Silicon Valley: Is discrimination keeping women out of leadership?

Silicon Valley in California is known for being a hotbed of innovation. However, it seems a market known for taking the lead is falling far behind in an important area: diversity. A recent report by CNN Money notes that many companies in Silicon Valley are failing to properly reflect the nation's workforce, particularly in terms of gender. According to the report only 31 percent of the workforce at Dell is composed of women and approximately 25 percent are women at Cisco and Intel. Google is even lower; with females filling fewer than 18 percent of the company's engineering staff and 21 percent of its leadership roles.

The piece does make a point to give Google kudos for attempting to amend the problem by encouraging women to step forward for promotions. The company also points out that it is starting networking and professional development programs catered specifically for women. But the story raises a larger question - at what point does the problem qualify as a discrimination issue?

Gender discrimination basics

Gender or sex discrimination occurs when an individual receives unequal, unfair treatment based solely on his or her sex. The promotion, termination, issuance of bonuses or any other treatment based on gender is illegal under both federal and state laws.

One form of federal protection is present under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law specifically outlaws gender discrimination, providing an array of protections including making it illegal to "fail or refuse to hire" based on sex or to deprive of employment opportunities. State law offers additional protections under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. In addition to protecting against discrimination based on sex it also extends to unfair treatment based on childbirth and breastfeeding as well as related conditions.

Remedies are available

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes that the goal of these protections is to attempt to return the victim to the position he or she would have been in had the discrimination not occurred. As a result, the remedies available can vary depending on the circumstances of each case. Potential relief can include costs associated with attempting to find new employment as well as emotional harm. Punitive damages, or awards designed specifically to punish the employer, may be used if the offense is particularly egregious.

For a free evaluation of your potential employment law, civil rights or consumer fraud case, we invite you to contact us.