Leaning into the Gender Gap: Takeaways from a Different Kind of ‘Women in Tech’ Panel

Leaning into the Gender Gap: Takeaways from a Different Kind of ‘Women in Tech’ Panel

By Ashley Mrozek

Despite increasing recognition of the importance of female leadership in the workplace, the gender gap in the technology industry continues to grow. Numerous theories and solutions have attempted to resolve this paradox without much success, and women’s career advancement risks being reduced to buzz phrases like “lean in” and “having it all.” In this environment, how do we make sure women are evaluated fairly and how do we create a workplace culture where competence is valued over confidence?

To answer some of these questions, LaunchSquad hosted “Women Deserve an Equal Chance (to F*ck it up),” a panel featuring three respected female leaders from the tech world: Minnie Ingersoll, co-founder and COO at Shift, Sara Clemens, COO at Pandora, and Emily White, board member of Lululemon and former COO of Snapchat. The panel was moderated by Laura Sydell, NPR’s digital culture reporter. The trio shared their experiences in navigating a male-dominated field, discussing how this gender imbalance affects Silicon Valley and the broader business community. Here are four key takeaways:

1. Gender Discrimination is a Cultural Issue. The women agreed that the lack of female executives in tech is a cultural problem. Workplace culture is the culprit for lack of gender diversity, not an intentional decision to not promote females. Bold and overconfident behavior is frequently interpreted as competence. “I’ve been nervous during VC meetings because there is an aggressive style there,” admitted Shift co-founder and COO Minnie Ingersoll. “We see a lot of that in Silicon Valley: Someone asks you a question and they expect an immediate answer and want to exchange in a rapid fire Q&A.” Soft skills like emotional intelligence and communication, are overlooked and not viewed to be as valuable as blunt, unwavering conviction.

2. Tech Firms Need to Value Different Work Styles. Rather than encouraging women to speak or act more like men, there needs to be a shift in workplace expectations of what is a suitable management style for successful executives. To put it simply, a confident answer does not necessarily signify a competent approach. There is a time and a place to act decisively, but expressing uncertainty or adopting a discourse that implies an openness to other opinions should also be viewed as a strength.

3. Workplaces Must Adapt to Employees’ Needs. It’s imperative for companies to adapt their environments to their employees instead of the other way around. Companies derive strength from the diversity of their employees; the moment a company begins molding its employees to a rigid corporate culture is the moment that company loses its edge.      

4. Women Deserve a Break. There is an outsized amount of media attention given to struggling companies led by women, such as Theranos and Yahoo. All of the panelists agreed that companies are more likely to be put under the microscope when they have an attractive female CEO. “All that Mayer and Holmes really have in common is that they’re blonde. And female,” Ingersoll interjected, when the discussion turned to current events. The negative press surrounding the companies and their respective leaders feeds a narrative that women are unfit for the role of CEO.

So where does all of this land us? Former Snapchat COO, White, for one, remains hopeful and optimistic, citing opportunities the field has granted her and her female colleagues. She noted the technology industry’s progressive approaches to problem solving that create a space for progress and growth. “Success to me is having women leave the room with a sense of encouragement and Silicon Valley is great at this because we encourage dialogue.”

For more from the panel, check out our Twitter at @launchsquad and hashtag #LetUsEffUpToo. Photos from the event here.

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