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Saturday December 7 2019

How to Support More Women Leaders in Tech

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Written by Julia Sinclair-Jones

September 16, 2019

There’s a female drought at the top of the tech world.

A couple of months ago, BuzzFeed News published a piece titled, ‘This Picture Featuring 15 Tech Men And 2 Women Looked Doctored. The Women Were Photoshopped In.The Instagram photo in question?

A gorgeous, cobblestoned courtyard in a tiny town in Italy, where a small smattering of some of the world’s foremost tech leaders smile happily after congregating to chat tech, the future, globalism, and presumably enjoy the Italian vino. The meeting of the minds included a LinkedIn and a DropBox co-founder, an ex- (and a current) Twitter CEO, unicorn venture capitalists and other influential tech figures. In the shot were SunRun CEO, Lynn Jurich, and Peek CEO Ruzwana Bashir.

The issue? These two women, while in attendance at the gathering, weren’t in the original photo at all.

No, the Instagram vs. reality paradigm isn’t only about smoothing skin imperfections and brightening up dull pictures.

Women leaders in tech shouldn’t be a diversity checklist item, nor people to put on a pedestal. They should just be there. Represented the same as men. Respected the same as men. And certainly not photoshopped into pictures to make us feel good.

Why should we care about female leadership?

Just last week, LinkedIn’s Daily Rundown Australia ran with the story, ‘Just 12 female CEOs among Australia’s Top 200 companies, senior jobseekers unfairly overlooked, and more top news.’ That’s top news on the world’s biggest social media network for business.

50% of the population are women (or thereabouts). We’re not living in a society where women are simply expected to be childbearers and homemakers, although it’s a woman’s prerogative to do so if that’s her choice.

If women can do anything that men can in Australia (and many places around the world), then why should it matter whether we have all male leadership? If a male leadership team is electing the best person for a job and it seems to always be a man, then why is this an issue?

Diversity breeds innovation

The reason that cultures, organisations, and societal groups change and evolve is due to new, previously unidentified ideas, influences and experiences. It’s due to personal diversities.

Women have an inherently different experience of the world due to their gender.

Skills learned in child rearing. Choosing the right shoe for which occasion, work or social. Even how to be a successful manager without leadership decisions being termed ‘emotional’. These experiences are all uniquely female, and they all shape her leadership, as every man’s uniquely male experiences shape his leadership.

With nary a woman in leadership, an organisation cannot grow and evolve, regardless of how good the men up top are. More women leading others can give a company a competitive advantage.

And it’s not just common sense telling us this, either.

As far back as 2015, McKinsey was reporting that companies with higher female representation among the board and executive team showed statistically significant financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

Recognising and combatting inequality

McKinsey’s recent research shows that among senior-level women and women in technical roles, around 40% are ‘onlys’ – the only woman in the room at work. Presumably this percentage increases when a woman straddles seniority and technical skill level.

Tackling inequality means challenging stereotypes. Gender stereotypes hold us back from seeing someone else’s true self – and their skills.

Tiffany Ye, Business Analyst at ELMO, shares her first-hand experience with gender stereotyping in the workplace.

“Female members are also often required to work much harder to prove themselves. There’s also an unspoken rule, such as taking on administrative tasks like social events coordination and note-taking, which are generally expected to be taken by the females in the team.”

For Noleesha Hunt, Associate Director, Planning Transformation & Interconnect at Optus, early education is key to combatting gender stereotypes.

“We need to continue to challenge gender stereotypes and this works both ways, not just for women, to create an equal opportunity environment – ‘apprenticeships’ where we target underrepresented populations at school age to influence study choices and career paths.”

Developing the right culture to support female leadership

Women in leadership don’t just need financial resources and free reign to combat inequality. They need real support.

Promoting a culture that supports female leadership begins with the right education early in life and extends to organisational practices.

STEM education

Hunt at Optus believes that early STEM education for girls is one of the keys to driving equality in leadership later in life.

“When you ask a girl in primary school – what do you want to be when you grow up? They will generate their ideas based on what they see role modelled around them,” she says. “As these stereotypes are embedded in the early years, we see a time delayed effect. What we are seeing now in STEM is the result of where society was at 20 years ago. I believe we are on the right path and my hope is that with continued focus in this area, we will see the fruits over the coming decade.”

Supporting working mothers

Ye at ELMO elaborates about how flexible working arrangements enable female employees to better balance their work and personal life:

“Flexible working hours arrangements and maternity leave to help female employees to take care of their families whilst enjoying their time at work. Some companies even go above and beyond to set up childcare facilities or include childcare allowances in their salary packages to attract and retain female talents.”

Mentoring

Christina Larkin, Director at EY, believes mentoring is crucial for supporting female leaders. She suggests finding three mentors who can offer guidance in different ways.

“The first is someone who you interact with every day. The second is a leader in your organisation and the third is someone external to your organisation whose career you aspire to.”

“I attest my growth to the people who have taught me, listened to me, helped me when I’ve needed it and most importantly pushed me. A network of mentors from all areas is essential.”

Knowledge-sharing

For Claudia Schwenk, Digital Lead (Personal Health) at Philips, supporting our peers through knowledge-sharing is critical to fostering a culture that drives female leadership.

“We need to realise that women keeping each other small must be completely eradicated,” she says. “There is nothing more powerful than exchanging experiences and strategies with women in similar fields and discussing advancement, successes and solutions.”

Hunt at Optus agrees.

“I think advocating for the industry and your organisation along with sharing your experiences is something we can all do to make a difference,” she says. “It’s important we are visible to other aspiring and upcoming females.”

Ready to take the next step in your career? 

Explore job opportunities at some of Australia’s top companies:

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Written by Julia Sinclair-Jones

September 16, 2019

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