I’ve been blessed to have worked with many outstanding female IT professionals in my life. In fact, my first “IT” boss was a great woman leader -- Bobbi Mooney, who led the mechanical engineering computer lab at Purdue University, where I consulted during my undergraduate studies. Bobbi went on to have a great career in IT at Shell Oil. Early in my career at GE Lighting, I met another great female IT leader named Karen Zielke. We are now married, and she continues to help me grow each and every day.
I’ve worked directly for one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, Charlene Begley, and one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology, Jamie Miller. My current CEO, Margaret Keane, was named to Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list in 2015 and has been recognized as one of the Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Finance for nine years in a row. And my current boss, Carol Juel, was named one of the Most Influential Women in Payments for 2016.
Unfortunately, I am not the norm. You would think, based on my experience, that there are lots of women in technology and in leadership. The statistics, unfortunately, tell a different story. According to a report by executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, only 11% of tech sector CIOs are women. Overall, 19% of the CIOs at the top 1,000 companies by revenue are women. In total, although women make up about 50% of the workforce, they are only 24% of the entire C-suite.
A McKinsey & Co. study of diversity’s dividends showed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile for diversity. But don’t stop there, it gets better. Boston-based Quantopian looked at the performance of Fortune 1000 companies with women at the helm and found that they produced equity returns 226% better than the S&P 500.
Given the ever-increasing importance of technology in today’s digital marketplace, it's even more crucial that we champion gender diversity in technology. Given that gender diversity is a good thing, and that women in leadership tend to produce better returns, what can you do to foster gender diversity in your company?
- Recognize your hidden biases. One of the toughest things about overcoming diversity issues is recognizing our own internal biases. I often say that managers hire in their own image; but this is a problem, given that studies show that diverse teams perform better. Are you looking to hire another person “like you,” or are you looking to fill in the talent gaps in your leadership team by considering your own weaknesses and the weaknesses of your staff? Do you have unperceived biases? Can you work to identify them and work to ensure they don’t negatively influence your decisions?
- Be willing to change your mind and approach. I still remember how shocked (and happy) a female co-worker was when she came to me with an alternative idea to something I was championing and, after she carefully laid out her case, I agreed and changed course. Often we get invested in one way of doing something. This can result in more people “doing it like you.” Make sure your team recognizes the value of different styles and approaches. Diverse teams don’t all work the same way. In 1984, women represented 37% of all computer science graduates. Now it is 18%. Faced with those numbers, we have to ask ourselves this question: Are we championing a culture in technology that makes women want to be involved in technology?
- Hire more women. There are many great women leaders in the workforce. Seek them out. Listen to them. Promote them. We are tilted too much to one side today; right the ship. Other women will be inspired by their success. What is the gender diversity of your intern pool? Your new-hire pool of recent college graduates? And don’t just focus on gender diversity. Make sure all genders, races and backgrounds are represented and respected.
My experience with women leaders over the past 30 years has been exemplary. The fact that I have a very capable daughter who just graduated from college makes me even more attuned to the importance of gender parity in the working world.
Our world is influenced by technology more every day. What we need is for the world to be influenced by women more every day.
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