Despite years of efforts in the technology industry, we have failed to move the needle on reaching gender diversity goals. In this article, I discuss what we can do to improve these dismal diversity stats.
The latest research is compelling -- Companies with strong, well-blended teams (gender-race-culture) have a competitive advantage: They are 45% more likely to grow market share and 70% more likely to capture new markets. According to a study by McKinsey in 2015, gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to earn above-average revenue.
The technology industry has done so much over the past decade to integrate a vastly white, male-dominated arena, launching all sorts of diversity and inclusion initiatives and hoping to draw in more women and people of all experiences and backgrounds. With regard to women, the latest data confirms that we are barely moving the needle. Today, according to a compilation of data, only a quarter of all technology related jobs are held by women.
So why aren’t technology companies succeeding in their diversity goals?
First, we need to start younger, and we need to leverage men. A key component to adding future techies to our workforce includes fathers, particularly fathers of girls, says IBM exec Sandy Carter, voted one of Forbes 2016 Digital Influencers.
Of course! The most successful women techies that I know had techie fathers, like my friend Laura Miller, Global CIO of International Hotel Group and 2015 Georgia Women in Technology Woman of the Year. Laura’s father was an engineer/CIO, and she achieved her goal of following in his footsteps.
Even if they aren’t in the technology industry, fathers can have a huge impact by inspiring and guiding their daughters' development of their interest in science and technology—by volunteering to coach girls at robotics competitions or by encouraging daughters to attend coding camps. Even at early ages, they can get on the floor with their girls and play with new engineering toys like GoldiBlox-- that are geared towards girls. GoldiBlox was founded by a woman engineer named Debbie Sterling who asks, “Who says princesses can’t build their own castles?”
Second, a plea to my male friends working in all areas of technology: If you don’t have a daughter, “adopt” one at work! According to a 2011 Harvard Business Review (HBR) Special Report, male sponsors are needed to promote, protect, prepare and push women, especially in male-dominated industries where women are 54% less likely to have a sponsor than male employees. The trick is to have multiple sponsors at every step in your career: Would Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, have gotten so far without key male sponsors? Ms. Sandberg had A-list male sponsors, including Larry Summers, who brought her from Harvard to the World Bank and then to the US Treasury. Another sponsor, Eric Schmidt, who recruited her and gave her key career building assignments at Google.
Finally, technology companies could do a better job at creating a culture of belonging for underrepresented groups of employees, according to an HBR article by Pat Wadors, SVP Global Diversity at Linked-In. Recent research in neuroscience has indicated that the creation of a strong sense of belonging and attachment to a group of coworkers can be a better motivator (for some) than money!
A Stanford study quoted in the Wadors article found that that if managers can mitigate “any threats to a sense of belonging” it can significantly reduce stress levels and improve physical health, emotional well-being, and performance. Therefore, creating a wide sense of belonging, especially within those diverse groups that bring different ideas to the team, can become a huge competitive advantage for any company. Some tips for creating the powerful feeling of inclusion can be as easy as always introducing the person as “an important part of my team,” soliciting their input at meetings, delegating important tasks, and being fully present and paying attention to that person.
IBM executive Sandy Carter also thinks that tech companies should be trying to recruit the millions of tech savvy women who are reentering the workforce after they take time off their careers to start a family.
My two cents? It sure would help their efforts if some of the larger technology companies could relax their buttoned-up, 7 to 7 corporate culture.
At Edge Solutions, we believe that our success in creating successful diverse teams is largely due to our supportive and flexible work environments for all our employees. As a certified majority women-owned company, we have always believed it important to “walk the walk.” So throughout our history, we have consciously hired so that our company is as close to half women and minorities as possible.
And let’s get real: women are still the majority of caretakers in our society, whether it be children or aging parents. Our hours are flexible because we trust our team to get their jobs done right whenever and however they work best. No research needed for that. Just common sense, trust, and the power of belonging.