Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

One Single Woman for Twitter’s Board, One Giant Step for Gender Equality in Tech? Well, No.

Today, Twitter appointed a woman to its board by picking former Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino as a director. The social microblogging company announced the news via a tweet, with a response by her.

Well, finally, I thought, bringing to a close a controversy that even dogged the San Francisco company’s IPO, especially after its CEO Dick Costolo seemed to make light of the issue. To be fair, Twitter has been searching for a long time to make this move, considering well-known women like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and many others.

But the struggle to make it happen was an important one for Twitter, and has also shed light on the critical issue.

In actuality, though, the picture is vastly more complex and difficult. The tech industry — and, more specifically, Silicon Valley — continues to stumble forward in earnest about how few women are represented in its top ranks of management and on its boards. This, despite the enthusiastic embrace of tech products by many women.

This is not a new problem, of course, but one that rears its head periodically as it becomes clear that the ground gained by women in this perhaps most important sector of the economy — a sector more amenable than most to more tolerance and diversity, too — is being lost rather than gained.

Any gander at the variety of studies, and even a not-very-scientific look at the subject, will show that fewer women are starting companies, are being promoted at companies, are funded, are funders, are on boards, are being rewarded in the same way. At a high-profile party I attended last night, for example, the small handful of women in attendance all seemed to notice and comment on the massive sea of men, though the men appeared blissfully unaware of the imbalance.

“They have no idea at all,” one prominent woman said to me, recounting a story about her visit to an advisory meeting of a tech bank board, where she was the single woman in a room full of men. When she brought it up there — not an easy thing for her, since she was the only woman — she was met with a lot of genuine concern when the penny dropped, but few ideas for action.

Consider a recent spreadsheet that Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou put up publicly as typical. Tech companies she surveyed so far employed an average of just over 12 percent women engineers.

In a piece that Chou wrote for Medium about her efforts to collect data on the subject, she noted:

“The actual numbers I’ve seen and experienced in industry are far lower than anybody is willing to admit. This means nobody is having honest conversations about the issue. While companies do talk about their initiatives to make the work environment more female-friendly, or to encourage more women to go into or stay in computing, there’s no way of judging whether they’re successful or worth mimicking, because there are no success metrics attached to any of them.”

Well, at Twitter, of course, one is better than none, and maybe there will soon be two. That would be 200 percent better!

As I previously noted, correcting the massive gender imbalance in corporate governance is something that more companies in tech — Twitter is hardly an outlier here — certainly need to consider even more urgently.

That’s because most private Web 2.0 companies still have few women board members, unlike a number of public tech companies.

While slow in adding them, the boards of Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon, Facebook, Zynga, LinkedIn and eBay now include at least one woman. And now, Twitter.

So, as I said, yay for the company and its board, although such efforts should not require a big cheering section. They should be done without having to be told or, in this case, scolded.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik