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Women execs are prominent in Microsoft overhaul

July 12, 2013|By Chris O'Brien
  • From left: Amy Hood, CFO; Lisa Brummel, executive vice president of Human Resources; Julie Larson-Green, executive vice president of Devices and Studios; Tami Reller, executive vice president of Marketing.
From left: Amy Hood, CFO; Lisa Brummel, executive vice president of Human… (Microsoft )

In a year when Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has blown up just about every corner of the 38-year-old Microsoft, rebooted nearly every product, and tried to overhaul the company's culture, his most astonishing statement came during a conference call on Thursday to announce a major reorganization. 

"It's a big day for me and the women and men around the table who form the Microsoft leadership team, and we appreciate your taking time from us," Ballmer said. "We're ready to take Microsoft in bold new directions and really delight both our consumer and business customers."

Did you catch it? No, it's not his use of "delight," Silicon Valley's fetish word of the moment, silly. 

Squint harder. Let me give you a clue: "women and men." 

Women. And. Men. 

That's right. In a major reorganization of the company, mighty Microsoft of the North now has four -- count 'em -- four women in its top 14 executive positions. 

What in the name of Billie Jean King is going on up there?

Apparently they lost the technology industry playbook handed out to incoming freshman each year that has pretty clear rules about keeping a lid on the number of women in tech. 

According to a 2011 study of the 400 largest California companies by UC Davis, and Watermark, a Bay Area organization that runs programs to grow the numbers of women business leaders, the tech industry has a dismal record in this area.

To wit, the software and semiconductor industries had the lowest percentages of all industries, posting just 4.4 % and 2.7%, respectively, of women in upper management.

Microsoft (yes, I'm aware it's not in California) seems intent on bucking that trend. To recap, after shuffling the business units, the four women in the top ranks are: 

1. Amy Hood, executive vice president and chief financial officer.

2. Julie Larson-Greenexecutive vice president, Devices and Studios.

3. Lisa Brummel, executive vice president, Human Resources

4. Tami Reller, executive vice president, Marketing

Reller and Larson-Green were execs who saw their duties significantly expanded this week.

Compare that with say, Apple, which is so dominated by white guys in the exec ranks it could be mistaken for a lacrosse team.

Still, even more surprising is that Microsoft may actually be part of a small but growing trend among larger tech companies. 

For instance, Microsoft is now on par with Cisco Systems, which has 4 women in the top 14. The leader in Silicon Valley is Oracle, which lists six women in its top 26 executive roles. 

HP, led by Chief Executive Meg Whitman, has women in 3 of 14 top spots. Yahoo, with Marissa Mayer in the captain's chair, has 3 of 12.

Lagging a bit are Facebook, 1 of 4 and Google, 1 of 13 (though the latter gets bonus points for racial diversity).  

I'm sure the rest of the dudes who dominate Silicon Valley's techno-culture aren't exactly shaking in their boots about this latest radicalization of exec ranks. But still, it's worth acknowledging that there are some steps forward being taken, even if parity remains a distant dream over the horizon. 

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