Next week, Seattle will be home to the Women in Tech Regatta, a weeklong series of panels. Its organizers want more men to attend.
He’s a 32-year-old white male tech worker who knows exactly what he wants, what he’s worth and has no problem asking for it. And when he sits in on a meeting at one of the area’s large tech companies, Chad has no problem speaking his mind. Loudly.
More women in tech need to channel their inner Chad, which is why Melody Biringer has included a workplace-strategy panel called “#WhatWouldChadDo?” in next week’s Women in Tech Regatta. It’s a weeklong series of panels and meetings to be held in Seattle’s South Lake Union area from April 23-27.
“When women are going in for negotiations, a typical woman tends to say ‘I’m not qualified; I can’t go in and ask for more,’ ” Biringer said. “But Chad would walk right in and get it.”
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Based on what I read in a stunning Sunday story by my colleague Matt Day, the women of Microsoft need to load up a caravan of Connector buses like they’re headed to the Women’s March, and pack into every panel.
Day’s story described a pervasive, male-dominated culture at Microsoft that has failed to hire more women or retain those within its ranks. Women are passed over for promotions, experience casual sexism and when they take action, their grievances are poorly handled.
According to a lawyer representing three women who have filed suit against the company, Microsoft’s discrimination cost women in technical roles up to $238 million in compensation and more than 500 promotions.
The company has denied those allegations, and in a response to the story sent out last Friday, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said that “Over the past few years Microsoft has started to make real progress at increasing the representation of women at all levels.”
“Over the past few years”?
“… has started to make”?
Microsoft has had 40 years to sort out these issues and could have set the standard for the rest of the tech industry when it comes to hiring, promoting and retaining female employees. And yet, among the five biggest tech companies, they have the lowest number of women: only 25 percent overall; and just 23 percent in the managerial and executive ranks.
Other companies are working hard to fight bias against women. Microsoft has no excuse.
But there are solutions, and one of them just may be for more men in tech to attend the Women in Tech Regatta.
In other words, make an effort to make change.
“If you have time to have dinner with your white male VP, you can make time to come out to one of these panels,” said Cynthia Tee, who is not only one of the event’s organizers, she’s worked for Microsoft. Twice.
Tee, 48, started in 1994 in the company’s consumer product division — the only one that had a female VP (Patty Stonesifer), and a team that included Melinda French, who would go on to marry founder Bill Gates.
“I thought it was great,” Tee said. “And three months in, I realized that if I had started anywhere else, it would have been really difficult for me. It was very much a boy’s club.”
She was told to “endure,” and find ways to assert herself. She left to become the vice president of product for a company called PlayFab, co-founded by James Gwertzman, who hired women for half the positions.
“It was a very deliberate action,” Tee said. “It was more important for him to have a diverse team and in the end, he believed it would be a more powerful team.”
So powerful, the company was acquired by Microsoft — which offered Tee a position two levels lower. She left after six weeks.
The years have given Tee perspective on what needs to be fixed at Microsoft. It will be part of her WIT Regatta session called “Wanted: Men, Executives & People in Power,” that will focus on ways to end bias in the workplace.
(Tee has also recruited current and former Microsoft employees to speak at several sessions).
The partners, principals, senior executives and program managers need to stop rewarding the people “who look and act like them,” Tee said, and get over the idea that hiring women and the underrepresented is “lowering the bar.”
“I feel like there are so many male managers who have the right intention but can’t take the action,” she said. “It’s having the attitude of educating yourself.”
Men in management positions could use a senior, female coach to guide them in ending bias and discrimination, introduce them to other, qualified women in tech.
“Once you get a different perspective, it feeds on itself,” she said. “Some of these things are going to be so painful and disruptive, but you have to do it to make progress in this space.
“We’re all here,” Tee said. “Go. Listen. Get their advice.”
Then maybe women won’t feel the need to channel Chad. They’ll get what they have worked for, and deserve, for being exactly who they are.
A girl can dream, right?