress is being made. The report notes that there was a general upward growth during the survey period, with the rate of board directions growing 320% in the Silicon Valley 150 since 1996.

And some of the tech giants seem to be prioritising gender diversity on their boards too. After receiving plenty of public criticism over it's entirely all-male board, Twitter appointed Marjorie Scardino to its board in December after it went public.

Cloud software start up Zendesk, which is preparing for its public-market debut, announced earlier in the week that it has added three new board members -- all of them women.

Caryn Marooney, former VP of tech communications at Facebook, Eliszabeth Nelson, former CFO at Macromedia and Michelle Wilson, former Amazon.com general counsel will join the board of four men.

"We chose these three board members because they've been on the front line of guiding companies through tremendous growth," said Matt Hicks, a spokesman at Zendesk in a release. "It was a bonus that all three are also women and will bring more diversity to our board."

Jordi Roth

Jordi Roth is a writer and producer for Women's Agenda.

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