“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” Margaret Thatcher, first woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Years ago, I spoke before a couple thousand people on the need for women in leadership. It was the most criticized speech I have ever given. I didn’t mind.
A few years after that, I received a letter from a woman who was in attendance. She explained that the speech was timely, that it brought her out of a depression and that it saved her marriage. I will take all the heat I took and more for a result like that.
About fourteen years later, word leaked that I was going to speak to an assembly of women leaders and, if I may use a really good but out of use word, repent on behalf of men for how these women had been treated over the years by the system.
The event sponsor received calls from several male leaders complaining and I was told to stand down. I refused.
The guest speaker for the event, a woman of respect and renown, told me after that she had never experienced a moment as meaningful as that.
I advocate for women in leadership, and I specifically advocate for women in technology leadership. It’s a battle I have had to fight more than once, and it’s a battle I will fight until battle itself has left me.
I’m not looking for applause here (well, actually, I like applause, but there is more to my motivation right now). I am looking to fuel better thinking and greater action.
I was meeting with one of our CIO Mastermind groups recently, and a prominent CIO, a woman, asked if we could discuss how to involve more women in technology. The discussion was hearty, and some of it is reflected in the rest of this article.
The need is real:
- Though roughly half the workforce in general is composed of women, only a little more than a quarter of technology workers are women.
- Women working in technology has decreased post-pandemic.
- Women studying in STEM has also been on decline, and the drop-out rate is far more significant among women than men, particularly transitioning to University studies.
How Do We Mobilize More Women In Technology Even If The Tide Is Against Us
First, we have to name the enemy.
Women have three forces working against them:
External: These are circumstances that are beyond any one person’s control. For example, the current child care crisis, including its affordability and access, is a major force for women to contend with.
Dysfunctional: We continue to battle against ideas and ways of doing things that work against women in technology. Girls withdraw two times as much as boys in the STEM pipeline, much of it due to lack of support and encouragement in the transition to post high school pursuits.
Add that 50% of women in technology name inequality, discrimination and sexual harassment as realities in their work, that two-thirds of women see no path forward for improvement or promotion in technology leadership, and that only 10% of C-suite executives are women, and we still have a long way to go in changing mindsets and ways.
Internal: By their own admission, women need to revisit their own ideas and ways of doing things. One of our CIOs said in the meeting, “If we women see 10 qualifications listed for a job, we think we need to have all 10 down. Men don’t think that way.”
Women in technology that I speak with are more likely to confess to imposter syndrome. It holds statistically; it’s 22% more likely for a woman to admit to it than a man.
According to the women in our CIO Mastermind groups, women are also most likely to conclude that pursuing technology is not the right time due to focus on their family.
In your company, what are the external factors limiting mobilizing more women?
What are the dysfunctional issues still alive in your company; ideas that need challenging, ways of doing things that need changing?
How do you and your company help women to process their internal considerations for working or not with you, and what is the support system in place as they continue to encounter challenges that are unique to them as women in your workplace?
After naming the enemy, we need to strengthen the ability of women for entry into the field.
Four Answers To Greater Mobilization Of Women In Technology
We must recruit for the right reasons.
To quote from an article I read and vehemently disagree with, “It’s time all companies recognize the bottom line benefits that prioritizing the hiring of qualified women in Tech provides.”
So, you want to hire more women because you will make more money. Please.
I feel the same way when I read articles that encourage hiring more women because “they are better at…” Really? Are we going there?
I don’t want to see more women in technology for any other reason than one: Every woman brings an experience and expertise within herself that for the dignity of simply being herself merits belonging and contribution.
Are there other valid reasons? Yes, absolutely. Dramatic change requires tidal waves and tipping points and we need to overwhelm the status quo. But please don’t talk to me about bottom lines and better performances without addressing the very human component of a woman’s actual worth and qualification. Let that be a great reason enough.
We must recruit to the right environment.
Healthy environments sustain life. There is no innovation or transformation without support in place.
Women in technology must be recruited to an environment of development, ideally being provided with a champion and coach who help them to discern and respond to the challenges they face.
I argue for this regardless of gender category.
No one, let alone 66% of women in technology, should say that there is not a clear path forward for their improvement and promotion.
Lack of development, and its partner in crime, formulaic development, is the new pandemic.
Who is alongside the women you hire to equip them to be better professionals, better leaders, better executives and better experts?
We must recruit early.
I have been speaking lately about leadership farm systems. Primarily, I have addressed it in the context of companies for whom lack of intentional development is tepid at best.
However, though there are organizations out there that give girls early experiences in technology, and they merit our support, we need to figure out how to be catalytic in our local regions.
How can your technology company be present in the schools and organizations within a short distance of you? What sponsorships or internships do you make available? What work-experience do you offer for grade-school and teenagers? What camps can you send sponsors too?
We must recruit broadly.
One of the members in our CIO Mastermind group was educated in a business discipline. When she made the cross-over into tech, her business skills were invaluable while she brought up her technology skills.
She pointed out that working with women in other disciplines and encouraging their “transfer” into technology is an overlooked source of talent. And she’s right.
Given the need for technology to think business and for business to think technology, a transfer mentality is a brilliant mindset.
Who is in a business pipeline that can be mobilized for technology leadership?
Fortunately, less traditional roads into technology, such as bootcamps and specialized certifications, are allowing more women entry into our field as well.
It’s been awhile since I’ve taken a hit for my advocacy for women in leadership. More have joined the fight. Voices are louder and clearer.
But Margaret Thatcher also said, “Nothing is more obstinate than a fashionable consensus.”
It’s not enough to give assent; we have to be intentional and integrous in change. It is time to do, and doing begins with getting our reasons right, our environment right and making our efforts early and broadly.