What It's Really Like to Be a Woman in Silicon Valley
Written by Mandy Shold
Right out of college, I started my career in San Francisco. Actually, I moved to the city a couple of weeks before graduating. I was excited! I had this big dream to start a big job in the big city. And San Francisco? Well, I was already smitten. I thought I had it all figured out—and I still maintain that my vision of San Francisco was pretty damn accurate.
I mean, sure, there were a few things I had wrong. For starters, nobody calls it “San Fran” (lesson learned). Contrary to most Instagram accounts, people don’t just picnic beside the Golden Gate Bridge every weekend. “Full House” was not actually filmed in one of the Painted Ladies, and no one—I repeat, no one—hangs out at Pier 39.
But San Francisco was everything I wanted it to be: this beautiful juxtaposition of pastel Victorian houses and bustling tech metropolis, of cable cars and autonomous vehicles. But for a city with a history of inclusivity, the last five years in San Francisco has been riddled with diversity and inclusion headlines, lawsuits and a feminist movement unrivaled by any other city in the nation.
I’m here to tell you a little more about the real San Francisco. And, more importantly, I’m here to tell you what it’s really like to be a woman in Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley plays host to some pretty shiny technology companies. We’ve got Facebook and Google, Tesla and Twitter, and we now even sport a phallic tribute to Salesforce, piercing the San Francisco skyline. We are the home of Uber and Airbnb, of LinkedIn and Yelp.
Somewhere along the way, in its quest toward innovation, San Francisco lost sight of itself. In an effort to bring in new talent and build an unparalleled infrastructure, San Francisco forced out longtime residents and paved the way for startup culture. The most unsettling oversight is the forgotten women of the city: all the babes in the bay—just like me.
Here’s an overview of Silicon Valley by the numbers, as it pertains to women:
Fact: Women only own 5 percent of startups.
Fact: Only 7 percent of partners at the top 100 venture capital firms are women.
Fact: Women only hold 11 percent of executive positions in Silicon Valley.
Fact: Women under the age of 25 earn, on average, 29 percent less than their male counterparts.
Fact: In 1991, women held 36 percent of computing jobs. They now hold only 25 percent.
That being said, my experience being a woman in Silicon Valley isn’t strictly composed of numbers. (Thank goodness, because those numbers are bleak.) There’s a lot I’m madly in love with in San Francisco—it’s arguably my greatest love affair to date. No, it’s not the skyline or the bridge that I fell for; it’s the people. It’s that, at my hair salon, everyone sports a handlebar mustache and somewhere between two and 20 tattoos. It’s that two blocks down at my favorite bar, there’s a regular who wears a different sequin suit every day. It’s the fact that as I write this, I’m sitting in a café drinking coffee while toting a red lip and a Bringing Feminism Back T-shirt, and not a single person is bothered by my mission.
I have never found a city more generous, more kind and more inclusive than San Francisco. Nowadays, you hear about Silicon Valley and the diversity problem here because of an unprecedented move Google made a few years ago, when they released data on the number of women and minorities they employed. Then, other Bay Area companies followed: LinkedIn, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Apple—the list goes on and on. The numbers weren’t good. (And neither was the news coverage that followed.) But as they were all forced to face the realities of their inequality, they all committed to improving.
In the years that followed, we’ve seen San Francisco companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars in efforts to change their work climates, refine the makeup of their leadership and update their hiring practices. And, more importantly, we’ve seen the numbers shift. Little by little, we are pushing towards equity.
The women here are defined by so much more than our gender. Where once women felt pressured to pursue certain career opportunities or settle for a more “feminine” path, here is an entire city devoted to pursuing not equal opportunity, but all opportunities equally.
Here’s one last number for you: Last year, 74 percent of young girls expressed interest in pursuing STEM-related activities. A whopping 74 percent. That’s unprecedented. That’s unexpected.
That, readers, is inspiring.
Mandy spends her days working in public relations, specializing in sustainability and corporate responsibility - a job which not only fuels her soul but also pays her San Francisco rent. She spends her (virtually nonexistent) free time exploring the Bay Area craft beer scene, working on her rock collection and wishing her cat would be the big spoon sometimes. For additional sass and details of her life held together by caffeine and dry shampoo, follow her on Twitter at @WayToRepresent.