Last month we celebrated both International Women’s Day and the United States National Women’s Equality month. And, over the last few years, we’ve read hundreds of statistics about the challenges faced by women as they compete with male peers for leadership positions, equal pay, and influence in the boardroom. There is abundant evidence that women perform as well as their male counterparts, and that companies that have more women in their executive ranks actually perform better. Virtually every company we work with has a strategic directive to hire more women in leadership. Yet, research shows that the percentage of women serving in senior leadership roles is still dismally low. In a recent survey of 2300 enterprise organizations, only 18% of senior leadership positions (CXO, vice presidents, directors and senior managers) are held by women1. Women leaders are great for business – so why aren’t more women in leadership positions?
Giving this some serious thought, I’ve got some ideas about the factors that contributed to the dearth of women in tech, and how we might work to prepare more women for leadership in the future.
Unconscious Bias – While there are few organizations that would say that they prefer male leadership, actually doing something about it is far more difficult. Unconscious bias is defined as stereotypes about people that we form outside of our conscious awareness. It automatically happens outside of our control as our brain makes a quick judgment influenced by our own history, according to Valerie Martinelli2. A majority of today’s senior technology leaders’ careers matured during a time when few women participated in technical positions, meaning most of our history is with male technical leaders. As leaders, we can control conscious discrimination, but unconscious bias may creep in when we least expect it. It may be that a woman is less likely to be consulted on a very technical engineering project or asked to lead critical decisions about architecture, product direction or functionality. To fight unconscious bias, leaders must be keenly aware and be active in their decision making. As recruiters, we are chartered to bring forth great candidates who are qualified, regardless of gender. We can then coach hiring managers to look at skill and fit and evaluate women and men fairly when making a hiring decision.
Equal Compensation – Compensation is one of the toughest things to track and equalize. Every person contributes at an individual level and is rewarded during the course of their career for their effort. If a person has lagged behind peers in compensation, yet contributed equally, a job change may be perfect opportunity to level the playing field. When we place a senior leader, we can calculate a proper range of high, median and low compensation and guide the hiring organization accordingly. Ultimately, we are able to place candidates with packages that track to their individual skill set, fit and potential contribution to the company and that are equal to other similar employees. Gender is never considered. Forward-thinking organizations are using these same types of rubrics to develop compensation strategies for their employees and new hires.
Preparing the next generation – One of the harsh realities of gender equality in the workplace has to do with finding enough qualified women who are interested in technical positions. We need a broader community of women with deep technical expertise and business acumen who desire to be tomorrow’s technical leaders. The current tech industry is comprised of only 25% women, and engineering jobs are even worse with only 14% of engineers being women. While improving, the numbers don’t reflect rapid change. In 1990 12% of engineers were women and in 2018 the number reached only 14%. And, the share of women has actually decreased in one of the highest-paying and fastest-growing STEM clusters—general computer occupations. In the past 27 years, the percentage of women working in computer-related occupations has dropped from 32% to 25%, which is disheartening when you consider the rise of the tech industry3. To hire more women in tomorrow’s technology roles, we need to get more women interested in STEM and engineering. We are advocates of engineering programs that encourage female participation through career guidance, focused classwork, extra-curricular clubs, organizations, women’s professional networks and associations. With more highly-skilled female engineers, hiring managers will start to see more women leaders in their ranks.
We are dedicated to being part of the solution at Riviera. Not only do we work with the companies to identify and hire qualified female engineers, we also have the largest community of qualified female technology leaders in our network. We have access to compensation data and are able to guide both companies and candidates when it comes time to extend a fair offer. And, we’re leading the discussion. Today we are delighted to host Beyond Salons in New York. With our partners Google and Athena Alliance, we will host a diverse group of women in a dialogue about career growth for women in technology that includes leadership positions, membership on the board and participation in technology’s vibrant venture market.
We all agree that bringing more women to technology leadership positions is the right thing – for many reasons. Achieving true equality in the tech field is a multi-faceted, complex challenge. Achieving equality will require dedication and creativity from universities, companies, recruiters and the men and women who represent the engineering profession.