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Women in Technology: Accelerating Leadership Development

Women in Technology: Accelerating Leadership Development

Although women account for more than 50% of the global workforce, less than 25% hold senior leadership positions. There are many reasons for this, of course. According to a global LinkedIn study, more than half of women say they have no clear career path at work and many see their advancement hindered by a lack of professional development opportunities. This finding was echoed in new ManpowerGroup research, in which one-third of Millennial females (34 years old and younger) say that no one in their organization is supporting women in leadership
 
What can we do to heighten the awareness that having women leaders is actually good for organizations? It’s not just about programs – it’s about shifting the culture and taking practical actions that will increase the number of women in leadership.
 
Technology is one industry where we see a lot of these challenges.  Many jobs are geared towards traditional educational interests of males, such as engineering, mathematics, and programming. Some analysts believe that the educational choices women make are one factor in the low number of executive and managerial women in tactical, science and engineering fields.  According to 2007 research, women in the US comprised only 25% of the doctorates in the math and science fields and less than 17% in engineering and computer and information sciences.
 
Many of our clients in technology have started thinking about this and are trying to figure out how to tackle the problem. Women in technology represent 30% of the entire workforce and only 15% of software engineers according to recent LinkedIn data.  It’s not just a problem in technology – women have trouble achieving leadership positions in all businesses infused by technology and are most likely looking to Silicon Valley for some inspiration.
 
While it may just be a start, here are some things organizations can do:
 
Examine the data. Investigate whether your current HR practices around recruitment, retention and advancement of women into leadership roles are actually working.  Look for data to help you answer key questions, such as:  How many women are in leadership roles? Do your people practices enable fair and equitable treatment?  What are the perceptions within the organization regarding advancement of women? Do policies and practices communicate a mismatch between how women are viewed in the organization and the qualities and experiences people tend to associate with leaders?
 
Conduct a culture audit. Does the company culture support and reward women? Do the CEO and senior leadership team stand behind gender diversity as a key priority?
 
Get women in on the ground floor. In succession planning efforts, focus on diversity and getting more women into the pipeline – women with the skills and knowledge to be there. Focus on your middle management levels to increase the number of women in leadership.
 
Insist on clarity. Provide clear criteria for developmental assignments and be transparent around how high potential is evaluated. Guide women to experiences that are more likely to increase their leadership skills. 
 
Remove institutional bias. Make sure your job criteria for leadership roles reflect the actual capabilities needed in those positions and are not based on a traditional “ideal” (often typically exemplified by white males). 
 
Open doors. In creating leadership development programs, insist that executive sponsors publicly support the emerging female leaders in the program and take action to open more doors for them.  Sponsors should be proactive in increasing opportunities for women.
 
Examine work/life practices. In the ManpowerGroup global research, 42% of leaders said that flexible work options are critical to getting more women into leadership. Does your company allow virtual work? What support services are available to women – onsite childcare, women’s networking groups, mentoring? Do women have the flexibility to switch career gears at different stages in their lives?
 
And, most importantly of all -- 
 
Start somewhere. Start now. Many of our clients in the technology space are not only grappling with these questions, they are taking action to support women in rising to leadership levels.  Many are implementing leadership development programs designed specifically for women. These programs identify barriers and obstacles and then suggest strategies to help women circumvent them. Other initiatives are designed to show women how to build stronger networks, navigate organizational politics, integrate leadership into their core identity, and establish credibility as leaders.
 
Results indicate that these steps will be worth the effort. Companies with more women in leadership have been shown to outperform their competition by more than a third. A strong representation of women leads to improved organizational health, global competitive advantage, responsiveness to stakeholders, and a better public image. 
 
Lizzette Lima, Ph.D.
Managing Consultant, Talent Management
Right Management
 
 

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