- Merline Saintil
Despite endless reports of sexual harassment and all the drama surrounding the Google memo, Merline Saintil, a powerful engineer at Intuit, says things are actually getting better for women in tech, not worse. Saintil has seen diversity initiatives at Intuit work well, she says. She just landed her first corporate board position – at a bank – and says that as more women join boards, the future will get even brighter.
To all women who love tech but fear the industry is rife with sexual harassers and misogynists, Merline Saintil has a message of encouragement: Don’t listen to the haters.
Saintil, an engineering exec at Intuit, is having a great career and insists other women can too. In fact, she’s working to make it easier for other women to succeed, she told Business Insider this week.
“I’m hopeful and excited about the progress [of women in tech], even with this madness going on,” she said.
By madness, Saintil was referring to the firestorm created by the memo written by fired Google engineer James Damore that decried the company’s efforts to hire more women. In his memo, Damore argued there are biological reasons that make women less interested in engineering then men, a claim that has been widely debunked.
Damore’s memo followed a wave of recent stories in which women in tech have gone public about the sexual harassment they’ve experienced, be it from co-workers, bosses, or investors. And it came on top of years of criticism directed at the industry for its lack of diversity.
Despite all the negative sentiment and publicity, women have made some progress, at least at companies that were determined to change, she insists.
“It’s frustrating to hear that a manifesto would even be written. But I also know that what we’re doing is the right thing, and we’ll have history on our side,” Saintil said.
Intuit, for example, has vowed to get to gender parity by 2020, a commitment in line with its support for organizations like Girls Who Code. Currently, women make up about 40% of its workforce, including about 30% of its technical position, 50% of non-technical roles and 33% of leadership roles. It still has a ways to go, but women are more highly represented there than at many other tech companies.
Google, for instance, is fairly representative of the rest of the industry. At the search giant, located across the street from Intuit in Mountain View, women make up 31% of the overall workforce. And women represent just 20% of tech workers and only 25% of people in leadership positions.
The long view
She has reason to be hopeful for the future, too, because she’s living proof that you can come from nothing and land in the boardroom.
- Tech Hub/Flickr
Saintil moved to the US from Haiti when she was five years old, speaking no English. She discovered computer science in college and since the early 2000s has worked at a who’s who of big tech companies, including Adobe, PayPal, and Yahoo.
Today, she’s an exec running Intuit’s operations, product and technology.
She’s also serves on a corporate board. After taking a “how to be a board member” class at Stanford and getting help from the Athena Alliance, a group that assists women get board positions, she was named a director on the board of Banner Bank earlier this year.
Saintil has previously served on the boards of non-profits like the Anita Borg Institute. But being in a corporate board room will really give her a chance to pay it forward, she said.
“It’s about sending the elevator back down from the board room” to help the next generation of women, she said. “I am hopeful because we are staring to have this conversation [about women in tech] at the very top of leadership. In the board room.”
And, she emphasizes, for all the ugly stories, there are stories of success, like hers.
“When I walk in a room and I’m the only woman, or the only person of color, I don’t for a second forget that,” Saintil said. “But it’s a quick conversation with myself that I belong, and that I’m not giving anyone else the power to tell me where I belong.”