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Retaining High Tech Women Once They’re in the Door

Karen Holtzblatt began the lecture by gathering some biodata on the attendees:

  • how many students are in the room
  • how many folks with 1 or 2 years of work experience
  • how many managers (the majority of hands went up.  “We will need you!  Glad you’re here!)
  • how many men are in the room (very well represented — applause)

“I am on a mission and you are on it with me,” Karen informed us.  You have a responsibility when you walk out that door.”  Karen was an extremely forthright, impactful and engaging speaker.  Her fearless candor was refreshing.

Karen stated that she is part of the second wave of the women’s movement (after the suffragettes).  “What happens to you in high school is what you care about.”  Suffrage took place when Karen was in high school.

Two questions that Karen often receives from younger women:

  • “Karen, how do you walk into a roomful of men?”
  • “Karen, do you ever lose self-confidence?” (She laughs and the women insist on a real answer)

“We have been focusing on the pipeline as the problem<” Karen explained.  She referenced Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”, specifically Sheryl’s encouraging women to remain focused on shattering the glass ceiling.  “But here is the sad truth,” Karen continued.  “We (the tech industry) have the worst stats compared to the other “hero” professions.  (Hero professions are those with crazy 80-hour work weeks:  doctors, lawyers, investment bankers).  Women leave the tech industry at two times the rate of men.  At this rate of departure, no one is left to shatter the glass ceiling.”  Karen showed a new slide that read, “We excel at documenting the problem.  But what is the solution?”  This slide received tremendous applause.

“Why is the research old?” Karen questioned forcefully.  “Why are the same questions being asked after 40 years?”  She explained that the Women in Technology movement attempted a 360 deep dive into the daily lives of technical women.  She requested the audience’s help in adding survey data to the existing qualitative data.  “Everyone in this workshop can take the survey,” she stated.  “Both men and women.”  The previous surveys were only taken by women but the administrators now decided that male feedback on this issue is equally valuable.

Carol Farmsworth shared the results of the 2016 Women in Technology Work-Life survey, from Spring 2016.  The respondents were mostly Californians:

  • 70% to 80% declared that they were happy with their jobs.  They felt valued in their professions and were comfortable around their male colleagues.
  • To be continued …