Several women in tech leadership, from Minnesota-based organizations such as Cargill, CaringBridge, Clockwork, Medtronic, Nina Hale, Inc., UnitedHealth Group and more, have devoted their lives and careers to breaking down barriers, overcoming obstacles and transforming the technology industry for women and minorities. They recently provided their perspectives for a series of articles and a white paper exploring the barriers faced by C-level leaders in the technology industry and in tech-focused organizations, as well as the ways in which those challenges are being addressed.
Conversations with dozens of women in tech boiled down to this: Leaders determined to create environments where women and minorities thrive in tech or any industry must begin as each of the women interviewed did—by asking yourself: What is my personal commitment to diversity and inclusion? Am I willing to challenge stereotypes and longstanding practices within my organization and my industry? Am I willing to lead by example and develop the next generation of empowered leaders and role models? Am I willing to hold my company and myself accountable?
Some key considerations as you move forward:
1. Examine your own biases. Science suggests that most of our commonly held assumptions about gender and leadership are based in bias, not fact. As CEO, you set the tone for the entire organization. Leaders in male-dominated industries such as technology and financial services must learn to be skeptical of personal preconceptions about the differences between men and women in the workforce and challenge themselves not just to think differently, but also to act differently. Move to a 21st-century mindset; make decisions based on qualifications and performance outcomes rather than cronyism and prejudices.
2. Take responsibility for your company culture. Healthy businesses are not measured on financial success alone. Creating inclusive workplace cultures is becoming increasingly more important, especially in industries like tech. As the CEO of your organization, you are accountable for articulating and advancing the company’s higher purpose and values. You determine whether the best way to support employees balancing work and home life means focusing on outcomes rather than where or what time of day work is completed. The criteria for advancement within your organization, and whether or not you will provide opportunities for all qualified candidates to develop, is ultimately up to you. You determine which organizations, initiatives and suppliers the company will align itself with. And everyone on the team must share your passion for the company’s values; otherwise business outcomes will suffer.
3. Acknowledge that change starts at the top. The research illustrates a need for organizations to enlist executive teams that possess the knowledge and ability to address the critical talent management issues of today. Recruiting, retaining and developing a diverse workforce must be a top priority. To propel these efforts forward, CEOs must create role models at the executive level and support key human resource leadership positions. Set clear expectations for identifying a diverse range of high-potential employees within your organization. Develop targeted talent-management efforts aimed at providing challenging opportunities and competitive compensation for underrepresented groups. Ensure compensation is analyzed within your organization to support equality.
4. An ongoing commitment is required for transformation to cascade through the organization. Executive team alignment is just the beginning. In order to succeed in transforming, businesses must commit to shaping future generations of leaders. Successful CEOs must take an innovative approach to leadership development that goes beyond skills-based training. Customized coaching and cohort leadership programs provide opportunities for strategic dialogue with senior leaders and high-potential managers. Not only is this approach proven to be most effective, it is critical for women and minorities who are less likely to have access and opportunity to build relationships with executive-level leaders. Employee resource groups also provide powerful forums for support and for enhancing career and personal development in the workplace.
5. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” There is a reason this Peter Drucker quote has been widely referenced in business for decades: Data matters. Successful organizations are intentional about defining measurable goals around diversity and inclusion. Some companies use annual engagement surveys to measure employees’ perceptions around efforts to engage and empower diverse groups. Others provide specific goals for employee recruitment, retention and development in managers’ performance objectives. The bottom line is that tracking and analyzing this data supports an ongoing dialogue about diversity and inclusion, and it enables leaders to determine which efforts have the biggest impact on organizational success.