We have seen the future, and it sucks.

Silicon Valley Blues

11th August 2017

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So I find the fact that women and some minorities, as a whole, are underrepresented among Silicon Valley firms to be both predictable and not particularly alarming. When I started my career in public accounting nearly 40 years ago there were very few women in the CPA profession. In my first “class” at Deloitte in Boston, of the thirty-six or so new accountants hired, more than a third were women. Now some university accounting programs are dominated by women and these women often outperform their male counterparts. In this very demanding of professions, 19% of Deloitte’s partner level employees are now women. In fact, Deloitte’s CEO is a woman.

Engineering and tech, like public accounting, have not, historically, been careers pursued by women for a host of reasons that are difficult to ascertain. Certainly, at least in the last forty years that I have been in the workplace, young women have not been discouraged or barred entry into either profession for prejudicial reasons. They’ve been welcomed and recruited. But both professions involve objective, difficult, demanding, and quantitative undergraduate study, an emersion in their own esoteric language and structure. They are both, in a word, nerdy. And career-wise, they are difficult and hyper-competitive. Success, in either profession, is hardly assured. Tech firms blossom and die with amazing frequency; today’s stock grants or options are often tomorrow’s wallpaper. And the accounting profession, aside from being an incredible grind, is built around the notion that about 1/3 of its staff will either leave or be counselled out each and every year. Extrapolate that over time and you can see why only one in fifty or more staffers hired eventually make it to partnership.

I have three daughters, all extremely bright and hardworking. Each of them laughed at me when I suggested a career in engineering or accounting. I know that this is anecdotal, but I don’t think it is unusual. Of those twenty or so children among our inner circles of friends, I can count three who pursued engineering as undergraduates, two of those female. In all three cases, their parents are in the tech world (two engineers and one a PhD physicist.) There several other parents who are tech engineers whose children are not pursuing tech degrees. Of those three students who chose undergraduate engineering, none is pursuing an aspect of engineering that will attract a Silicon Valley career. I should note, however, that two young women are pursuing STEM careers, both in PhD programs in medical science, one is my middle daughter and the other is the daughter of an electrical engineer.

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