The panel’s title said it all: “Be Bold & Take No Sh*t: Thrive as an XX in an XY World.”

The SXSW Interactive session featured (left to right above) Julie Huls, CEO and President of the Austin Technology Council; Sara Spivey, CMO of Bazaarvoice; Aaron Burcell, Vice President of Growth and Product Marketing of Vevo; and Heather Brunner, CEO of WP Engine, and highlighted gender disparity in technology, along with other industries, and discussed what’s needed to solve it.

One way tech companies can hire and keep more female employees and leaders is by making diversity part of their DNA from the beginning, Brunner said. Want to build diversity in your company? “Start early,” she said.

That’s what WP Engine did, and now 60 percent of WP Engine’s executives are women, and 31 percent of non-executive managers are women, Brunner said. And WP Engine works to ensure that its employees receive equal pay for equal work.

WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner speaks during a panel on gender disparity in tech.
WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner speaks during a panel on gender disparity in tech.

“It’s time for us all—men and women—to be paid equally. At WP Engine, we pay everyone equally. Equal work. Equal pay,” she said.

According to Huls, woman comprise 26 percent of the technology workforce nationwide, and 21 percent in Austin. Meanwhile, women are paid 87 percent of what their male colleagues are paid nationwide, while in Austin that number is 79 percent.

At the same time, the number of women pursuing computer science degrees has fallen 40 percent in the last 20 years, Spivey noted.

Having a diverse workforce improves a business’ bottom line, Huls said.

“Men and women, and the bottom line, thrive in an environment with gender diversity and gender parity,” said Huls.

Spivey agreed.

“This is a business issue. It has real economic consequence,” she said, adding, “More diverse teams equal better outcomes. Homogenous teams don’t lead to good innovation.”

Another way to help increase the number of women in technology leadership roles, Brunner said, is through better educational and mentorship programs. It’s also important for women to note that not all careers in the tech industry are technological in nature. There are leadership roles in all departments where women can thrive.

“If you’re interested in the tech industry as a woman, you don’t have to be an engineer,” Brunner said, adding that woman can find fulfilling careers in tech in marketing, finance, strategic, and other roles that don’t necessarily require coding. “Women can advance in tech across all functions.”