Women in Technology Business: Struggles and Successes

A recent 2012 study conducted by Harvey Nash, a British tech recruitment group, polled the Chief Information Officers of 450 companies, ranging from the highest profiting technology companies to small California start-ups.  Surprisingly, of the companies surveyed, the number of women holding the CIO position was a mere 9%.  Even more surprising is that this number has been slowly decreasing over the past couple of years, down from 11% in 2011 and 12% in 2010.  While women have steadily become more commonplace on executive boards in general, they are highly outnumbered in top executive tech positions.  Furthermore, nearly one-third of the CIOs replied there were no women in any management position at their companies.

Women make up over half of today’s overall professional workforce in the United States.  55%-60% of social media users and social gaming players are also women.  However, women have had a difficult time rising in the business of technology, and it does not seem to be getting any easier for them.  Even worse, the large majority (82%) of the male CIOs who participated in the survey did not believe the lack of gender diversity was a problem, or even that women were underrepresented, regardless of the data.

Technology giants in Silicon Valley have historically had a difficult time recruiting and retaining women in executive positions.  The exceptions seem to be companies such as Facebook, Xerox, and Oracle, who all have women in top leadership positions.  On the other hand, Google has been notorious for failing to either promote women to the top or retain the women that do make it to senior levels.  In fact, last year Google lost executive Marissa Mayer, the longtime head of its most profitable search business, to Yahoo after she felt demoted and pushed out by the new CEO.  Mayer is not the only top woman to either be sidelined or let go at Google.  In fact, retention of successful women at Google has become such an issue that a task force was dedicated to solving the problem.  Some potential solutions included having women interview with at least one woman, more family-oriented perks, and regularly encouraging women at Google to nominate themselves for promotions.

Technology companies of all sizes should similarly recognize the importance of having women in leadership positions.  Statistics show that Fortune 500 companies that had at least three women directors had an overall greater return on investment.  According to the Harvey Nash survey, there are many ways in which women may positively impact tech companies more than their male counterparts.  These include team cohesion and morale, getting the job done, relationship with the business, creativity and innovation, efficient decision making, consensus decision making, strategy making, and technical know-how.

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Source: Harvey Nash Study

Harvey Nash’s survey only focuses on a small sampling of the technology businesses out there, and therefore is not necessarily a completely accurate representation of women leadership in the tech business world.  In fact, in the Bay area, women are founding their own technology startups at 1.5 times the rate of men.  These women may not hold leadership positions in the country’s most powerful companies, but their presence and ambition may be just as important.

Additionally, women in technology have been forming networking groups, both in person and online, to encourage and assist their fellow female techies.  Women 2.0 is a forum where female technological innovators write articles and share their stories.  Women Inspire Technology is a networking group with monthly meet up events in San Francisco.  Such organizations realize that though women have struggled to climb the ladder in many tech companies, there are so many talented technological geniuses among them and they need to continue to inspire women to succeed in this field.  Due to the increasing number of startups led by women, and the realization by many large technological giants of the value of hiring and retaining women in top positions, many tech executives believe that, though the numbers are currently bleak, this is actually the beginning of a boom period for women in the technological industry.

- Claire Kalia

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