'Bad karma' for a raise? How to fix the women in tech problem

Microsoft CEO apologizes for gender pay comments
Microsoft CEO apologizes for gender pay comments

The CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, has apologized for remarks he made advising women not to ask for a pay raise, but to have "faith in the system."

Speaking, ironically, at a conference to celebrate women in technology, Nadella also suggested women not asking for a raise was actually "good karma."

Read More Microsoft CEO apologizes for gender pay gap comments

The comments have sparked outrage and humor among tech leaders, female professionals and those who are turning to social media to voice their opinions. Shares of Microsoft had been trading slightly lower, earlier Friday. According to one male user on Twitter, "Satya Nadella shouldn't worry though. If he has faith in Wall Street, the stock will go back up. It's good karma. Oy."

Ashley Parker Tweet

Not only did Nadella make the comments at a conference for women in Phoenix, ArizonaOctober is also the Small Business Administration's Women's Small Business Month.

Poor timing and controversy aside, Nadella's gaffe points to larger issues that face the technology sector—too few women in technology roles, little capital that goes to women-founded start-ups and overall low diversity among large tech companies.

Several tech leaders—including Microsoft—have released demographic data and diversity reports. Broadly, the ranks of minorities and women inside tech companies are thin.

According to data as of Sept. 30, 2014, 29 percent of Microsoft's global workforce is made up of women, and 71 percent are men. Among U.S. workers, about 60.6 percent are white, and 28.9 percent are Asian.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addresses the media during an event in New Delhi, Sept. 30, 2014.
Adnan Abidi | Reuters

In August, Apple said 55 percent of its U.S. employees are white, 15 percent are Asian, 11 percent are Hispanic and 7 percent are black. Apple's global workforce is 70 percent male and 30 percent female.

Google this summer also said 61 percent of its U.S. workforce is white, 30 percent are Asian, 3 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent are black. By gender, 30 percent of Google's global workforce are women, and 70 percent are men.

So what's the solution?

Danae Ringelmann, co-founder and chief development officer of crowdfunding platform Indiegogo
Eric Piermont | AFP | Getty Images

Danae Ringelmann, co-founder and chief development officer of crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, says change can begin with hiring decisions—no matter how big or large the company.

"I have so many female entrepreneur friends," Ringelmann told CNBC. "When everybody asks me, 'Why are there so few women in technology?' I want to say, 'Have you met all my friends?' "

Indiegogo released its own diversity report in August. Although they have a small workforce of 100 workers based in San Francisco, 45 are women, and 43 percent of its leadership positions are held by women, Ringelmann said.

Changing the conversation

Just spreading the word and openly discussing the low numbers of women in technology are steps toward change.

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"This lack of transparency has historically been an impediment to efforts to improve the situation," said Catherine Ashcraft, senior research scientist with the National Center for Women & Information Technology. The nonprofit focuses on raising women's participation in computing and technology.

In 2013, 57 percent of all professional occupations in the U.S. workforce were held by women. But only 26 percent of professional computing occupations among the total workforce were filled by women, according to the nonprofit.

"We applaud these companies breaking with these traditional silences and also urge them and everyone to remember that this is an important first step but progress doesn't stop here. The next steps are to take action to make changes," Ashcraft said in an email to CNBC.

Read MoreTechnology's women problem

Biases in hiring and capital

Diversity in hiring is one hurdle. Another is funding for entrepreneurs of all backgrounds.

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Through the first half of 2013, 13 percent of U.S. venture capital deals went to companies with at least one female founder, according to Seattle-based PitchBook, a private equity and venture capital research firm. That compares to 4 percent in 2004. So the trend is improving, but there is still progress to be made.

And although VC funds generally are larger than capital acquired through crowdfunding, the new platform is an option for entrepreneurs, both men and women.

Ringelmann of Indiegogo says 47 percent of their crowdfunding campaigns, which reach targeted goals for funding, are run by women.

"When gatekeepers have to figure out which ideas to fund and which to invest in, they rely on two things: Their forecast for the future and their limited networks," Ringelmann said.

Satya Tweet

And as for companies, large and small, bias also needs to be eliminated from the hiring process, she says. "It's making sure that they're going after all the young women out there that are interested in potentially joining their company," she said.

Broadly, few female students are graduating with related technology degrees. In 2012, while 57 percent of undergraduate degree recipients were women, only 18 percent of computer and information sciences undergraduate degree recipients were women, according to the nonprofit technology center.

"Switching the conversation to these unconscious biases is one way to change the dialogue," said Ashcraft of the nonprofit technology center. "We all share these biases, and we can all work together to address them."