The need of the hour is to create open, mindful practices to empower and enable women executives to thrive and excel in their careers.
There’s nothing inherently masculine about cloud computing, data analytics or artificial intelligence (AI). Computers are also androgynous by nature. However, the tech sector remains heavily dominated by men, especially in the senior positions. What’s more appalling is that despite women’s participation in tech continues to be a favorite topic at every technology forum and organizations getting serious about diversity and inclusion in the last one decade, women are massively underrepresented in top management jobs. And that’s why it’s time to revisit the women in tech narrative in 2020 and beyond.
In a recent report McKinsey researchers observe, how gender imbalances emerge from as early as the first promotion point where women account for 48% of entry-level hires but only 38% of first-level managers, with a clear knock-on effect for equality in higher positions.
This naturally explains why the overall number of women in top management roles is still painfully low. Today only 5% of CEOs of major corporations in the US are women. In India too, female representation on boards increased by just 4.3 percentage points to 15.2% in 2019 from 2014, as per the latest CS Gender 3000 report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute (CSRI). This is however significantly below the global average of 20.6%. India also has the third-lowest rank in the Asia Pacific with regard to female chief executive officer (CEO) representation (2%), as well as other ranks such as CTO, CIO and CFO.
Diversity makes good business sense
However, studies have time and again proved that diversity in leadership makes good business sense. As a Harvard Business School report mentions, having women on the board results better acquisition and investment decisions and in less aggressive risk-taking, yielding benefits for shareholders. As Sasikala Mahesh, Head of Delivery (India) at ThoughtWorks suggests, “Women are naturally empathetic and can contextually apply emotional intelligence to manage people effectively. This also explains why women leaders across the world have demonstrated their abilities to build a safe, open and conducive work environment.”
Jie Chen, an associate professor in Finance at Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds, UK, and his co-authors mention in the report, “One benefit of having female directors on the board is a greater diversity of viewpoints, which is purported to improve the quality of board deliberations, especially when complex issues are involved, because different perspectives can increase the amount of information available.”
At the same time, research has found that female directors tend to be less conformist and more likely to express their independent views than male directors because they do not belong to old-boy networks, which in turn reflects when the organization makes strategic decisions.
What has been encouraging in the last few years, however, is the coming together of the industry, academia and governments to accelerate inclusive participation of women at the workplace. Today, we’re seeing women pursue long-term careers in technology, driving innovation for the industry. There is wider recognition of the fact that true gender parity is the key to thriving economies and societies. Technology companies are more aware than ever that a diverse workforce and inclusive culture are not just critical to their evolution but are the driving forces of their growth.
Bindu Surendran, Senior Principal Delivery Management, Sabre GDC, who has been in the industry for nearly three decades says, “It is evident that we have come a long way. Today, we see increased acceptance and awareness about the expertise and experience that women bring to the workplace as well as the maturity needed to be successful in roles that are complex, require critical thinking and problem-solving techniques.”
But challenges exist…
However, Surendran also sees a number of challenges hindering women’s top position in the c-suite, the most important being not having a mentor with a strong engineering, technology and leadership background. “Mentors can play a big role in supporting women at the workplace. At the same time, organizations must offer enough flexibility for women to maintain a work-life balance. It is important to leave work at work when the day is over, unless there is a critical issue which needs attention which would occur occasionally. In any case, women should be assertive,” she says.
Huma Abidi, Senior Director – AI Software Products, Intel Corporation agrees. “When I started in the technology industry over two decades ago, opportunities for women, especially at senior levels within organizations, were very few. While women have come a long way since, substantial gaps remain when it comes to gender parity.”
She highlights the latest report by the World Economic Forum that shows women’s under-representation in emerging technology roles. In cloud computing, just 12% of professionals are women; in engineering and Data and AI, the numbers are 15% and 26% respectively. Unless the sector can balance the ledger by making roles attractive to women, we risk missing out on the full potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the report says.
Sashikala Viswanathan, Director – Corporate Quality at CSS Corp says, “In this growing, diverse ecosystem, the roadblocks that deter women are quite often self-inflicted, rather than being a societal or professional limitation. Being able to strike the right balance between work and home, while taking time for self-care becomes inherently difficult in high tensile environments, which may cause deep-seated problems for women,” she says.
