Let’s start with the premise upon which we can (presumably) all agree - women are under-represented at senior management level in corporate boardrooms, technology firms being no exception.
According to The Economist, roughly half of America’s publicly traded technology companies have all-male boards, while earlier this year McKinsey and Co reported that only 15% of of C-level tech roles are held by women. According to theBoardlist Index, which tracks the executive management of private and public tech companies, nearly 80% of private tech firms have no women on their boards.
It’s just as much of a problem outside of the US. According to the annual TLA Women in Tech Leadership Index carried out by Tech London Advocates, up to 18% of technology businesses in London still have no women at board level, while just 23% of senior management teams in tech firms reflect the same gender diversity as London’s population.
Sarah Luxford, director at Nexec Leaders and TLA Women in Tech lead, commented: :
Failing to engage women in technology careers undermines the open, diverse outlook of the digital industry. With such a requirement for tech professionals, harnessing the potential of 50% of the population is the solution to long-term growth.
So far, so shameful, but sadly also so unsurprising. But here’s an interesting finding from some new research by Accenture that should be another wake-up call for those pale-stale-male-dominated boards of companies that need to compete in the digital economy - there may not be as many women board directors as men, but those there are are more tech-savvy than their male counterparts.
The Accenture study - Getting To Equal : How Digital is Helping Close the Gender Gap at Work - examined the boards of directors of 500 firms on the Forbes Global 2000 list and came up with some familiar conclusions, such as only 10% of all board members had professional experience as a Chief Technology Officer, Chief Information Officer, or Chief Digital Officer.
But it also found that women directors are twice as likely to have professional tech background than their male colleagues. That’s a pretty universal finding as well, with only Canadian male board directors being more tech-savvy than the female ones.
What’s of further interest is that Accenture’s analysis predicts that having this tech-savvy - or digital fluency - will ultimately help to narrow the gender gap in the workplace. Now, we’re not talking about any time soon for this to happen -Accenture gloomily reckons that at the current rate of digital adoption, it will be 2065 before organizations in developed countries achieve gender parity and next century before developing countries achieve the same. (This could be speeded up to 2040 ad 2060 respectively if business and government encourage and promote technology skills among women, says Accenture.)
The study notes that countries with higher rates of digital fluency among women have higher rates of gender equality in the workplace, with the US, the Netherlands, the UK and the Nordics reporting the highest levels of workplace equality. The countries with the biggest divides between men and women in terms of digital fluency are Japan, Singapore, France and Switzerland. There are also cultural factors to be taken into account in parts of the world. For example, Saudi Arabia reports decent digital fluency overall as a nation, but the behavioural restrictions on women skew the balance there.
Demographic shifts will bring changes as more digital native millenials enter the workforce. Some 60% of millennial women surveyed said they have leadership amibition. The study also suggests a belief that women today have more opportunity to advance in their careers than they did 20 years ago, before the digital age.
For example, being savvy about digital technologies empowers women to be more work-flexible. Almost half of working women surveyed said they use digital to work from home and to access job opportunities, while 41% said digital helped them balance their personal and professional lives, and to access job opportunities. This finding should, of course, also be true of men.
One upbeat finding from the survey is that while the developing world economies still lag behind in terms of female representation, women in those cultures see digital learning and skills as enablers to grow their influence and demonstrate entrepreneurial ambitions. Some 61% of women in developing countries say they want to start a new business over the next five years, compared to under half of that (29%) in the developed economies.
But perhaps the most encouraging conclusion from the report is that 71% of respondents - male and female - believe that the digital economy will empower their daughters and give them a better chance to lead.
So much for boys and their toys. As with all gender equality studies, the underlying message here is simple - we have to get more girls and young women engaged with IT and digital from as early an age as possible in order to foster and tap into a skills and talent level playing field. Those long game dates for workplace equality are far too far out in the future.