Where have all the Women gone?


Thursday, December 23. 2010

Where have all the Women gone?

Never mind raining men, it's flowing women...

Article by Kara Swisher on why there are so few senior women in all the new Silicon Valley startups, complete with TED talk by Sheryl Sandberg. Well, being modelling wonks, I naturally look at the flow of the supply chain system (see above).

Look at the above model. Assume that for every board seat there are 3 candidates (a Neck of the Bottle thing), ie a 67% attrition rate. For there to be only 15% women on the Board, that means you need c 45% to be women in the next level upstream (the middle boxes). If each of the initial starting boxes were 50% full of women (ie 150% women in total start the flow), then in order to get only 45% candidate representation for Board level you are looking at a 70% attrition rate to those middle boxes.

One can argue that the attrition rate between stages is higher for women, one can argue that some routes (eg Boardroom clubbiness) are not open to women, but as you can see, if the starter boxes were primed at 50% each, you have to believe in a massive attrition rate through the system - the sort of losses that the most profligate of a First World War generals would be proud of (and that led to mutinies).

In fact, we can use this model to deduce something approximating the "real world" attrition rate. If I assume that about 25% on average (rather than 50%) of all the people starting out as middle managers, technologists and entrepreneurs are women, then to deliver a 15% representation at board level (today), still assuming a 33% final attrition, then the actual attrition rate is more like 40%

Now clearly, there are issues that impact this attrition rate, and Sheryl goes into them in good detail (this is PC territory for us men, so let me just re-iterate her points and say they tally with my experience too):

- Sit at the table (ie don't be backward about coming forward
- Don't drop out early (don't make the decision to stop striving when you are thinking of having kids, make it when you have them - keeps options open)
- Equal partnerships at home - its hard to be a CEO if you are also doing 67% of the housework (to this I'd add, don't be shy to use some of the extra income to bring in helpers).

But you still have to start with the initial flow, as that is where the leverage is - assuming the "real" attrition rate is something like 40% as above, if you then have 50% of all starters being women you should immediately see a 30% board representation by women.

Which brings us back to the older chestnut - why are there so few women coming into technology and entrepreneurship areas?
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I think there's something wrong with your model. If we start with 50% women and 50% men, how can we only end up with 30% women (and thus 70% men) on the board? You need to "proof" your model by running the opposite case (% men) thru it, to see if you get the opposite result - if the numbers add up to 100%. If the results don't add up, your model is flawed.
#1 JC Dill (Homepage) on 2011-01-04 15:24 (Reply)
Swisher's article says little about “why" so few women attain these positions. It's mostly a list of how poorly the industry is doing, without coherent cause-and-effect.

I was going to point out that your model is logically flawed (why is the attrition rate for women assumed to be 2/3, but men's seems to be 0?), but the previous post has done this more rigorously.
#2 Jon Peltier (Homepage) on 2011-01-05 12:30 (Reply)
You have to calculate a male attrition ratio, it is different to women.

Essentially it is a back-flushing model - ie given the answer, it works out what had to happen.

So, assuming that 75% of all people start out male, yet 85% are male at the end, there is zero male attrition overall (as opposed to those left behind att each stage) - you are expecting attrition in the women.
#3 Alanp on 2011-01-05 14:30 (Reply)

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