Why can’t technology solve her gender problem?

The thousands of women who worked in the microchip factories and other manufacturing facilities in the valley from the 1960s to the early 1980s did not participate in these Olympics, but still contributed to the success Of the industry. Some were working-class Asian and Mexican Americans whose mothers and grandmothers had worked in the orchards and fruit canneries of the antebellum Valley. Others were recent migrants from the East and Midwest, white and often college-educated, in need of income and interested in technical work.

With few other technical jobs available in the valley, women would work for less. The preponderance of women on the lines has helped keep factory wages in the region among the lowest in the country. Women continue to dominate high-tech assembly lines, although most factories are now located thousands of miles away. In 1970, one of Mexico’s first American-owned production lines employed 600 workers, nearly 90% of whom were women. Half a century later, the pattern continues: in 2019, women wear makeup 90% labor at a massive iPhone assembly plant in India. Production workers make up 80% of Vietnam’s entire tech workforce.

Company: “The Boys’ Club”

The fiercely competitive and unusually demanding managerial culture of chipmaking proved highly influential, filtering through first-generation semiconductor millionaires as they deployed their wealth and managerial experience in other companies. But venture capital was where the semiconductor culture cast its longest shadow.

The Valley’s early venture capitalists were a close-knit group, mostly young men managing the money of older, much wealthier men. At first, there were so few of them that they reserved a table at a restaurant in San Francisco, summoning the founders to introduce everyone at once. There were so many opportunities that it didn’t matter if a deal went to someone else. Founding members like Silicon Valley venture capitalist Reid Dennis called it “The Band.” Other observers, such as journalist John W. Wilson, have called it “The Boys Club”.

The men who left the valley’s first silicon chipmaker, Shockley Semiconductor, to found Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957 were called “the traitorous eight.”


The venture capital business was booming in the early 1970s, even though falling markets made it a terrible time to raise funds. But the companies founded and led by semiconductor veterans during this period have become defining companies for the industry. Gene Kleiner left Fairchild Semiconductor to co-found Kleiner Perkins, whose long list of successes included Genentech, Sun Microsystems, AOL, Google and Amazon. Master bully Don Valentine founded Sequoia Capital, investing early in Atari and Apple, then in Cisco, Google, Instagram, Airbnb and more.

Generations: “Shape Recognition”

Silicon Valley venture capitalists have left their mark not just by choosing whom to invest in, but by advising and shaping the commercial sensibility of those they have funded. They were more than bankers. They were mentors, teachers, and father figures to inexperienced young men who often knew a lot about technology and nothing about how to start and grow a business.

“This model of a generation that succeeds and then turns around to offer the next generation of entrepreneurs financial support and managerial expertise”, Silicon Valley historian Leslie Berlin writes, “is one of the biggest and least recognized secrets of Silicon Valley’s continued success.” Tech leaders agree with Berlin’s assessment. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs – who learned most of what he knew about business from the men in the semiconductor industry – compared him to to pass the baton in a relay race.

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