This week, we have released a report (co-authored by myself and Shannon Gilmartin) on the attributes of senior technical women, based on our data collection effort with the technical employees at 7 high-tech companies with a presence in Silicon Valley.
Senior Technical Women: A Profile of Success explores the demographics and attributes shared among women who defy the odds and achieve senior level positions on the technical track, as well as make recommendations for companies looking to retain senior technical women and for women seeking to advance to senior level positions. Senior technical women are persisting in a field where more than half women leave at the mid-career point (Source: Hewlett et al, The Athena Factor).
You can read the report here – I thought I’d share on this blog the points that I found more surprising and interesting.
1) Where are the female role models in top Individual Contributor positions? Our data show that men are significantly more likely than women to be in individual contributor positions, and women are significantly more likely than men to be in management. The individual contributor (IC) positions are those involving patenting, publishing, and invention. Our interviews with technical men and women revealed that there is a dearth and sometimes a total absence of female role models in the top rung of the Individual Contributor roles – usually called Fellows or Chief Architects. This dearth of women in top IC positions is a loss to innovation and a loss to companies. What can companies do to make sure women advance both in management and in IC roles? We propose that companies should intervene early to provide career development opportunities for women in both areas, and that the career ladder whereby employees have to choose between each path should be made more flexible to account for a diverse workforce with diverse needs.
2) Senior Technical women share the same amount of education, technical experience, and work values as their male colleagues. Assertions that advancing women equates to “watering down the criteria for advancement” do not find support in these data.
3) Similarly, I have heard the argument that “women don’t advance to the very top positions because they are not taking risks.” However, our data show that senior women are as likely than are men to perceive themselves as risk-takers – the assumption that women are less likely to take risks than are men is an old stereotype which is not reflected in current research. (for a full exploration of this topic, I recommend the book “Through the Labyrinth: The truth on how women become leaders”).
4) Until work environments become more inclusive of a diversity of communication styles, assertiveness goes hand in hand with success. Senior technical women in our dataset were significantly more likely than women at the entry and mid-level to perceive themselves as very or extremely assertive. Yet, women continue suffering from a double standard when it comes to assertiveness – if they are not assertive, they are perceived as “weak;” if they are very assertive, they are perceived as ‘aggressive’ – see this recent New York Times article on the topic.
Stay tuned for profiles of senior technical women on our website. This week, we showcase one of the few female Fellows: Aglaia Kong, Fellow, Symantec. This is a great week, with Ada Lovelace Day coming up on Wednesday, to showcase the great role models past and present who continue busting myths and stereotypes around women in technical positions.