How sponsorship can reduce gender disparity and double the size of the talent pool in the technology sector.
Does the male dominance of high profile figures in technology such as Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos make the technology sector more appealing to men than women? Does the way we associate with the gender of high profile leaders have an impact on who we aspire to be? And in turn, reduce the number of women applying for technology roles?
Sponsoring women in technology is key to getting visible female leaders. These leaders have the ability to inspire the next generation of female talent. But, if we want to sponsor more talented women in technology, where do we find them?
The research in my last article on gender equality in technology showed that there is a higher probability of men receiving work related sponsorship than women. As a result, women are more likely to aim for careers in companies with high profile female leaders, where they can see career progression opportunities for themselves. Typically this means seeking careers outside the technology sector.
How do we get talented female leaders to inspire the next generation, if these women aren’t applying for technology roles? How do we encourage more female sponsorship in the workplace? And why are we not sponsoring the women we already have? Statistically speaking, if there are less women than men, then the probability of choosing a man for promotion is higher. But the numbers show a greater bias than statistical likelihood, with the majority of women being in entry level technology jobs.
Research shows that we are more likely to sponsor and promote people with classically masculine attributes. See the research for this in my previous article.(1). And that these attributes can be used to successfully predict a person’s rise to leadership, but can not be used to predict the success of their performance as a leader. Research also shows that we favour people that remind us of ourselves. Neither of these biases help with our ability to choose the best person for a job. The Halo Effect (also known as the Halo Error) means that these biases make us more likely to assume intelligence in people fitting these preferred profiles. If people do not fit the preferred profile, they have to prove their talent more definitively to be seen as equally skilled.
Why do other sectors not seem to have the same level of gender bias? Why is technology so far behind on gender equality? If we want more talented women in technology we have to show them that it is possible for them to succeed. We need people of all genders in leadership to inspire the next generation. In turn, a more diverse leadership, allows less room for subconscious bias.
What can you do? If you are in a leadership position, next time you are looking to sponsor someone, consider your own biases. Consider sponsoring someone different to your usual profile. Perhaps even purposefully sponsor a talented woman to start breaking down the gender disparity. And whilst doing so, be aware that they will likely face sexism on this journey.
Research from Harvard Business Review showed that 44% of Senior Leaders agreed with the statement that ‘A female at my company would never get a top position no matter how able or high-performing’ (2). If half the people in the company think the woman you are sponsoring will not make it to a senior position, imagine the bias of ambitious people wanting to get to the top and how they might communicate with her differently to those that they think will get to the top. Just be aware of the day to day biases that will be faced, no matter how unintentional, and don’t let that stop you from sponsoring a woman.
As an influential person leading us to the future of technology, it is in your power to make this change. To recognise the biases, to promote talented people of all genders. To empower people of all genders. You can change the statistics. 17% of people in technology are women and this number has been getting lower in the past year (1). If you want to see talented women in your company, you need to make the change.
Equally, if you are an ambitious woman, find yourself a mentor. Choose someone who sees and respects your talents and is keen to help you to achieve your goals. It doesn’t have to be someone in your company, it doesn’t have to be a woman. Find someone you respect and admire and ask! And check out PWC’s The Tech She Can® Charter.
Kamala Harris, America’s Vice President provided phenomenal strength to the 2020 US presidential campaign. She provided a younger, more vibrant personality. She was frightfully successful in political debates, as admitted by Joe Biden himself. She raised millions of dollars for political causes. She made a stand for transparency in leadership by making her tax returns publicly available. All these assets and actions gave the Democratic party strength. She also showed women, African Americans, Blacks, Asians, and Indians that they could succeed in American politics.
Sponsorship of the right woman can add strength to your leadership. By opening up to the other 50% of the population, you will double your talent pool. Show them they are welcome.
As a reminder of what is possible, here are just a few inspirational women working in technology today:
Joanna Shields, CEO of BenevolentAI: Uses AI to improve healthcare. US-born tech executive Joanna Shields is the CEO of BenevolentAI, a health-tech startup that aims to use AI to discover, test and ultimately develop new medicines.
Luciana Lixandru, Investor: Accel’s star young investor in London, helping start ups gain millions of pounds of funding (including Deliveroo).
Marta Krupinska, Entrepreneur: Marta set up a number of companies including being a cofounder of Azimo, the international money transfer platform which has raised $66 million to date. She is now helping Google champion new startups.
Bailey Kursar, Entrepreneur: Bailey puts ethics at the heart of money management. After cutting her teeth in marketing roles at the likes of Monzo, Zopa and Funding Options, entrepreneur Bailey Kursar decided to go it alone by founding Toucan, an ethically-minded money management app.
Safra A Catz, CEO of Oracle Corporation: Safra is an American billionaire banker and technology executive, now CEO of the Oracle Corporation.
Roshni Nadar Malhotra, Chairperson of HCL Technologies: Roshni is the first woman to lead a listed IT company in India. In 2019, she is ranked 54th on the Forbes World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list.
Wu Wei (Maggie Wu), CFO at Alibaba Group: Wu Wei is a Chinese business executive who is responsible for instituting Alibaba.com’s financial systems and organisation leading up to its initial public offering in Hong Kong in November 2007, as well as co-leading the privatisation of Alibaba.com in 2012.
Jennifer Morgan, an American technology executive: Jennifer is the first female chief executive of SAP, and she is the first female CEO of a company on the DAX index. She is the former Co-Chief Executive Officer at SAP SE. She became the first American woman ever appointed to the SAP executive board in 2017.