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Leadership Now

How To Move The Women In Technology Conversation To The Mainstream

Claiming to want diversity in the workplace and actually having it are two very different things. Here's how to achieve the latter.

How To Move The Women In Technology Conversation To The Mainstream

[Image: Flickr user Espen Sundve]

While most companies recognize that gender diversity is needed to build a stronger workforce and more innovative organizations, they mostly do not include it as a core business priority.

Tech companies and executives generally believe that gender diversity is good for business, and that teams that bring together people with different backgrounds, skills, and perspectives, are better at solving problems.

There is a growing body of research that supports this. In his book The Difference, University of Michigan Economics Professor Scott Page showed that diversity of thought trumps individual ability for problems at the cutting-edge. Pepperdine University Professor Roy Adler demonstrated, through 18 different measures, greater profitability in Fortune 500 companies with a strong record of promoting women to the executive suite. And sociologist Cedric Herring studied 251 companies and found that gender diversity is associated with greater relative revenues and profits.

So why isn’t gender diversity more often considered a core strategy for organizational success?

Change must come from both individuals and institutions. While many initiatives have focused on providing women the skills to more successfully navigate organizational environments, organizations must also hold themselves accountable to prioritize the support and development of a more diverse workforce.

What if gender diversity was mainstreamed in the same way as other top business concerns? In particular, what if diversity was placed with other things that really matter: in the core business strategy.

Executives know that what gets measured gets done; yet, this is not a commonplace approach to promoting gender diversity and women in leadership in technology organizations.

Measurement and accountability are the critical missing elements for many organizations seeking to realize return on investment for their diversity efforts. To address this, organizations must take three concrete steps:

1. Set specific, achievable goals based on the organization’s current status and business objectives.

IBM did this when it tied its diversity objectives to stated goals of expansion into new markets.

2. Have the right people accountable for the results.

Research shows that the presence of an executive-level diversity taskforce is a predictor of increasing diversity at the top. Executive-level diversity taskforces, for example, have been a critical part of IBM’s diversity strategy. Deloitte’s women’s initiative has similarly established a CEO-driven accountability structure—leading to a 10% increase in the representation of women at every level over time.

3. Have clear accountability mechanisms that link diversity to organizational success, including performance evaluations and compensation.

Keep accountability on the right people’s radars to protect against the priority du jour. Companies such as Telstra and Merck foster accountability by tying manager performance evaluation to the achievement of diversity objectives.

By mainstreaming gender diversity as a core business priority, organizations can raise their return on investment for core business priorities. And executives can match their desire to have a diverse workforce with the right rewards—both at a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Caroline Simard, PhD, is Associate Director of Diversity and Leadership at Stanford University School of Medicine and Leader of Diversity and Organizational Transformation at Exponential Talent LLC.

Sabina Nawaz is an executive coach and leadership consultant with a global practice.

Dr. Francine Berman is the Edward P. Hamilton Distinguished Professor of Computer Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Vice-Chair of the Anita Borg Institute Board of Trustees.

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