According to Gartner, women occupy only 11.2 per cent of technology leadership roles in EMEA – a jolt to the system given my background at a marketing agency, where women are much more widely represented.
Why is the tech industry lagging so far behind others? To start with, according to a recent E-Skills Survey, only 17 per cent of women work in the technology sector – a worrying statistic in anyone’s books and enough to make it harder to collectively increase the percentage of women at the top. Technology companies are constantly being encouraged to be more creative, more innovative, and more exciting.
We need to encourage further diversity in the boardroom, as people with different experiences and backgrounds will naturally offer a new approach to a campaign, product or service, sparking fresh creativity. In fact, according to McKinsey, companies with a strong female representation at the very top significantly outperform those which don’t, when measuring both equity and operations.
Women can bring incredible advantages to their organisations and make a real difference in the boardroom. I was lucky enough to attend a dinner hosted by Microsoft’s One Woman in Business team this week at their Future Decoded event; a gathering of 20 women from across the technology sector from amazing CIO’s and CTO’s, chiefs of staff and upcoming female talent in tech. Leigh Bowman Perks, the author of “Inspiring Women Leaders”, gave an empowering talk about the benefits of diversity for leadership and the particular strengths of women to bring more open leadership to the forefront of companies.
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My experience of the technology sector is that the skills of open leadership (openness, transparency and meritocracy) are particularly suited to the current needs of tech aligned to agile development practices open leadership is not an exclusive female skill – he best male leaders I have worked with across my career embody this approach too but women, with their focus on relationships are likely to orientate themselves more towards this style. For example, as many women at the very top have families of their own, they can be sensitive to the demands of family and understand the need of their employees to be flexible when it comes to day-to-day hours and priorities.
By offering employees the autonomy to set their own path, you can see results in teams being more productive and providing greater value to the company as a whole. Making that claim is all well and good but it does have the statistics to back it up – when it comes to showing the success of women in the boardroom quantitatively, the proof is in the pudding. According to Rothstein Kass, hedge funds which were majority-owned by women outperformed the rest of the industry as a whole across six and a half years, returning six per cent compared with a loss of 1.1 per cent across the board. If the finance industry can do it, there’s no reason we can’t see the same results in the technology industry.
However, it’s not enough to just talk about encouraging diversity in the workplace; we must act to ensure that we are working as a team by including everyone. It’s vital that leaders set an example to their colleagues by reaching out to those less likely to be represented at boardroom level. Knowing that the C-suite is striving for equal opportunities will inspire others within the company to adopt and embrace those viewpoints. For example, by mentoring more junior members of the team, we can ensure that everyone feels that their voice is heard and that they have access to all opportunities. This was another key lesson from the Microsoft OneWomen initiative – change doesn’t happen unless it becomes an important focal point for the company.
The approach to gender diversity needs encompass every part of corporate life. It’s not enough to have one woman advocating for change in the boardroom and leave it there – teams then need to put this into practice throughout their day-to-day activities. Each member of the board must ultimately become the driving force which inspires their team to act on these ideas and plans. Until we see better female representation at every level of the technology industry, we must keep working hard to ensure that the same opportunities are offered regardless of gender.
Concerned with issues surrounding gender diversity in business? Don’t miss the Real Business First Women programme:
Drawing on years of the First Women movement and the phenomenal network of pioneering women the Awards has created, this programme features The First Women Awards and The First Women Summit – designed to educate, mentor and inspire women in all levels of business.
Kate Cox is CMO of HEG.