A large number of intrepid women navigated their way to the outer reaches of the Palais de Congrès at the HR Tech World Conference in Paris this week. I did ask for directions. Crammed into Room 201 they listened to a panel of senior women in the tech sector share their stories of being a woman in tech and their vision for the future.
Facilitated by Kim Wylie of Google, the panel included tech veteran Naomi Bloom celebrating her 50th year in the industry, Leighanne Levensaler, SVP Products, Workday and Pascale Van Damme, MD Benelux, Dell Each woman brought unique experiences and valuable viewpoints to the session.
Kim kicked off with some depressing stats to refresh our memories. With the focus of HR on Big Data (and this is an HR Tech conference after all) Kim reminded us how research points incontrovertibly to the fact that gender-balanced and diverse boards and teams lead to greater profitability and higher return on shareholder investment. Yet the numbers of women in the tech industry remain resolutely low and slow to change.
Naomi cheered us up a little by recounting how 5 years into her career in the early 70s, while interviewing with the now defunct EDS, the hiring manager asked to consult her husband before offering her a job because of the high level of travel involved. Needless to say that did not sit well and Naomi went onto greener pastures.
So there has indeed been evolution but is it as fast as it should be?
The Education Pipeline
Naomi also shared how in 1967 there was true gender balance in her graduating class, yet today only 18% of students in the US studying computer science are women. This is obviously impacting the female talent pipeline in general. A Yale study from 2012, suggests that there is a consistent bias towards science as being a male domain for study. This is compounded by findings that women were as biased towards men being superior in science as men were about themselves. A friend who works as a school counsellor advising students on subject choices recently took the Harvard Implicit Bias Test. She was horrified to find out that at a subconscious level she believed that science was for boys.
Kim shared that now Google’s recruitment protocols require a woman to be involved in the interview process and any hiring sign off must have a female signature. Pascale shared that diverse teams are now part of the Dell culture and management KPIs include reaching targets for balanced teams.
Take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test here. Everyone should do this.
This was reflected by the number of female participants in the disruptHR segment which was a mere 18%.
Retention and Promotion of Women in Tech
So given that women are under-represented in the education pipeline when they do get into tech companies everything should be fine, right?
The churn level in tech for women is extremely high (41%) and far higher than for men in the same field (17%) The group were particularly interested in how they could get over the obstacles they face to advance their careers. At this point the panel became extremely vocal with excellent advice. All panellists were singing from the same song sheet.
Here are the stand out tips:
- Look for mentors and sponsors at all levels. Put yourself forward (Pascale and Leighanne)
- Don’t get weighed down by set-backs. Move on – nothing is final (Naomi and Kim)
- Ask for flexibility – it’s the tech sector – they have the know-how to facilitate that! (Kim and Pascale)
- Look at your organisation and be sure it offers you the opportunities that match your goals (Leighanne and Naomi )
All panelists shared common themes
- Be passionate about what you do
- Take care of you and time for yourself, whatever that means. We all need to recharge. It might mean health, wellness, hobbies or your relationships.
- Be bold
My final question to the group was to ask them how they react to the World Economic Forum projection that organic gender balance would not take place for another 117 years.
The unequivocal response was “Hell no! We’re not waiting. Get out and do something NOW!”
Leighanne summarised the words of the group “We need a movement. Join a women’s group, Lean In or equivalent. Start your own. We have to make this happen.”