Oracle OpenWorld 2015 - Safra Catz on the tech industry’s female talent pipeline problem

Profile picture for user jtwentyman By Jessica Twentyman October 28, 2015
Summary:
CEO Safra Catz discusses female talent in the IT industry, the responsibilities on Oracle and opening a new high school on its Redwood Shores.

Sara Catz
At Oracle OpenWorld this week, the software company announced it is to build a home on its corporate campus at Redwood Shores for a new public school: the Design Tech High School or ‘d.tech’.

The school is slated to move to the Oracle campus in 2017, from its current site in Burlingame, and will be open to any student living in California - although kids from the local San Mateo school district will get preference - and is intended to nurture future technology leaders.

It’s the fulfilment of a vision that Oracle founder and CTO Larry Ellison’s been mulling over for the best part of two decades, according to CEO Safra Catz: a school where students learn to think, founded on the principles of:

innovation, creativity, problem-solving and design thinking.

Addressing attendees at the Oracle Women’s Leadership Summit on Day 3 of OpenWorld, Catz added that it could be the answer to one of the tech industry’s most pressing problems: the dearth of young women studying computer science and going on to pursue careers in IT.

As I work more and more at Oracle, over all these years, I’ve realised it’s absolutely critical that big companies like ours [...] to do something because when you look at the statistics, you realise there are simply not enough women in the pipeline in the math and science education areas. And as a result, because so much of our population does not end up being able to participate most directly in innovation, we will ultimately fall behind.

The statistics, she said, are:

...sobering statistics, they’re troubling statistics.

She’s right. In 2013, just 26 percent of computing jobs in the US were held by women, down from 35 percent in 1990, according to a study [http://www.aauw.org/research/solving-the-equation/] released earlier this year by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), a non-profit organisation that promotes gender equality. During that same period, the number of women earning computing degrees also declined.

Oracle itself has some work to do on gender equality: women represent 29% of its US workforce. Just one in four management jobs within Oracle US, meanwhile, are held by women. The company doesn’t provide worldwide figures, but rival SAP does. At the German company, women represent 31% of the global workforce but only 21% of management roles go to females.

But you can’t recruit what doesn’t exist - so more work needs to go into helping young women start early on preparing for a technology career. Here, Catz had some good news for attendees: in order to double the number of female PhDs in computer science, just 10% of the 14,000 school districts in the US would need to deliver one additional girl to that level of education.

So I could sit around and complain… but instead, what we thought we would do is go ahead and bring a new school, living in very temporary new housing, right near us, to Oracle’s campus.

The Design Tech High School will have around 500 pupils and have of these will be girls. By doing providing these opportunities, Catz hopes, the technology giant will get the chance to tap into the next generation of female technology talent. As she joked with attendees:

Frankly, as you can probably imagine and you may have heard, I’m a bit of a businesswoman myself. My goal is to recruit these girls.

On the whole, Catz’s speech was an optimistic one. Reflecting on her time as a banker, she described finance as a very “lonely” environment for a woman - but a lot has changed in business since the 1980s, she says:

When I look now at Oracle, when I look at my management team, sometimes poor Larry is the only man in the room. My general counsel, most of the finance operation, our head of manufacturing - all women. It’s an incredible situation. It’s really superb.”

And you know what? I don’t think Larry minds it at all!

But this isn’t just about doing the right thing from a social perspective. It’s about doing the right thing for Oracle and its future growth, she said.

The technology business is about solving the unsolved. If we don’t have as many people as possible, as many minds on the problem that we can possibly have, but just barriers, glass ceilings and exclusion, then we can’t solve problems. That’s not how you win, it’s not how you innovate and it’s not how you grow.