To get a true sense of eBay's level of gender diversity, one has to look below the surface.

At first glance, it might seem discouraging that eBay and PayPal each list only one woman on their respective executive leadership teams, but to Sarah Hodkinson, director of offers and marketing at PayPal, "looking at leadership in such a narrow, title-driven way is a mistake."

In truth, 42% of eBay's employees are women, including 28% of its leaders (directors and above), according to diversity stats eBay published in July. Since eBay launched its Women's Initiative Network in recent years, it has doubled the number of women hired into leadership positions, Hodkinson said.

The diversity of eBay's total workforce puts it ahead of many other tech companies, including Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter, according to data compiled by Gigaom from company diversity reports. Its percentage of women in leadership positions is also ahead of or on par with the other tech companies that reported diversity data.

"Diversity…makes us stronger," Hodkinson said. "Challenging the status quo isn't something you can do with homogeny; to create an innovative culture, that's a critical tenet."

Notably, eBay's previous CEO was a woman (Meg Whitman left the job in 2008 after a 10-year run). Nationwide, 27% of the 1.5 million chief executives in the U.S. were women as of last year, compared to 24% ten years earlier, said Jim Borbely, an economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

In terms of fostering diversity, "the tech industry is above average," said Jeffrey Hayes, study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research. "Women have done OK at middle management levels…but that's where the notion of the glass ceiling comes in."

EBay and PayPal have a good number of women in the pipeline, but because of how the percentages taper off towards top executive roles, it seems the potential for reaching higher level positions might not be as great, Hayes said. However, at PayPal, eight of the 13 people in its executive leadership were promoted from within, demonstrating there is a path for the women at the company to reach the top.

Hodkinson joined PayPal in late 2011 when the online payments company acquired Where, a location-based mobile marketing startup, at which she held a media and advertising role. Her job at PayPal involves leveraging the company's technology to help large enterprise merchants generate demand and engagement through offers.

PayPal is the first employer from which Hodkinson, who is openly gay, requested benefits for her partner.  EBay has offered same-sex partner benefits for over a decade.

"It's super important in the company I work for that she is able is able to take advantage of our health care as a domestic partner of mine," Hodkinson said. "You don't get that at every company; heterosexual folks maybe take that for granted."

She does not disparage her pervious employers, as this is an issue that is advancing very rapidly.

LGBT rights "are becoming more of an issue and in the public realm…and becoming more visible," she said. "I would imagine that most large companies are addressing this."

Every year since 2009, eBay has received a perfect score of 100% on the Human Rights Campaign's annual corporate equality index.

The banking industry has been in the spotlight in recent years for its lack of diversity, though big banks have made strides to stop the discrimination of gay and lesbian employees and support equal rights for the LGBT community.

In 2012, TD Bank began addressing the issue, offering to reimburse its employees for the additional federal and state taxes paid for benefits for same-sex partners. Bank of America announced a similar plan in 2011.

As a technology company, rather than a banking company, eBay is "innovation-focused, a little more progressive perhaps," Hodkinson said. "The thing that's helped me progress in my career is that authenticity. The notion of authenticity really engenders respect in the work place."

Hodkinson also works to expand diversity at other companies through StartOut.org, a national non-profit geared towards fostering entrepreneurship in the LGBT community.

"A lot of [venture capitalist] investment goes to young, white males usually running around in hoodies," Hodkinson said, laughing. "We challenge that at StartOut…and want to democratize access."

At StartOut, Hodkinson is working most closely with an event-based company called Welcoming Committee. While this firm isn't in payments, Hodkinson said, "This goes back to the notion of diversity; if you're too narrowly-focused you won't be able to innovate."

Even at PayPal's incubator, Start Tank, the company looks beyond payments and technology.

PayPal "sees payments as a means to an end, part of a larger story around commerce," said Hodkinson. "It's a unification of advertising and marketing and demand generation, and the work at the PayPal Media Network and how that comes together with payments."

Twenty companies are currently working at the 18-month-old Start Tank's Boston location. These include Gloss48, a cosmetics marketplace and instructional site; and Tackle Grab, a subscription-based service that delivers fishing tackle monthly.

PayPal has received positive feedback and plans on expanding the program to other PayPal sites, Hodkinson said. PayPal also offers Start Tank in London and Chennai, India. 

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