Alan Murray talked with HP's Meg Whitman Saturday at the EY Strategic Growth Forum 2015. (Photo courtesy of EY Strategic Growth Forum)

HP’s Meg Whitman: Companies Seeking Top Women Need to Look Hard, Not Wait

Tech exec says 'a whole lot of progress' has been made in hiring women since the late '70s.

Companies aiming to hire more women for boards and other top positions have to work hard to find and recruit them, instead of waiting for candidates to come through the pipeline. That was the message Saturday from president and CEO Meg Whitman of Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett Packard Enterprise, whose tech industry is notoriously dominated by men.

Hiring women is “more challenging in the tech fields, because fewer women” traditionally have pursued degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, Whitman said at the EY Strategic Growth Forum 2015 in Palm Springs, California. “While we’re not satisfied” with progress in this area, she added, “we have made a whole lot of progress since I graduated from Harvard Business School in 1979.”

While women were 10 percent of the B-school’s students then, she said, today the figure is 50 percent. “I’m very optimistic. I think in another generation things will change. … It’s generational change.”

During a November 14 Q&A at the forum with Fortune editor Alan Murray, Whitman said HP’s decision to split into two separate, $55 billion publicly traded companies earlier this month was motivated by the need to “focus, focus, focus” in a time of “incredible disruptive change.”

The new HP Enterprise handles business hardware, software, and services. HP Inc., which Whitman serves as board chairman, handles the PC and printer business.

During the conversation Whitman took a shot at HP rival Dell, which she noted bought EMC last month for $67 billion, taking on $60 billion in debt in the process. In contrast to HP, which now has a “balance sheet that allows you to compete,” she said, Round Rock-based Dell will be saddled with annual interest payments totaling $2.5 billion.

About 130 business people from EY’s Southwest Area North Region attended the Strategic Growth Forum—about 75 of them from Dallas—including 12 of the region’s EY Entrepreneur of The Year 2015 award recipients.

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