Better team dynamics. Increased innovation. Enhanced
performance. While many organizations understand the
myriad benefits of having women in leadership, women
remain significantly underrepresented at senior levels
across industries. Nowhere is this shortage more apparent
than technology. The percentage of women in chief
information officer roles at Fortune 500 companies has
hovered at less than 20% for more than a decade: In 2015,
17% of CIOs were women versus 14% in 2000. Only one-quarter
of the computing workforce were women in 2015.
As Berkshire Hathaway CEO and Chairman Warren Buffett
aptly observed in his 2013 Fortune essay about women in
the workforce, “We’ve seen what we’ve accomplished when
we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what
100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about
America’s future.” With 1.1 million computing-related
job openings expected in the U.S. by 2024, organizations
could face a significant talent shortage — and missed
opportunity — if they do not close the gender gap.
Where are the women?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make up 57% of the U.S. labor
force and 51% of the U.S. population. While women and men are equally
represented in the role of chief human resources officer, there is a dearth of
women in all other C-level positions. Women hold just 24% of Fortune 500
board seats, and only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female.
* Source: BoardEx; Spencer Stuart research based on the analysis of the 2015 Fortune 500
Why are women not advancing to leadership roles?
A McKinsey & Company report suggests that absence of role models, lack
of sponsors in senior management and exclusion from informal networks
are barriers to career growth for women. In technology, the drop-off is
pronounced: 56% of women leave their technology careers at the mid-level
stage, which is often a critical inflection point in one’s career; this is more
than twice the quit rate for men. More than half (51%) who leave their
current roles abandon their technical training.1
This gap between the genders begins well before women enter the
workforce. According to the National Center for Women & Information
Technology (NCWIT), while 57% of bachelor’s degree recipients were
women in 2014, they represent only 15% of computer science bachelor’s
degree recipients at major research universities. Interest in majoring in
computer science among first-year undergraduate women grew by 21%
between 2000 and 2015, but longer-term trends show the percentage of
women receiving bachelor’s degrees in computer science declined from
37% in 1985 to 17% in 2014. Providing viable career paths will be key in
converting this rising interest into more female computer science
graduates — and ultimately, more technology leaders.
Why does it matter?
Put simply, companies with diverse leadership are more successful. Gender diversity has
been proven to have a tangible impact on numerous elements of company performance.
Working with and investing in women is one of the most powerful ways to spur sustainable economic growth and development.
CEO of The Coca-Cola Company
Improved business results
According to McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity
are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective
national industry medians. In an analysis of 500 U.S. companies,
NCWIT found that organizations with more diverse teams in terms of
race and gender had higher sales revenue, more customers, greater
market share and greater profits than their less diverse counterparts.
Better team dynamics The presence of women can lead to increased
confidence among team members and
improved collaboration and cohesion. Women can raise the collective intelligence of
a group, according to research by professors Anita Woolley and Thomas Malone. They
found the boost is not the result of high individual brainpower within the group, but the
quality of the team dynamic. Women consistently score higher than men in emotional
intelligence and social sensitivity, which enable them to foster the behaviors and attributes
— listening, constructive criticism and open-mindedness — that create healthy
Increased innovation Women also bring unique experiences and perspectives that can yield better product
outcomes and spur innovation. As leading tech adopters in internet usage, social media
and healthcare devices — with a projected buying power of $48 trillion by 20182
women have become a demographic that technology companies cannot afford to ignore.
Bringing more women into research, design and development can lead to products and
user experiences tailored for the people who are actually going to buy and use them.
Greater productivity Women not only excel in “softer” areas such as interpersonal interactions, they drive
hard numbers. A study of 272 projects at four companies found that gender diversity on
technical work teams was associated with superior adherence to project schedules, lower
project costs, higher employee performance ratings and higher employee pay bonuses.3
Gender-balanced teams are the most likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge
and fulfill tasks.4
What can organizations do?
