During Women’s History Month, you’re more likely than any other time of the year to see reminders that women need support in the workplace, particularly in leadership positions. It’s not news to anyone that women are underrepresented in the tech space, where approximately a third of employees are women and only slightly more than 10% of CEOs are female. But keep in mind equality is an issue all year.
As a woman who is also a tech company founder and CEO, I get asked about the gender gap in the sector’s leadership ranks frequently. I believe women have moved past the need for separate professional groups, which can have the effect of emphasizing our differences. We’re underrepresented and inexcusably underpaid. But we belong at the table, and we need to be comfortable with power.
I think it’s time to own that power and take the win. I firmly believe in the necessity of pay equity and mandates to achieve this, but to expand women’s ranks in leadership, we must be confident. Leaders who want to improve gender equity can take steps to support women specifically and build confidence without constructing gender silos that unintentionally create an “us vs. them” dynamic.
Equality Is Good for Business
I believe the best way to boost women’s prospects is to build a positive, supportive company culture with leaders who are mindful of the specific challenges women face and look for ways to nurture excellence across the board. Policies that address gender-based discrimination and ensure equal pay for equal work are a good baseline but creating a truly supportive workplace requires more than that.
For example, it’s common for women to experience “imposter syndrome” — an acute sense of self-doubt that, ironically, often affects high achievers. It’s a good idea for leaders to be on the look-out for signs women on their staff are doubting their abilities without cause and to be prepared to help them overcome those doubts. Mentoring can be a great way to build employee confidence.
It’s also a good idea to create management structures that foster collaboration, transparency and open communication. These values aren’t gender specific, but they are a better match for the way women are culturally conditioned to interact than more rigid hierarchies. And, not coincidentally, they are values that drive success: Companies that practice gender equality are more profitable and productive.
Authenticity Can Be an Equalizer
A workplace culture that encourages employees to be their authentic selves can also help companies reach gender equality and other diversity objectives. Everyone deserves to feel seen and heard, and when employees feel they’re not listened to or valued, workplace conflicts can easily arise. A company culture where people check egos at the door and work together as a team to solve problems provides a sense of purpose for everyone.
As a leader, you can build a culture where people feel free to show up authentically if you stay true to who you are, define foundational values for the company, and hire people who are a good fit for those values. At my company, we’re optimistic about technology’s capacity for making life better, and we’re focused on innovation and creativity to help clients succeed. This gives employees a purpose, which in turn connects them to the company culture.
Authenticity is related to purpose, and it can be an equalizer for everyone, including women on the staff. When people are recognized and rewarded for the talent and accomplishments they bring to the table, the entire organization thrives. Values and purpose are unique to each company, but leaders who connect them authentically with their teams tend to build achievement-focused cultures where all employees — including women — have opportunities to grow professionally.
Acknowledge the Wins
It’s important to achieve gender equality in the workplace, and the statistics tell us we still have a long way to go to reach that goal. But there’s real reason for optimism. We’ve made significant progress, and more people than ever are aware of the existing gender gap and are committed to achieving equality. Business leaders have a responsibility to create progress and the influence to advance their companies into a more equal and sustainable future.
Acknowledging the progress we’ve made and celebrating the women who are making a difference as leaders now is a great way to encourage women who are moving up the ladder. It’s critical to directly address bias and make a conscious effort to identify and develop high-potential women at entry or middle levels to build a leadership pipeline.
But women are already successfully leading innovation and building great companies in the male-dominated tech sector, and that’s inspirational to women who aspire to leadership positions in the field. Let’s acknowledge those wins — not just during Women’s History Month but all year long — and empower women every day to create a better future for themselves and everyone else.