A panel discussion examining the role of women in the technology industry has found little improvement in gender equality, but some promising signs for the future.
The discussion was held after the Town Hall meeting attended by President Obama, and was hosted by White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett.
Women make up half of the US workforce, she said, but this falls to 25 per cent in the technology industry. Only eight per cent of technology startups are led by women, and only five per cent of these get venture capital funding.
The situation is getting worse in some respects, according to Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.
The number of women taking computer science classes peaked in the late 1980s, and is now just 18 per cent of students. The percentages go into single digits when it comes to computer science teachers and faculty staff.
But there is a bigger problem, according to Jarrett. Women have been awarded the majority of college degrees since 1981, but the proportion of women in senior management is stuck at about 15 per cent in all industries.
The figure is better in the technology industry, at 22 per cent, but this falls to just six per cent when it comes to female heads of engineering.
"More women are entering the workforce and still not making it to the top," Sandberg said. "The big issue is not getting them into the workforce, but getting them on the way to the top."
A key issue is flexible office time for men and women. Women do twice as much housework as men, and three times as much childcare, in households where both adults work. Flexible working would help to balance this and encourage women to stay and progress.
Facebook is a case in point, according to the company's director of engineering, Jocelyn Goldfein. Men and women get four months paid leave when they have a child, and staff use this to balance work and parenting. Employees very quickly get used to having colleagues away with their families, and work around it.
Sexism starts early
Goldfein added that, as she has seen with her own children, gender differentiation starts early and doesn't celebrate women in technical fields.
"There are constant stereotypes on TV, and it's not getting better," she said. "The standard science show is four boys and a token girl; we can do so much better than this. The media has enormous power to shape how people view themselves."
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