Obama criticizes Silicon Valley’s gender gap

June 10, 2014, 11:01 PM UTC

President Barack Obama waded into one of the hottest topics of debate in Silicon Valley on Tuesday by criticizing the lack of gender diversity in the technology industry.

Obama took a break from talking about student loan debt in a conversation with Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp to touch on the importance of increasing the pool of female students focusing on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

In a question-and-answer session that was broadcast live on Tumblr, the president told Karp that increasing the number of students with STEM backgrounds is an important issue, and added that the government needs to promote the disciplines to students in demographics that are underrepresented in those fields. Obama then turned to the White House audience and added: “And, yes, I mean you, women.”

“Girls are still more likely to be discouraged from pursuing math, science [and] technology degrees. You see that imbalance in Silicon Valley. You see it in a lot of high-tech firms,” Obama said.

Gender diversity (or, a lack thereof) in Silicon Valley has been a hot-button issue of late, as critics accuse the tech industry of fostering a “tech bro” culture reminiscent of fraternity frat houses.

Last month, Google owned up to its own diversity issues by releasing for the first time its own workplace diversity statistics, which showed that women make up only 30% of the tech giant’s workforce overall. The numbers also showed that only 17% of Google’s tech workers are women. In a blog post, the company admitted that it “is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity” but expressed hope that its candidness would be a step in the right direction.

Earlier this year, President Obama signed two executive orders meant to narrow the compensation gap between men and women employed by federal contractors.

President Obama touched on a range of other subjects during the hour-long conversation with Karp on Tuesday, including gun control and another recent executive order that caps student loan payments at 10% of borrowers’ monthly income. Obama, who signed that order a day earlier, has also been pushing for Congress to pass new legislation backed by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren that would allow graduates with student loan debt to refinance their existing loans at lower rates. The latter legislation would be funded by a new tax aimed at wealthy individuals.