Tech executives talk gender equality at Berkeley Forum panel

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Four women from various spheres of the tech industry, from Google to T-Mobile, gathered Wednesday at the Banatao Auditorium to discuss their experiences as women in a male-dominated industry and express their views on gender equality in the workforce.

The Berkeley Forum panel included Iris Kuo, CEO of Ledbetter, a database that shows gender equality at different companies, and Paulette Penzvalto, a program manager in corporate engineering at Google. All panelists spoke about their career histories and advocated for women’s empowerment in the tech industry, though they all differed in their areas of emphasis.

Kuo’s company, Ledbetter, focuses on helping people rank brands based on their “equality in leadership,” according to the company website. Kuo’s website shows that many companies with products catered to women, such as Rimmel London and OPI, do not have a single woman in leadership.

The website allows viewers to search companies to view the percentage of female representatives on their boards and in their executive leadership. Through Ledbetter, Kuo said she hopes to bring awareness to gender inequality and change the overwhelmingly large number of companies with uneven representation.

Alternatively, Natalie Nakai, co-founder of the XX+UX Mentorship Program, created the program to help pair women breaking into certain fields with other women who have more experience.

“One of the best things about mentorship (and) leadership programs is that it gives women the opportunity to just have someone support her,” Nakai said.

Mentorship is also an important issue for fellow panelist and T-Mobile Senior Consultant Fatema Kothari, who serves on the board of the mentorship program Girls in Tech San Francisco and is a mentor with Techbridge, an after-school program for girls in STEM fields. She also serves as an adviser to a team of female entrepreneurs from Africa, and she has helped them secure a grant from the U.S. Department of State.

“I was impressed that (mentorship) was such a big theme for all four speakers,” said UC Berkeley sophomore Haley Keglovits, the panel moderator and a cognitive science major hoping to work in natural language processing. “They not only had mentored others, but also had mentors of their own that had significantly shaped their careers.”

Keglovits added that the Berkeley Forum worked to make sure the panel represented many different backgrounds and realms of the tech industry.

Penzvalto, who spoke about her work with women who have disabilities, said she has based her advocacy on personal experience. Diagnosed with autism around 30 years old, Penzvalto leads [email protected] and is a member of the Google Disability Alliance. During the event, she offered advice to other women with disabilities, advising them not to be afraid of disclosing their disabilities during interviews.

UC Berkeley freshman Jeffrey Wang, who attended the panel, said he enjoyed the event but expressed that he wished he saw more diversity in the audience, noting that there were only about six males in the crowd of approximately 50.

“It’s not a gender binary issue,” Wang said. “If there’s only women attending the event, there won’t be any change.”

Contact Christine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @christinejlee17.