Winning Women in Technology - and How to Get More

Recently at TED Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook spoke about the importance of women staying at the table and what we can do to continue to make advances to the C-suite. Together with Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo, Sheryl's has been a familiar name when talking about women in technology.

Marissa Mayer, VP of geographic and local services at Google is another familiar name. One of the first employees at Google, she talks in her Newsweek interview about women in technology, women at Google, her career and Google's commitment to diversity. Although the percentage of women at Google hovers at the meagre 15 - 17%, she says this about the commitment:
"It’s something that they’ve had to work at over time. There was one point in the early days when we had hired 16 men in a row into engineering, and Larry said, “You know what? If we get to 20, I’m not going to sign any more offer letters until you start producing an equal ratio of women.” That was the moment when we really started recruiting for technical women, helping to build programs around it, really putting a lot of effort into it. So it’s something that the founders have always been very focused on.
In addition to hiring technical women, we’ve done a lot of things here that are aimed at making it a very good place for women to work. For example, in our hiring practices we make sure there’s a woman engineer on each interview, and I think that makes a big difference in terms of how engineers relate to each other. Because there are a lot of male engineers who can only really relate to other men."
This stands out because it shows the importance of leadership at the top and concrete steps that companies can take.

Recently I spoke with a CEO of a global company about the feasibility of getting other CEOs to sign a commitment to require HR to float diverse slates of candidates for C-suite and feeder positions. She told me the story about a C-level opening at her company. HR had done the usual things - posted the opening on Monster and other sites - and she said, "not one woman applied." That didn't surprise me. Business-as-usual hasn't significantly moved the percentages of women at the top in years.

What it will take is business-not-as-usual. Actions such as Larry Page's announcement at Google that he wouldn't sign new offer letters until the gender ratio changed. The HR exec at the company that got zero applications from women could have actively sources for such an important position - and her CEO might have required a diverse slate (but didn't). What business-not-as-usual is your company taking?

Lead ON!
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls.  Follow her on Twitter.
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SLOW and Unsteady Progress

Catalyst released its 2010 Census and it's receiving a bit of coverage (Today online, Seek4Media, MyStateline, Reuters, LifeInc). Conventional wisdom over the summer was that business had been experiencing a "mancession" and that we were experiencing "The End of Men."  I didn't believe a word of it, but because the facts are in opposition to the new conventional wisdom, this release by Catalyst is getting more than its usual coverage. Catalyst is reporting that
136 of Fortune 500 companies had no women executives, among them Exxon Mobil, Berkshire Hathaway, Citigroup, Costco Wholesale and Sears Holding. Women held 14.4 per cent of executive officer positions in 2010, up from 13.5 per cent in 2009, and female executive officers held 7.6 per cent of the top earning positions, up from 6.3 per cent last year, the 2010 Catalyst Census showed.
"This is our fifth report where the annual change in female leadership remained flat. If this trend line represented a patient's pulse, she'd be dead," said Ms Ilene Lang, president and chief executive of Catalyst, a non-profit organisation that advocates greater opportunities for women.
The best five companies in terms of women in the executive suite were Gap, H&R Block, Limited Brands, TIAA-CREF and Western Union.
More than 10 per cent of companies lacked any women on their boards last year and this year."
What bothers me about the coverage is that Ilene Lang's rationale for getting women into leadership is not one that's likely to convince boards and C-suite men to take action. She is quoted as saying, "To be successful, they have to have more points of view - people from all kinds of backgrounds - and have diversity in the senior leadership." A different winning argument would be that companies that have gender-neutral advancement practices (more outcome-oriented versus subjective) get more women to the top which is likely to account for the correlation between women at the top and financial performance. So, uncover and remedy bias in your systems if the top of diverse organizations is mostly male.

The Catalyst census also points to the importance of having sponsors (as opposed to mentors.) Don't get me started on this subject! Women have been told to get mentors (which actually meant sponsors back when the advice started in the 70s) for nearly 4 decades. Formalizing these mentoring programs eliminated the "sponsorship" element and revisiting this to establish formal "sponsorship" programs will do the same and we'll be looking for a new word in 40 years to describe the commitment of more senior people to help more junior advance.

Jenna Goudreau picks up the Catalyst information and writes about the discrepancies in impact between women and men who have mentors. Her bottom line advice is:
"Professional women should seek out mentors at the highest levels of leadership. Those that do are promoted at the same rate as men with mentors at the top. Less clear is why women’s compensation lags behind men’s even with a mentor at the top."
But advice to get a senior mentor (or sponsor) misses the point if you don't know what to seek from the relationship.

Special Tip for You!
At Leading Women we offer unconventional advice about how women can make the most of mentoring relationships. Hint: ask for a piece of P.I.E. Want to know more about what this means and how it can fuel your career success? Email me.

A few random links:  
These two studies relate in one way: "Almost 3% of women were dismissed from their jobs, the study found, while less than 1% of their male counterparts suffered the same fate."
Lead ON!
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls.  Follow her on Twitter.