Five prominent women leaders gathered on Tuesday at Google's San Francisco, California, offices to talk about leadership, innovation and gender bias.
International Women's Day 2012 Google Doodle.
On the eve of the Google I/O Developers Conference, the company's offices were abuzz with a familiar refrain: the need for more women in the computer science industry.
The Women Techmakers event featured five women from Google's storied ranks who talked about recruitment, leadership, gender bias and, of course, why Google is such an enviable place for women to work.
Susan Wojcicki, the senior vice president of advertising, was the 16th Google employee. When she started, she was told she would have a boss to report to.
"I waited for years," she said. "But then I learned I wouldn't have a person telling me what to do. I had to figure it out. I had to act like an owner. I had no one to go to for direction," she said. "It was sink or swim."
But stories of success rarely comfort those that are still floundering.
An audience member asked what recommendations women who are outside the Googleplex should follow.
You could almost cue the crickets.
"That's a hard situation to be in," said Wojcicki. She related how important it was to form bonds with other women, by, for example, going out to lunch.
According to Wojcicki, it's ultimately about believing in what you're doing and making sure your work can shine through.
Sounds easy, enough. So... where are the women?
The panel highlighted research brought to light by the actress Geena Davis that suggests cartoons for children under six are sending gender-biased messages. There was only one Dory in a sea of male fish; there was only one Smurfette in a village of Smurfs. Eighty per cent of jobs in cartoons are held by men.
"It's 'boys will be boys'. And 'girls will be boys'," says Megan Smith, VP of Google's new-business development.
And, let's face it, tech is often portrayed as a nerdy, isolated, go sit-in-your-cubicle kind of career.
The answer to attracting more females exists in how you tell the story. But, more importantly, when you tell the story, according to these Google execs.
"We need to tell the story of technology; the story of what we do, to girls... not women, because it's too late then," says Gayathri Rajan, the director of product management.
"Creating something out of nothing ... that appeals to women," said Angela Lai, the VP of payments.
A recent survey by the recruitment firm Harvey Nash Group indicated that the number of women in senior technology positions at US companies is down for the second year in a row. In statistics cited at the panel, in the 1980s 40 per cent of computer science majors were women. Last year, merely 14 per cent of computer science grads were women.