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The End of Men: Female IT execs at the workplace

Hanna Rosin | Oct. 8, 2012
Female tech leaders solving the family conundrum

Other industries, by contrast, suffer from “inertia” or “resistance to change”, Goldin argues: “These more novel industries step in and they suddenly figure out how to do things differently.”

All the problems companies elsewhere agonise over, the Silicon Valley women seem to workshop informally and on the fly. Worried that the Katy rule stigmatises mothers? Mayer had it apply to everyone.

Now one of her young male executives leaves early every Tuesday for his hallowed dinner with his old roommates. Life problems are not all that different from technological ones: with enough creative thinking, anything can be solved.

The first female engineer hired at Google, and now the first female CEO of Yahoo, Mayer is something of a legend. She got her master’s from Stanford in computer science with a speciality in artificial intelligence, and is so intense in even casual conversation that I found myself tracking whether she ever blinks.

She is also tall and blond, and regularly appears in society blogs at fancy parties on the arm of her entrepreneur husband, with whom she has recently had her first child. She is well aware that she is an unusual package, and has embraced the extra task of being a role model for aspiring girl geeks everywhere:

“I do think it’s important for girls especially to know that there is not one way to break through. You can be into fashion and be a geek and a good coder,” she says. “You don’t have to give up what you love.”

But try to draw Mayer into the morass of issues around discrimination and she’ll resist. Why aren’t there more female computer science graduates, for example? “I am much less worried about adjusting the percentage than about growing the overall pie,” she says. “We are not producing enough men or women who know how to programme.”

Sexism not dead yet

The women of Silicon Valley do not live in such a shiny, detached bubble that they don’t recognise sexism. You would have to be blind to walk through the offices of Facebook or Google every day and not notice the sea of mostly male programmers, or the “frat house”, as Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, calls it.

These women don’t deny sexism, but rather will themselves to ignore it so they can get their work done. Their attitude is neither idealistic nor defiant, but highly practical: better just to workshop these situations one by one, like so many coding glitches, one de-gendered brain to another.

 

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