All The Women Under The Sun

Jonathan Schwartz – the president and COO of Sun – just posted on his great trip to Sun Mexico and raved about their recent performance.  He posted a picture of “the winning team” – my first reaction was “where are the women?”  I know Sun is a member of the National Center for Women & Information Technology Workforce Alliance so I was a little surprised.  I decided to dig a little more and discovered that two of twenty three senior execs are women and two of nine directors are women.  Unfortunately I had no easy way to go any deeper in the organization – it’s certainly conceivable that there is a higher ratio of female engineers at Sun than female executives – although if history is a guide this probably isn’t the case.

I’ve been involved in NCWIT not because of an innate desire on my part for gender parity, but because I’m a strong believe that if the U.S. wants to continue to be competitive in IT and computer science 20 years from now, the dramatic gender split that currently exists needs to be gone – for multiple reasons, not the least of which are the fundamental issues of design (if 50 percent of your users are women, don’t you want 50 percent of your designers to be women?) and supply and demand (there simply aren’t enough men to satisfy the growth of the industry.)  I recognize the irony of this statement in the context of a photo of the Sun Mexico “winning team”, and while I think of Sun as an international company, it’s clearly headquartered in the U.S.

To continue to be relevant in the long term, Sun has to out-innovate a number of fierce competitors and they should be using all of the weapons at their disposal.  While I can imagine a typical response of “Brad – get off your soapbox – quit being a feminist – no room for that here”, I hope someone high up at Sun is actively thinking about the long term gender dynamics in the IT industry and how this can positively impact innovation.  It’s an interesting challenge and I can assure Sun that some of their most aggressive competitors are not just thinking about it but taking aggressive steps to take advantage of the idea.

  • My god! A feminist! We couldn’t have that 😉

    Seriously though, I think you did a good job reminding people that women’s issues are more than politics and actually impact competitiveness.

  • John Adams

    Ummh, yeah, that’s the biggest issue Sun needs to worry about right now. Maybe if Scott McNealy had a sex change it would turn things around. A firm with great people and and a great historical contribution to mankind, locked in a futile struggle against irrelevance. Kind of like France.

  • My partner Heidi Roizen appropriately reminded me that two high profile female CEOs – Carol Bartz and Kim Polese, are Sun alums.

  • Brad:

    I am glad you are raising a very important issue that needs to be addressed seriously if people care about long term competitiveness of the U.S. More than half our engineering staff in India are Women while in my almost 10 year career in the U.S heading software development groups, I had exactly one chance to hire a woman intern, but that also since she was from Stanford, a lot of more well funded startups were ahead of me in hiring her. That’s it! The last time I looked the men/women split in population was about the same in India and the U.S. I find the women recruits in India much more focused, capable, patient and better at listening than the male candidates.

    Women in Engineering and Science is a crucial balance that needs to be restored, especially if you want to see more women in the boardroom, especially in technology oriented circles like we circulate in. The outsourcing/offshoring trend is only making this worse – scaring off even the few women who want to get in to Math, Science and Engineering!

    Bravo, for raising an important issue! Next time you are in India check out the number of women executives in middle and upper management in tech companies, telecom companies in India. You will be astounded! That’s a change I have noticed just in the past 10 years!


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