Managing MBA Panic And Anxiety

Female MBAs Take A Stance Against Sexism In Silicon Valley

The Stanford Graduate School of Business is just miles from Silicon Valley. Here, Fern Mandelbaum’s course, “Equity by Design: Building Diverse and Inclusive Organizations,” has grown increasingly popular – particularly among women who hope to work in tech. With news of sexual harassment at tech firms hitting the headlines, the class’ lessons on unconscious bias and inclusivity couldn’t be more timely.

Across the country, women MBAs are fighting to build a more inclusive tech industry. Lauren Leatherby, a data journalist for Financial Times, recently discussed in her article how many female MBA students are “undeterred by Silicon Valley’s sexism.”

“This is the cohort that will join the sector after a spate of recent gender discrimination cases and sexual harassment scandals, particularly in the US,” Leatherby says. “Yet far from feeling discouraged, women studying at top business schools say they sense an opportunity to fix Silicon Valley’s problem with women.”

A Pattern of Sexual Harassment

The spark to what has now become a pattern of sexual harassment in the Silicon Valley started with a complaint from Susan Fowler, who, according to Vanity Fair, accused Uber in February of fostering a “toxic culture of sexism and harassment.”

In July, Dave McClure, the founder of startup incubator 500 Startups, resigned following allegations of sexual harassment of female entrepreneurs.

In August, James Damore, a senior software engineer at Google, was fired after writing and sharing a 10-page internal memo criticizing Google for its current diversity initiatives in hiring more female employees.

According to a Financial Times study of 500 tech start-ups with fewer than 100 employees in the Bay Area, women make up merely 23% of employees. For larger tech companies, the statistic isn’t much higher. At top 10 tech companies, including Apple, Amazon, and Oracle, women only make up 36% of employees.

Women MBAs Undeterred by Discrimination

Amrita Mainthia is a Harvard Business School student and co-president of Harvard’s Tech Club — the largest student group on campus. Mainthia tells Financial Times that women intend on entering the tech industry despite the discriminatory statistics.

Silicon Valley

“Women are interested in entering this industry, to contribute to the progress that we all know can be made,” Mainthia says.

Anne Kuriakose, senior vice-president at MIT Sloan’s technology club, agrees.

“There is this overarching desire to want to be the ones driving change and innovation,” Kuriakose tells Financial Times. “Now more than ever, it’s important for women to go into tech.”

Companies are Changing

Tech companies, specifically those coming out of the Silicon Valley, are growing quickly. Anna Beninger is director of research at Catalyst — a non-profit organization that promotes workplace diversity. Beninger says many of these tech companies don’t have the “formal structures” for developing talent that traditional companies have. The result? A more male-dominated industry.

“Women are significantly less likely to get critical development opportunities,” Beninger tells Financial Times. “They’re significantly more likely to downsize their career aspirations. They’re significantly less likely to advance over time.”

As a result, many companies are adapting their policies to attract more female talent. At Uber, following allegations of sexual harassment, a new employee relations team has been appointed to address gender problems. Widespread training has been implemented to teach managers about topics such as diversity.

For many female MBAs, companies that promote gender equality are more desirable. In Mandelbaum’s class, female MBAs are cautious of companies that have poor records of gender equality. Mandelbaum says a desirable company is one that values an inclusive culture.

“An inclusive culture is one that respects, values and hears their employees, that thinks about their career progression, that has managers who help their people be successful,” Mandelbaum tells Financial Times. “Who wouldn’t want to be at a place like that?”

Sources: Financial Times, Financial Times, Vanity Fair

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