Steps Tech Companies Can Take to Increase Gender Diversity

By Ann Lehman, JD 

Suddenly, we're talking about diversity in the tech industry. Google released its diversity data recently, as did Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn. So have more established companies such as Intel, Microsoft, and Cisco.  No big surprise to anyone familiar with the field that women were underrepresented, especially in technology positions.

The business case for gender diversity has been well established by McKinsey, Catalyst and Credit Suisse.

Now the question is how do we create gender equality in the 21st Century?

Transparency is a critical first step. Model policies DO exist, [see the San Francisco’s Gender Equality Principles Initiatives Ten Model Policies, Anita Borg, Center for Talent Innovation, and internationally World Economic Forum, and the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles] but without the will or motivation to do so, policies are left simply as words without actions. If technology companies are serious about valuing gender diversity they should consider the follow steps.

1)    Make it a Top Priority

Research shows companies serious about gender equity make it a company priority with the message coming from the CEO.  A recent example involves Symantec’s decision to set a 30 percent goal for the number of women on their board of directors, acknowledging that a diverse workforce is essential to exceptional products and performance.

Cecily Joseph, VP of Corporate Responsibility stated, “[Symantec's Board of Directors] directed a search firm to include women candidates and expanded criteria beyond CEO, Board experience and our networks to focus on candidates with international, governmental and financial expertise and who could bring both age and cultural diversity to the team.” In a relatively short time two candidates were identified and Symantec met its goal. 

2)   Hold Management Accountable

The adage “what gets measure gets done” holds true here.  The quickest way to achieve gender equality is to include it in the performance appraisal for managers. For instance, supervisors who help their women employees engage in professional development can be acknowledged and rewarded.

CEO John Donahoe of eBay, Inc and Sr. VP for Global Human Resources Beth Axelrod made gender diversity a priority in 2011. To measure progress, eBay looks at current and historical representation of women at all levels across the company and by business, function and region.  In addition, eBay reviews hiring, promotion, and attrition data for its women leader population and conducts an annual employee engagement survey, analyzing responses by gender. The number and proportion of women leaders has increased and recently eBay promised to become more transparent by revealing its workforce data to the public.

3)   Create Flexible Work Environments

Despite Yahoo’s CEO, Marrisa Mayer’s decision to end remote work, most technology companies embrace it. Cisco started a telecommuting program in 1993 and measured savings of $195 million in 2003 because work productivity increased. Regardless of where the employee works, the bigger challenge is how many hours an employee is working, most clock way over a 40-plus hour workweek. For women, asking to work part-time can be the kiss of death in advancing your career.

The business case strongly supports flexible work environments, the Urban Institute reporting they lead to increased innovation, quality, productivity, market share and lower turnover. Deloitte wrote the book Mass Career Customization in 2007, that enables a more adaptive, corporate ladder model.  Stanford’s Clayman Institute is redesigning work.  Part-time, flextime, job sharing, compressed weeks, shift predictability, results-only work environment (ROWE), and on and off ramping to name a few are all options and leaders must find the best fit for their company, then model them (by publically acknowledging/highlighting the contributions of users) to adapt to the realities of working families today.

4)   Create an Inclusive Environment

We know technology firms are male-dominated and that women leave tech jobs at twice the rate of men. To adapt the geek stereotype workforce starts with recruitment, including having a diverse pool of both candidates and interviewers for each opening, customizing professional plans for each employee with a focus on women’s career paths, mentorship programs and policies focusing on building the pipeline of women’s technology skills.

The recent buzz is that sponsorships (leaders promoting individuals by giving shine-worthy opportunities) will diversify leadership. Bias exists, stereotypes are ripe but there are new methods for combating them, such as Inclusion Nudges that ‘push’ the unconscious mind to help the brain make better decisions and promote more inclusive behavior.

The Center for Talent Innovation’s research demonstrates that inclusive behaviors are highly correlated with a ‘speak-up,’ innovative culture.  Catalyst’s work on involving men and its study of Rockwell Automation’s journey focuses on having honest conversation about gender differences, which changed mindsets and behavior in just four months.  

The policy research demonstrates quite convincingly that diversity of thought, people, gender and cultures really does make a better team, product and service. It would be foolish not to take advantage of this. The technology world needs to catch up to the new paradigm of women and men working together to create an equitable 21st Century workforce. Gender diversity gives companies a competitive edge that leads to an increase in financial performance, boosts reputations and ability to attract talent, and improves position in the marketplace.

 

Ann Lehman, JD, Gender Consultant and Principal at Zimmerman Lehman, is a policy advocate for women and girls. She has worked in the public interest arena as a lawyer, executive director and consultant to nonprofits. In March 2014, Mayor Ed Lee honored her for 20 years of advocating for woman and girls as the Gender Advisor for the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women. There she spearheaded a private/public collaboration, the Gender Equality Principles Initiative (GEP), highlighting 21st Century model workplace practices, developed with help from corporate and nonprofit partners such as Google, Levi Strauss & Co., Gap, Deloitte, Symantec, Catalyst and the Center for Talent Leadership.

Ms. Lehman is the editor of ZimNotes, a free nonprofit e-newsletter now in its 17th year of publication. She teaches workshops in such areas as bias, gender analysis and gender budgeting, leadership, human rights, board members' roles and responsibilities, board and staff relations, strategic recruitment and planning, advocacy, and major donor fundraising. To complement her nonprofit consulting work, Ms. Lehman has authored Boards That Love Fundraising and Board Members Rule.