Good news is, while the percentage of women among top technology executives has risen slightly over the past year, broad cultural change is needed to keep the momentum going, according to organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry. About 18% of CIO/CTOs at big U.S. firms are women, according to a Korn Ferry analysis conducted in early 2019 covering the country’s top 1,000 public and private companies by revenue. That’s up from 16% in 2017.
According to Surendran, “When organizations invest in creating more inclusive initiatives, broaden cultural change within and provide facilities that make it simpler and easier for women technologists to flourish, there will be more interest among the community.”
Abidi also believes it is important for women executives to seek out strong mentors, both male and female, who can guide and encourage your growth and remind you of your strengths and aspirations and also nurture relationships, personally and professionally, which will support and grow you through your career journey.
Promoting inclusiveness – Some best practices
In a period of constant flux, organizations that prioritize a diverse and inclusive culture are placed to solve the problems of the future. A research by Deloitte suggests companies with an inclusive culture are six times more likely to be innovative. By staying ahead of changes, they are twice as likely to hit or better financial targets. This includes providing female mentors and role models, demonstrating trust, creating an environment that encourages collaboration, using technology to break barriers and sourcing innovation openly.
“At Intel, I have been fortunate to find great managers and role models, both men and women, who have helped me, move forward throughout my career. Intel’s diversity efforts go beyond hiring and retention. In January last year, Intel achieved gender pay equity across our worldwide workforce. Our Women at Intel Network (WIN) has a clear vision for gender equality and overall skill development of women at various stages of their career through mentorship, technical and leadership development initiatives. These and more initiatives encourage more women and underrepresented minorities to enter and succeed in technology careers,” said Abidi, who is currently mentoring and helping women at work by coaching them and often connecting them to the right people.
Surendran adds, “At Sabre, we believe in mentoring and coaching women to grow in their personal and professional pursuits and have internal initiatives such as Big Pitch (business problem solving) and Blitzcode (production-ready code creation based on real-world issues faced by customers) where we have a healthy diversity mix when teams are formed. That drives a lot more collaboration, learning and development not just for women technologists but all who engage at work.”
“To encourage more women to pursue careers in technology, we have to start by emphasizing a STEM curriculum for girls early on. Women also face professional hurdles during the transition from managing to leading, typically during the promotion to director-level positions. At this stage, the potential for conscious and unconscious bias is high, as the people in decision making roles for leadership promotions tend to be men. Companies can address this by ensuring that interview panels and promotion decision makers include both men and women and that there is a diverse group of candidates being evaluated for each position,” says Leila Pourhashemi, VP – Technology Business Operations, Blackhawk Network.
Empowering women through programs, training sessions and workshops are ideal ways to encourage their participation and give them a platform to express themselves, CCS Corp’s Viswanathan. “We believe that giving women the freedom and space to forge and foster deep interpersonal connections help in developing relationships beyond the workspace. Not only does that create a premise for collaboration, but also creates an environment of support for women at large,” she says.
Gauri Bajaj, Director and APAC Head for Managed Security Services, Tata Communications mentions, “At Tata Communications, diversity and inclusion are integral to the culture of the company and ensuring the progress of women remains a key priority. The company’s programs and policies to nurture an equal opportunities environment through unbiased applicant screening, allowing leaders to follow their natural leadership style, flexibility of work hours and location to maintain balance between personal and professional life – all contribute in creating and sustaining a conducive work environment for employees, both women and men, to advance and thrive in their careers.”
Likewise Lakshmi Mittra, VP – Center of Excellence (CoE) and Clover Academy, Clover Infotech believes that alongside technical skills it is essential to facilitate soft-skills training, team-building workshops, and leadership and mentoring sessions to enable women to take on leadership roles in the near future. “It is important for the IT industry to create more opportunities for women to not only enter the workforce but also lead it. More initiatives and forward-thinking policies need to be introduced for the upskilling and leadership training of women at all levels,” she says.
We must say that it is commendable how women are increasingly entering the world of technology and becoming disruptors in this brave new world. While women in tech sector have come a long way, organizations now need to ensure there are sufficient rungs on the ladder to help women climb into management positions.
CEO and the top management should to be open-minded enough to bring in female leaders from other industries, who don’t have a tech background. They need to work closely with schools and universities to win the argument that tech aren’t just a male career path. Technology has a role to play in promoting diversity in the workplace, given its ability to change the workplace dynamics – encouraging greater transparency and connecting more people around the world.