Chances are you may recognize one or two, but you may not be able to determine their significance to today’s technology infused society. These women have been pioneers and leaders in the early days of technology. Ada Lovelace is credited as the first computer programmer. The ENIAC team were a group of six women credited with programming the first programmable computer without the use of a programming language, but by using only logic diagrams during WWII. Rear Admiral Grace Hopper invented the COBOL programming language. Anita Borg is credited with inspiring and motivating women to embrace technology within the STEM community and was awarded many prestigious honours and recognitions throughout her career. Maria Klawe is the current president at Harvey Mudd College with a passion for increasing diversity within the STEM workforce. In the mid-1980s women obtained 35.8%, roughly 1/3, of all Bachelor’s Degrees (Hill, Corbett & St Rose, 2010) and have been involved in creating many incredible technological innovations, however the number of women obtaining Degrees and becoming influential leaders within the technology sector has seen a drastic decline over the past two decades (Hill, Corbett & St Rose, 2010, Rampell, 2015).
I myself, attended a private community college dedicated to Computer Networking and Electronics Engineering in the early 2000s. As one of four (FOUR!) girls out of roughly 600 students at the time, I have experienced the gender gap in the technology sector first hand. In the four positions I held during my first ten years post college, not once did I ever report to a female leader. It wasn’t until I left the IT sector that I fell under the leadership of women. This, unfortunately, is the all too common reality is around the world in virtually every facet of the industry. With a lack of women entering the field to begin with, women in leadership roles who can offer mentorship and foster the development of new female leaders are critical to bringing more women into influential positions within organizations.
In recent years several women have emerged as leaders at high profile tech based organizations like Marissa Mayer, CEO at Yahoo!, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Facebook, and fellow Canadian Heather Payne, Founder and CEO of HackerYou and Ladies Learning Code, however women are still significantly outnumbered in technology related fields, especially in positions of influence and leadership.
Mice in the Maze
Over the last twenty years a significant amount of research has been conducted specifically around gender and leadership qualities. The results have concluded that overall, women tend to possess higher emotional intelligence (EQ) scores than men and positions them for success in leadership roles (Eagly & Carli, 2003; Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt & Van Engen, 2003; Mandell & Pherwani, 2003; Drury, 2011). Many characteristics addressed when measuring EQ, and those of which women tended to score the highest, are common to those defined as transformational leadership qualities such as empathy, motivation, self-awareness and the ability to gain respect and trust of their followers (Mayer, Caruso & Salovey, 1999; Mayer & Geher, 1996; Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt & Van Engen, 2003).
With the explosion of technology infused business models, the leadership paradigm has shifted from a traditional hierarchical, autocratic style to one which requires a higher level of interpersonal skills that supports collaborative and democratic processes rather than a top down approach (Eagly & Carli, 2003). Why then, are there fewer women in technology leadership roles if the research suggests women exhibit leadership traits that are aligned with the necessary leadership characteristics required in the 21st century?
Eagly & Carli (2007) have made significant contributions to the literature around gender and leadership. In their 2007 book titled “Through the Labyrinth: The truth about how Women become Leaders,” they outline several of the challenges women in the workforce today must face and outline several reasons that have led to a shortage of female leaders. In a nutshell, the Leadership Labyrinth women must navigate can be categorized into three main headings as outlined in Video Overview #8 Women in Leadership (Elkington, 2015) and seen in Figure 1. From human capital factors such as balancing work and home lives, to gender differences around leadership style and levels of effectiveness, to prejudices and stereotypes against women in the workforce, there are a lot of reasons that make it very difficult for women to get to the top.
I recently had the pleasure of attending a keynote address by Heather Payne, founder and CEO of HackerYou and Ladies Learning Code. In the mid-2000s she began learning to code and through her experiences, recognized the significant gender gap in the realm of coding and how vital it will be for millennial women to obtain these skills. She had a clear vision and set achievable goals. She gave her team and students the space to explore, fail and succeed. Her transformational leadership style and the support she has shown her team over the years have been instrumental in the success of the women targeted coding camps (Khandaker, 2015) and her efforts are gaining momentum. She has since discovered that women in the technology industry often do not negotiate their terms of work or salaries throughout the hiring process and is now mentoring her graduates to help them develop powerful negotiation skills which is enabling them to be more confident in their abilities and begin to bridge the wage gap in some cases.
Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Executive Officer (COO) at Facebook offered some very valuable insight as to how organizations can attract, retain and mold much needed future women leaders within the technology sector. In her 2010 TedTalk she offered three pieces of advice to women in the technology industry that can help women navigate the Leadership Labyrinth:
- Sit at the table
Many women these days have issues around self-confidence, especially in a male dominated field like technology. We face stereotypes, like being a leader is masculine and egocentric or women aren’t effective decision makers. We tend to blame ourselves when we encounter failure and credit others for our successes. She goes on to say that we need to own our success, step up, and take a chair at the board room table.
- Make your partner a real partner
Share the responsibilities at home and with kids equally and fairly. She explained that often times we, as women, we put our families and personal lives ahead of our career lives but we shouldn’t have to. We need partners who are partners; who share the responsibility and are willing and able to support our career choices equally. Snyder (2014) found through her research of 716 highly educated women in the technology industry, that one of the main reasons women leave is due to issues around the culture and discrimination around motherhood and gender, in addition to age, race, and sexuality. We need to shift the culture to be more accepting and accommodating for our future techno-moms.
- Don’t leave before you leave
Live in the moment. Don’t plan to forfeit success based on things that may or may not be happening yet. She outlined that many women she has encountered along the way plan and prepare for things that have not yet happened such as having a family, and as such, turn down or dismiss incredible opportunities to become prominent within their organizations.
Coding camps like Girls Learning Code, Ladies Learning Code, and educational experiences like HackerYou are targeting young women as a means to explore a predominantly male-dominated area of expertise while enabling them to make connections and build valuable relationships with each other throughout the process. While initiatives like these are important to encourage young women to enter these fields, we must also examine shifting the culture and stereotypes that cause the labyrinths women in technology must currently face in order to foster the development of more women as leaders in the field.
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