While more progress needs to be made, some organizations
have already taken measures to improve gender diversity in
technology and leadership.
- Cisco Systems launched the Executive Talent Insertion
Program for lateral recruiting of senior women and
multicultural talent in order to attract a wide slate of
experienced candidates to top jobs in engineering,
finance, sales and operations.
- At Google, Women in Engineering and Women@Google
are two of the company’s most active employee groups.
They host summits, offer courses and provide mentorship,
creating opportunities for women to connect with one another
to support career growth.
- Intel is collaborating with global and local partners through
the She Will Connect program, which aims to close the
internet gender gap and connect millions of women to
opportunity through technology. Girl Rising Intel, a global
social action campaign, is mobilizing investment and
action to expand education access for girls.
- The Coca-Cola Company launched its Global Women’s
Initiative to accelerate the development of female talent.
The program’s cornerstone, the Women’s Leadership
Council, develops strategy, initiatives and metrics around
increasing women in leadership roles at Coke.
Beyond strategic initiatives, organizations can take steps to
ensure women are interviewed for each technology role opening,
establish a blind resume screening process to reduce the
potential for unconscious bias, and measure and evaluate
female recruitment efforts. In addition, some tech leaders
including Etsy, Google and Facebook have begun offering
generous paid parental leave, which can be an extremely
valuable talent attraction and retention tool.
What can women do?
There are a number of steps that women can take to position themselves for technology
leadership roles and long-term careers in the industry:
- Expand your network. Participate in formal programs and organizations aimed at
improving gender diversity, including Women Who Code, Anita Borg Institute
and National Center for Women & Information Technology. Joining a nonprofit
board can also widen your circle of contacts.
- Don’t overlook informal support mechanisms. Building a personal cabinet of
advisers can be critical in helping you navigate your career or reengage after an
absence from the industry.
- Stay aware and open to growth opportunities. Embrace new opportunities as
they arise and be confident in your ability to succeed. Cultivate relationships with
recruiters who can present you with new avenues of advancement that may not
be on your radar.
- Don’t be an island. Women can tend to avoid depending on others. Don’t be
afraid to ask for help, additional resources or advice. Conversely, look for opportunities
to develop and mentor up-and-coming women. Be willing to suggest
qualified women you know for leadership roles.
- Don’t wait until you’re ready. It is an often-quoted statistic: Men apply for a job
when they meet 60% of the criteria; women only apply if they meet 100% of
them. Pursue roles even if you only feel you only have 70% of the capabilities.
In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.
COO of Facebook
What is Spencer Stuart doing?
Spencer Stuart recognizes how diversity of perspectives leads to better decision-
making and better business performance. As a firm, we have placed more than
1,600 women on corporate boards around the world. More than 30 percent of our
director placements in the U.S. last year were women. We have placed more than
550 diversity candidates on boards around the world
and each year, we place more than 700 diversity
candidates in senior executive positions. One-third
of our placements in the technology, media and telecommunications
industry over the last five years
have been diverse. In 2015, women represented 21%
of our placements in the technology, media and telecommunications
industry globally and 16% of our
U.S. information officer placements. We are passionate
about this issue and dedicated to advancing the conversation about how to best
cultivate and attract diverse technology leaders. We welcome your feedback and look
forward to partnering with our clients and candidates on continuing to change the
face of tech talent.
Catherine Ashcraft, Ph.D. and Sarah Blithe. “Women in IT: The Facts,” National Center for Women & Information Technology (updated April 2010). http://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/legacy/pdf/NCWIT_TheFacts_rev2010.pdf
Catalyst. “Buying Power: Global Women.” New York: Catalyst, May 20, 2015.
Turner, L. (2009) “Gender diversity and innovative performance,” Int. J. Innovation and Sustainable Development, Vol. 4, Nos. 2/3, pp.123–134.
Lehman Brothers Center for Women in Business. (2008). “Innovative potential: Men and women in teams,” 6.