The (very few) women of Silicon Valley
The Silicon Valley region of California around San Francisco bay is internationally renowned as a hub of technology innovation and is home to some of the world’s best known companies and biggest names in the industry. There are actually thousands of startups in the region, alongside 39 of America, and the world’s, technology giants. A third of all US venture capital can be accounted for in Silicon Valley alone, with a quarter of a million people employed in the area’s firms.
There is no mystery, then, behind why Silicon Valley holds a central role in the global technology industry. The region has enjoyed a sustained boom and a significant period of success and prosperity that has created jobs, fostered innovation, and brought about a global tech revolution fuelled by a relatively small area of California.
The boom of notable residents such as Alphabet Inc (who own Google), Netflix, Apple, and Facebook has driven California’s prosperity, and has been critical in securing the US’ dominant place as a technology leader. In turn, the talent and capital sloshing around Silicon Valley has helped further these companies’ growth, creating a concentrated financial and labour base from which to further develop.
And yet, despite all of those positive facts, there is one element of Silicon Valley that we’ve not discussed. Just like the UK’s computer industry is dominated by men, this just as true in the US, and in Silicon Valley in particular. Many of the best known companies in the region were founded, and are run by men. That means that most of those receiving a big share of international fame and investment that comes with being a global tech giant are male.
The divide between male and female founders is not even tight, however. It’s not 60-40, it’s not 70-30, it’s not even 80-20. Out of the founders of the top 100 companies located in Silicon Valley, just 10 are women, compared to 90 men. That is a blow out, a massacre, a landslide. There is no way other way to spin it other than to say that there is a very clear glass ceiling stopping women, and the companies that they founded, from reaching the pinnacles that many men and their companies have climbed.
Certainly the glass ceiling is a very real issue which persists and which, undoubtedly, also affects Silicon Valley. Women make up less than 25% of executive and senior level officials in S&P 500 companies, and less than 1 in 10 CEOs are women - broadly reflective of what we see in Silicon Valley. But Silicon Valley has its own issues regarding women, with a large of number of sexual harassment and sexism allegations being filed.
Whilst women face the same obstacles reaching the top of Silicon Valley as they do in much the rest of society, this region poses some specific threats that makes it an unwelcoming and hostile environmental for many women, and that, coupled with the glass ceiling, is preventing women breaking in to what is largely a boy’s club. That sexist atmosphere, and lack of diversity, poses a threat to Silicon Valley’s dominance and prestige, and needs to be confronted.