State of the Net conference clicks on gender gap

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By Joe Mussatto, SHFWire.com

WASHINGTON – There were discussions of new technology and conversations about cyber security, but a new and unexpected element was apparent at Tuesday’s annual State of the Net conference – a number of women in high-ranking tech positions.

The chair of the Federal Trade Commission led off the Internet policy conference followed by a U.S. assistant attorney general. The country’s chief technology officer then took the stage before a member of the House spoke. Finally, one of two women on the  five-memberFederal Communications Commission had a turn.

All five are key players in the technology sector – all five are women.

Related story: U.S. Hispanics lead in creating business, but still face barriers to tech startup network 

Coinbase co-founder Fred Ehrsam was the sixth and final keynote speaker to round out the morning session. Ehrsam may have bucked the trend, but not before event moderators pointed out the string of female speakers.

“Any company that seeks to be at the cutting edge and innovative, you need to make use of the full talent pool that’s available to you,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirezsaid.

Women dominated Tuesday’s early discussions, but the opposite is taking place in Silicon Valley’s largest tech companies.

Google admits its lack of diversity as part of an attempt to hire a diverse staff. Its self-reported statistics reveal that 70 percent of its workforce is male. The search company’s racial gap is larger than its gender divide – 91 percent of its employees are either white or Asian.

Apple also has a 70 percent male workforce, and 69 percent of Facebook’s employees are male. Software and technology giants Oracle and Intel have workforces that are more than 70 percent male, with Intel topping out at 76 percent.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., is a member of the congressional Diversifying Technology Caucus that launched Monday. The bipartisan caucus includes members from the House and Senate and is determined to increase gender and racial equality in technology.

“As someone who has long been involved in encouraging more women to go into the STEM fields, I think it’s just another opportunity for us to look at the real and perceived barriers that we can address,” McMorris Rodgers said.

In addition to bringing awareness to the divide, the congresswoman said the caucus will look at creating scholarships and incentives to bring women and minorities to science, technology, engineering and math.

Leslie R. Caldwell, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, emphasized the push to crack down on cyber criminals, and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel promoted better access to wireless networks.

President Barack Obama named Megan Smith the country’s first female chief technology officer in September. Smith, an MIT graduate, said that, even when women are part of groundbreaking tech developments, they aren’t always given credit.

“We have an unconscious bias in the media in how we portray who does what,” she said.

She listed the Oscar-nominated “The Imitation Game,” “Jobs” and “Apollo 13” as movies that underrepresent the roles women played in the actual events.

“We need them to appear so all young men and women can see them,” Smith said.

This story was previously published on SHFWire.com. It is republished here under their guidelines. Reach reporter Joe Mussatto at joseph.mussatto@scripps.com 

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