Monday, May 23, 2016

WTC Priority: Women in the C-Suite

The Women Tech Council (WTC) has several wonderful priorities for the year. During their most recent Advisory Board meeting I participated in a roundtable discussion on one of these priorities: “Women in the C-Suite.” 

What is the C-Suite? 

Simply put, it means any executive leadership role or title beginning with “Chief,” like Chief Executive Office (CEO), Chief Operating Officer (COO) or Chief Financial Officer (CFO). There is an ever-increasing array of “Chiefs” (Chief Sustainability Officer, Chief Procurement Officer, Chief Information Security Officer, Chief Administrative Officer, etc.). Getting a woman into one of these roles is probably a good thing, but the strategic import varies from company to company. At the end of the day, we simply want more women in the most senior decision-making roles in a company. A better measure might be the number of women reporting directly to the President or CEO outside of her Administrative Assistant. 

How do we do get more women in executive roles? 

The answer isn’t simple or obvious in most cases. You don’t just ignore all of the male candidates for executive positions, especially when you have qualified internal candidates. That would be gender discrimination. Here are some ideas:
  • Support organizations like WTC. Send your senior women leaders to be involved. Send your CEO, regardless of their gender. 
  • Create employee resource groups specifically focused on women that also include men. As an example, EMC has something called the Women Leadership Forum (WLF).
  • Join other local, national and international women-oriented associations and programs. There are several that are even specific to Information Technology, like Women in Technology International (WITI). 
  • Provide training and support for women that gives them business knowledge, skills and encouragement to take risks and prepare them for more opportunities. This should include projects with opportunities for leadership and visibility up to and including the CEO. 
  • Provide resources, options and services that retain women at all stages of their life, including medical benefits with robust parental leave, flexible work schedules, convenient childcare, etc. 
  • Last, and perhaps most important, hire more women into ALL positions so there’s a better chance your internal candidates for management and senior management roles will be female. 
Doing all of the things above will help you attract more women. And once you have a strong base of women employees, that population is more likely to grow. Women attract women.

Why is it important to have Women in the C-Suite? 

Simply put, because not having them there is a disservice to the employee population of most companies, not to mention their customers and partners. If we left nature alone, chances are that there would be just as many women as men in the world (refer to Fisher's Principle). Not only is having more women in executive roles a natural, equitable thing to do, it is also just plain good for business. In most cases, women provide a different perspective than men. They solve problems just as quickly and efficiently as men, but often times in different ways. And sometimes they solve them even faster and more efficiently than men. There's lots of fascinating research about the very tangible, hard dollar value of women in the workplace, including Catalyst's report "The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards." They state:
Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors attained significantly higher financial performance, on average, than those with the lowest representation of women board directors. 
See also Frans Johansson's work for more on the value of diversity for innovation and success.

Please join me in supporting WTC and in getting more women into executive roles in yours and other’s companies. And let’s not stop there, this push should include governments, schools, non-profits and every type of organization on the planet!

PS – See this post for my perspective on “gender.” 

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