Before Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison there was a woman who blazed a trail straight to CEO in the tech industry. Her name is Sandra Kurtzig. The founded ASK Corp. over 40 years ago and took the company public. In a world of men, she was the lone female CEO in the Valley. Now she’s preparing another startup, but a look back at the number of women who followed in her footsteps is disappointing reports

“I’m actually shocked that there aren’t more women CEOs,” Kurtzig said in a recent interview. “I knew when I started ASK that being a woman in a man’s world was unique. I could understand why people were surprised and why I got so much press back then. But it still feels like I’m the only one.”

That’s close to the truth. There was Carol Bartz, of course, until she was ousted as CEO of Yahoo (YHOO). And there are some notable number twos, like Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook and Safra Catz at Oracle (ORCL). And among startups and venture capital firms, there’s a growing number of female partners and founders.

And yet, they still represent a distinct minority in Silicon Valley’s tech economy, and a rarity in executive suites. And it’s far, far fewer than Kurtzig would have imagined all those years ago.

There’s a long list of culprits, according to Wendy Beecham, managing director of executive education at UC Davis. Most likely, you’ve heard them all before. Far more men than women get science and engineering degrees. Tech has a nerdy image. The work-life balance is even harder to achieve in tech than most industries. And the tech boys’ club tends to be self-reinforcing.

“We tend to hire people like us,” Beecham said. “If you’re a 50-year-old white guy, you tend to be more comfortable with 50-year-old white guys.”

Photob by mirimcfly