Why Tech Needs Women Leaders and How to Get Them

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Mixed leadership teams perform better simply because they can solve problems more quickly and more creatively than less diverse teams.

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment – Women’s Right To Vote. It’s a time to remember Susan B. Anthony’s historic fight for the equal right to vote and the continued struggles for equal political and economic opportunities for women.

Despite national conversations about gender diversity in tech, women are still underrepresented, underpaid and often discriminated against in the tech industry, numbers show. To this day, we still don’t have gender balance in tech. Half of all tech startups do not have any women in their leadership teams, and women in tech hold only 24% of available senior vice president, C-suite, and other senior leadership positions. The situation looks even worse at the highest levels of management; in 2016-17, just 17% of Silicon Valley tech startups had a woman on their founding team.

It’s time for change. Women belong in boardrooms, public office, the tech field and leadership. Is closing the gender gap the right thing to do?

Of course, it’s the ‘right’ thing to do. But there’s another reason to balance the playing field that is business based and vital … it produces better teams, better organizations, and a better bottom line. The reason for this is not just for equality but because having a more diverse workforce leads to thought diversity. And thought diversity opens the door to finding new and creative ways to approach challenges and solve problems.

A recent global survey the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that when companies diversify their leadership teams, they often perform better and see higher profits. And at companies with significant female representation in leadership, employees report higher workplace satisfaction and engagement and often show higher retention rates.

Mixed leadership teams perform better simply because they can solve problems more quickly and more creatively than less diverse teams. That’s because getting more women in tech leadership means incorporating more meaningful viewpoint, talent, skillset and character diversity into the leadership teams that determine the future direction of companies. Everyone benefits when corporate leadership is more diverse because more diversity means a greater pool of talent, experience and intelligence that companies can utilize.

The same lessons apply to the public sector as well. Public sector leadership needs diversity just as much as the private sector does. Without diversity, we’re missing out on the enormous business and service opportunities that come from creating the mixed teams that can reinvent and reinvigorate workplace culture and performance.

So how do we level the playing field?

Promoting diversity begins with equality. But equality doesn’t mean enforced equal representation. Gender diversity isn’t fostered by creating all-women teams or creating positions exclusively open to women. Instead, we need to consider women for advanced opportunities that already exist and create the workplace cultures that support women applying for them.

Equality means refusing to discriminate on the basis of sex.  It means giving someone an opportunity to succeed or fail on their own merits, regardless of their gender, race or orientation. Workplaces should encourage and reward the best and brightest employees.

And with the right support structures, cultural encouragement, and mentorship, we can get them there.

But that’s sometimes easier said than done. There’s a very real confidence gap between men and women. Men tend to overestimate their own talent, while women tend to underestimate theirs. This translates directly into men seeking out, applying for and ultimately getting more leadership positions, based on their ‘potential’, than women. Men, in other words, know how to leverage their potential to take on and learn for new opportunities. Women, by contrast, tend to wait until they’ve already been trained for a new opportunity to take it on—and how do you get that experience if you haven’t done the job yet?

The problem is only compounded at the mentorship level. A recent survey found that only 56% of business professionals have had a mentor. But of that 56%, 82% of the men say they’ve had a male mentor, while just 69% of the women say they’ve had a female mentor. Most likely, this is just another expression of the confidence gap. Many women falsely believe they are underqualified to mentor their more junior co-workers. And with less women in the upper echelons there is by definition a smaller pool of candidates as suitable mentors

To overcome the confidence gap and create more equal workplaces, we need corporate leadership to actively seek out untapped talent in women and encourage them to cultivate it. Most of all, that means women leaders themselves need to realize the importance of mentorship and take risks offering a helping hand to newcomers in their field.

But all the mentorship in the world won’t help if men and women in leadership positions don’t create opportunities for women to advance. We need both men and women executives to throw down a ladder to help women climb to the top. The results will be extraordinary, both for the individuals involved and for organizational performance. 

Gender diversity positively impacts corporate outcomes.

There’s an old African proverb that I’ve used as a mantra throughout my years in business: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment this year, let’s resolve to go further together. Let’s pledge to be more open, honest, direct, encouraging and supportive of each other in order to build more diverse workplaces.

Sharon Matthews is vice chairwoman at Avenu Insights & Analytics