Things Move Too Fast to Overlook Half the Workforce
“Everybody knows women are fragile. I mean, they’re all emotions, no logic, there’s nothing going on upstairs. Every once in a while, they say something that’s a little inconvenient.” – Carol Dexter, “Changeling,” Imagine Entertainment, 2008
If you listen to some guys, you’d swear women shouldn’t touch technology. They don’t realize that if it weren’t for the female contributions, we’d still be using abacas, tin cans and a string and probably pickup sticks. Ada Lovelace wrote the software for Babbage’s machine and today, half of the users of tech products and websites are women.
According to Deloitte, women have been the leading adaptors of:
- Internet usage
- Mobile phone voice usage
- Mobile phone location services
- Text messaging
- Every social network but LinkedIn
- All Internet-enabled devices
- Health-care devices
Deloitte also reported that their choices impact up to 85 percent of the purchasing decisions or about $4.3 trillion of the total U.S. spending. In an industry where eight out of ten new ventures fail, wither or are bought for pennies on the dollar; Intel’s investment group found that women-operated, venture-backed high-tech companies average 12 percent higher annual revenues. They do it with an average of one-third less capital than male counterparts’ startups and are less likely to brag about or flaunt the wad of money they put in the bank. Regardless of race or ethnicity, they are the largest economic force … worldwide. The problem is they aren’t equally represented in most organizations, technical staffs or in leadership positions where they can define the firm’s/industry’s future direction. And while it’s true that just because a woman works in a tech company doesn’t mean she knows how to create products for women or can lead the organization; but the numbers are way out of whack. As Christine Collins responded, “And the horse you rode in on.”
Numbers Dwindle – While the number of women and men starting out in an organization is close to 50/50, the percentages decrease as individuals move up in the organization. Men and women have to be proactive in encouraging women to grow into more responsible positions. The challenge for women is that there are fewer hard skill task paths for them than softer skills. According to a study reported last year by Credit Suisse, women comprised 12.7 percent of global board appointments in 2013 and females in senior management positions were only 12.9 percent. In fact, you can probably only name a few women who are the driving forces in technology ideas, innovation. You know, there’s Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, HP’s Meg Whitman, IBM’s Ginni Rommety and Xerox’s Ursula Burns; but without some serious Googling, that’s about it. Obviously, there are a lot more female managers and engineers who make important contributions every day. Why are the numbers important? According to Parks Associates, diverse teams usually outperform teams composed of the very best individuals. They explained that diversity in perspective and problem-solving approaches trumps individual ability.
Understanding Imbalance – Preconceived ideas of gender roles aren’t the same as women’s actual roles/contributions in the workplace today. It is expected that men promote themselves and speak up, but not women who make it difficult to understand/appreciate their goals, their ambitions. It’s hard to get that information if they aren’t part of the team. As Reshma Saunjani, founder of Girls Who Code, noted, “Women become technologists in spite of all the things we put ahead of them, not because of them.” Managers generally agree that they need to hire and retain the best talent, regardless of gender, race or sexuality. Of course, there’s the inequality of pay issue, which seems to come up more frequently lately. Hired.com found that on average, female applications set a lower minimum salary level than men, indicating that women have to take part of the blame. But S.S. Haan said part of the problem for the woman when she asks for comparable pay, “You snap your fingers and an innocent woman is thrown into the psycho ward.”
Uneven Start – Hired.com found that on average, women ask for a lower salary than men at the outset and as their roles and responsibilities expand, the chasm between the salaries continues to grow larger. Since I doubt if hiring managers ask if they can pay the new hire more than they ask, women receive salary offers about nine percent lower than men with similar education and experience. So they start out behind and the gap widens from there. Managers carry around with them the subconscious impression that women are worth less to the company. When you cost more, you’re obviously worth more, so folks say to them, ‘”Oh, he got more, so he must be worth more.” We all know that isn’t true. Think back on your career or look around your company and you can think of managers/supervisors who weren’t worth the powder to blow them up. So obviously, when MS’s Satya Nadella suggested that women should trust karma to get a proper raise, it went over like a lead balloon. And while outright discriminatory practices have decreased in recent years, we have to understand that in our homogenous offices there is also a certain amount of individual discomfort that team members have overcome. Capt. J.J. Jones was concerned about more outspoken women who assert themselves when he said, “She wouldn’t listen! Because she insisted on being obstinate! Because she tried to take matters into her own hand.” If you’re in the majority, that’s hard to comprehend but it is one of the key factors that cause some of your best people (females) to quit.
Losing the Best – There is no single overriding issue that pushes your best female personnel over the edge. It is a lot of things, including discomfort in their working environments where there was overt or implied discrimination on being the only female (or one of the few) on the team. While women are becoming more educated than men and increasingly achieving higher career levels, their median pay is still stuck 20 percent lower than their male counterparts. Salaries should be comparable for male and female job applicants and career positions, but it is only one of the things that need to be changed to correct the industry imbalance. I’m sure Nadellas’ innocent remark got a lot of females at Microsoft to march in to their boss and ask for a raise. Many of them probably also asked for more challenging opportunities at work. But if you deserve a raise, you shouldn’t have to ask for it. If you are ready for more challenging work, your manager – male or female – should be the one that encourages you to stretch beyond your comfort zone.
It isn’t always about just being a woman. It’s about being valued in their organizations. They don’t want to be treated differently from men, they want to be treated as equals and measured/recognized based on their contributions and achievements … regardless of race, sex, ethnic background, sexual preference or marital/family status. I doubt that computer scientist and rear admiral Grace Hopper felt she was treated differently but her position dictated her salary, not her gender. And even though I never “knew” her, I did respect her approach to the job — “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission.” The new generations of females entering the workforce agree with Christine Collins who said, “I didn’t start this fight … but by God, I’m going to finish it.”