Where Have All the Women Gone?
The lack of women in leadership roles in tech has become a pervasive problem around the globe. A growing number of enterprises and organizations have been establishing mandates to address the problem. Some are further along that path than others, particularly in North America, Europe and Asia.
Even the most conservative corporations are taking a long, hard, and serious look at gender equality as they face skilled labour shortages and demographic shifts in the workplace. According to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, the organization ranks Japan 110th in the world, with women holding only one in 10 leadership positions, making it the worst performer among the G7 industrialized nations.
But while the spirit is willing, execution can be weak. So, what is the problem?
While there is much that can be discussed in terms of the various levels of legislation and corporate mandates, none of those numbers will change significantly if workplaces and practices fail to recruit and retain women talent.
This is an especially challenging dilemma for the tech sector, where gender inequality at senior levels is even more pronounced than markets such as financial services. According to a 2017 report by the Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, women filled 47 per cent of all jobs in 2015 but held only 24 per cent of STEM jobs. Obviously, this shrinks the available talent pool for senior roles considerably.
A 2017 Canadian survey of more than 900 tech companies found that women account for just five per cent of CEO roles and 13 per cent of executive team positions. More than half of companies have no women executives, only eight per cent of director roles are filled by women, and 73 per cent of firms have no women on their boards at all.
These numbers are not for lack of trying. Industries and associations are desperately seeking approaches to achieving their diversity at the top initiatives.
Intent By Design
The answer to this dilemma goes beyond simply hiring more women or announcing gender balance policies. Organizations must design gender equality into the fabric of the business. Only through this “intentional design” approach can you create the kind of organization that women will want to join and where they will want to remain because they know it will afford them the opportunity to grow and contribute and eventually lead and govern.
But herein lies the problem. There are many blind spots that happen every day that unwittingly reinforce the gender gap within organizations. It could be related to simple things, like wording in job descriptions, or representation at industry events.
It can also be complicated. When AI-enabled technologies are developed by a single gender or other specific group, outcomes can be inherently biased. Google’s infamous “three black teenagers” search is a case in point. Many recruitment tools are also known to eliminate women candidates early in the process because of how the algorithms were developed. Simply put, when you don’t design technologies for a diverse audience, you automatically have bias.
There are many complexities that go with an intentional design approach. But there are some basics that can help organizations – and women leaders – get a clearer picture of where to start, such as:
- Host or participate in events that allow women to share and empower others. The power of having women role models is undeniable.
- If you want to champion other women, put your name forward as a mentor. Beyond networking events, there are tools available that enable mentors to be matched with appropriate people.
- Tap into talent marketplace services where business leaders can recommend, discover, and connect with highly qualified women.
- Demand gender balance on speaking panels and conference services.
- Ensure your recruiting tools don’t have an inherent bias. In 2018, news got out that Amazon had to scrap the recruiting tool they had been building since 2014 because it was built by men and based on predominantly male resume data over a 10-year period.
- Look to the future. Organizations are now seeing the value of tapping into the next generation of women candidates, sponsoring tech competitions and partnering with educational institutions to help build a larger, more diverse talent pool.
Of course, there is much more to this picture than some simple guidelines. Committing to intentional design requires an honest review of the privileges that are often harboured in processes. It also means understanding the intersectionality of women and creating workplaces that value all aspects of their identity. If you truly want to address the gender gap in senior management, be intentional in everything you do, but more importantly, be bold in your intention to create balanced workplaces.