How to Create Gender Diversity

There has been a lot of discussion around the lack of gender diversity in companies, while this is truly an issue across all industries, it is particularly evident in technology and even more so in the management ranks of software firms. Diving into the reasons for this dichotomy, you have to go as far back as elementary school because that is when many young girls opt out of science and math related subjects.  31% of girls in elementary school say they are good at math; but by middle school that number drops to 18%.  Yet, based on  a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released in 2013,  15-year-old girls around the world, outperform boys in science and math. Girls interest lowers in science and math related subjects for multiple reasons: girls learn these subjects differently than boys and classes are taught to the boy’s learning traits; and a larger reason, which appears later in their professional careers as well, is girls may lack the confidence in subjects that  require testing, and dare I say, mistakes as of the learning process. Girls, as a generalization, have a tendency to prefer possessing the right answer each time and may choose not to take on a challenge unless they know they will do it perfectly.Women in S&P 500

The gender diversity takes on another twist when you consider women earn less than men across the board in any industry. In 2013, female full-time workers made only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 22 percent ( Some of this delta can be explained by the larger proportion of males in leadership positions than females when looking at the average salaries across the genders. The decreasing interest rate in the science and math classes during formative school years combined with family and societal demands during childbearing years when women tend to take on less challenging and complex assignments particularly if they require after-hour time commitments or travel in order to focus more time with their families, the rate of women in the management ranks will naturally be lower than the men’s.  This is evident the S&P 500 the labor force which is made up of  45% women at the entry level, while at the mid management it drops to 37% and further drops to 25% at the  senior management level (see 2013 EEO-1 Survey Data as displayed by Catalyst. org ) .

In my career as a female technology company executive,  I have found there are three key ways that women can excel in technology management roles.   By developing these skills, women are able to take on new challenges and rise to higher levels within an organization.

  • Confident: Women have a tendency to not make the ‘ask’ , women assume they will be recognized for their work and opportunities will follow.  A man will straight up ask for the raise, ask for the promotion, ask for the job, ask for the more challenging assignment. This is an area where women need to act more like a man.  Show the confidence in their own skills and be willing to stand up for them.  Women’s desire for perfection also appears here when looking at new assignments or new positions. Internal research at HP showed that women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60 percent of the requirements. Women need to be more willing to take chances and use past experiences to demonstrate their ability to take on new roles. And frankly, there is nothing wrong with a little ‘faking it until you make” when you have the confidence to try until you are successful. (see McKinsey Quarterly “ A Business Case for Women”
  • Capable: Women need to continue to build their skills, learn new technologies and take on challenges and complex assignments that may be outside their comfort zone. Women need to be comfortable with the process of trying and learning.  It is difficult to demonstrate the ability to advance to the next level until they have continuously gone  above what is expected of them in order to establish they have the desire, skills and expertise to take on larger roles.
  • Contribute: Women must be present to be considered. Given the larger demands on time that leadership roles present, as well as the timing in women’s career when she is likely to start a family, women drop out of the workforce or decline to take on larger roles within an organization  in order to create a work/life balance that is appropriate for their families.  Balancing a family and a leadership role is time challenging. You have to want it to make it work. It’s about finding a support system to help you create your own sense of balance and achievement as well as a willingness to make choices on the priorities that are important and a willingness to not feel guilty about the areas you choose not to focus upon.  This is most definitely an evolving art that changes as your family grows up and your work role iterates.