Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How organisations can help women to smash the glass ceiling

By Carol Howley, CMO, Exclaimer 

Getting to leadership positions in the technology industry is no easy feat—and it can be  particularly difficult for women. Women and other groups remain underrepresented in leadership roles despite gains in diversity and representation. Supporting women to advance their careers and understanding what is required to get them into leadership roles is imperative for companies. 

According to last month’s McKinsey and Leanin.org report, women are leaving workplaces that do not support their career advancement, flexibility and employee well-being as well as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The report states, “Women leaders are up to twice as likely to spend substantial time on DEI work that falls outside their formal job responsibilities” meaning they value flexibility and the ability to work around commitments. A focus on DEI has a direct impact on business performance, with the same report stating, “Almost 70% of companies say that the work employees do to promote DEI is very or extremely critical”. 

Rachel Thomas Leanin.org CEO notes that, “Women want to work for organisations that remain committed to the things they value and are driving positive change” – demonstrating the real importance of championing women leadership in organisations, in order for companies to succeed. Numerous studies have shown that women value career advancement and professional development opportunities more than ever before. Yet, despite this, the Mckinsey report also finds that while women aspire to senior management positions as much as their male colleagues, they are much more likely to experience challenges that discourage their ability to advance in a company. 

Alongside this, research by BCG and Women’s Forum, states that women perceive a greater pressure to prove their skills than men, which means they feel they have to work harder for the same recognition. Despite modest gains at senior levels only 1 in 4 C-suite leaders is a woman – for every 100 men who are promoted from an entry-level to a manager position, only 87 women and 82 women of colour are promoted.

With all this in mind it is clear more needs to be done. Drawing on my own experiences as a woman in a C-Suite leadership role in technology there are a few areas of opportunity to focus on to see results. 

Empowering women to become leaders 

To increase the number of women in technology in particular, corporate leaders at all levels should take action to attract women to tech early and encourage them to pursue leadership roles within their organisations. This begins with empowering women to study STEM subjects and continues through to every stage of women’s careers. Ultimately, the right candidate should be the one who gets the job, but making sure to educate women and encourage them to be open to careers in STEM from the onset is key. 

It needs to be a conscious effort at a company to encourage and support diversity across business. Once women have begun their careers at a company, leadership needs to lay the groundwork for keeping and promoting women employees by investing in programmes, such as formal affiliation networks, sponsorship programmes, company-sponsored coaching, and mentoring initiatives tailored to women’s individual needs, to build a support system that actually supports them. 

There are a few tangible actions organisations can take in order to demonstrate their commitment to ensuring women’s progression through the leadership ranks. Since mobility across different disciplines is important for progression in tech, leadership needs to make sure that women get broad experience. For instance, companies could create training programmes to ensure women receive adequate exposure to the various technology functions and disciplines within an organisation, and they should encourage them to participate in these programmes. Additionally, making sure to offer training in key tech skills, as well as providing ongoing upskilling is essential to ensure that women feel confident in their technology skillset. This should be considered when women are returning from extended caregiving leave, something that is rarely addressed in the workplace.

The persistent glass ceiling

The glass ceiling is unfortunately still present in the tech industry – as a woman, you have to be very determined and ensure you push yourself hard to get ahead. This is something I have always been willing to do, but it is not always easy.

In my own experience, I feel the need to evidence your skills is felt more by women and that we often overcompensate. Women are more likely to be judged harshly, especially in leadership roles, and it can also be hard to establish your position on senior teams where men have almost always made up the majority. Compared to my male counterparts, I have had to fight much harder for my job and I have experienced pay disparity that I’ve had to challenge. 

Overall, organisations that put an effort into ensuring women have a place in leadership roles are on the right track, both in terms of DEI and financially. This begins with encouraging women to take on STEM education, all the way to increasing training and development initiatives in a company. Ultimately, the glass ceiling still exists, but there is progress being made in ensuring women have a seat at the table.

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