Recently in Barcelona I had the honor of being the keynote speaker for the IoT Conference addressing “Women and Diversity in Technology.”
As I prepared for my presentation to some of the top minds in the tech industry, I was proud to note how many women are dominating the headlines. From the first-ever all-female spacewalk to the record number of women being sworn into Congress and more women than ever before running for president, women are making real strides in politics, business, and in our communities.
In technology, however, it’s a different story. On the plus side, we are seeing a growing number of female heads at top tech corporations, including Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube; Ginni Rommetty, CEO of IBM; Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook; and Angela Ahrendts, Senior VP of Apple. However, these women are the exception, not the norm.
According to the executive database Boardroom Insiders, only 20 percent of Fortune 500 Chief Innovation officers in 2018 were women. There is an absolute lack of gender diversity in STEM fields.
In the technology field specifically, the turnover rate for women is more than twice as high than it is for men – 41 percent versus 17 percent. Moreover, women are choosing to leave their tech jobs at higher rates than their male counterparts, with fifty-six percent of women in tech leaving the field mid-career.
The employment-related search engine Indeed conducted a recent survey to seek out the top reasons for why women were leaving the technology industry. The polling revealed that the primary reason was lack of career growth. The second most common reason for leaving was poor management, followed by slow increases in salary. Other reasons included work-life balance, culture fit, limited mentorship, and inadequate parental leave policies.
Here’s the thing: these are all solvable problems. It’s just that fixing these issues requires a cultural reset.
True growth in gender diversity demands a change in how we view gender roles, and it all goes back to the beginning – our childhood, where much of the foundation is laid for our career paths and future aspirations. That’s why it’s so critical for parents to support their daughters, especially in STEM fields. But it’s also equally important to remind our sons that their female peers are just as smart – and just as equal – as they are.
A report by the National Institute of Health points out that, in addition to parental encouragement, role models are also critical in helping young people see the potential career paths before them. You can’t be what you don’t see, as the saying goes. So much of what we are taught at an early age shapes our beliefs and values – so it’s up to us, the adults in the room, to inspire the young people in our lives.
Reassessing our own views on gender and power is vital in order to increase women’s advancement and career growth in the technology sector. As a society, we have preconceived notions about how women are supposed to act and traits they are expected to exhibit – and we must break free from them. Let’s not call little girls “bossy;” they’re “leadership material.” Smart girls aren’t “know-it-alls;” they’re “kid prodigies.” We see examples in the workplace time and again where female leaders are labeled as annoying or abrasive. Have you ever been on the receiving end of that kind of negative perception? Chances are, you have. And now is the time to put an end to it.
We can do it together.
One way is through mentoring programs, including ones that prepare women for board service and C-suite positions where they can bring about positive change and create a path for the women behind them.
And technology companies must do their part by electing women of all colors and backgrounds onto their executive boards. This diversity at the highest levels of America’s tech companies and corporations will allow women to have true representation at the top – and a true seat of power.
Sheila Ronning, founder and CEO of Women In The Boardroom – an organization founded with the goal of bridging the gender gap in the boardroom – is a recognized expert on boardroom diversity and leadership. Follow her on Twitter (Twitter @RonningSheila).
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