Closing the Tech Sector’s Gender Gap
Last year marked the first year since 2006 that the percentage of women working in the technology field declined, a troubling reversal for an industry that had been making progress in closing the gender gap. Industry leaders should work urgently to revive progress toward parity – for the sake of their bottom line.
AMSTERDAM – I am a woman, and I am proud to say that I work in technology. But I also recognize that the combination of those two facts puts me in the minority.
According to the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Gender Gap Report, progress toward gender equality eroded last year. For the first time since 2006, when the annual employment study was launched, the percentage of women working in most industries shifted “into reverse.” The slide was particularly acute for women in software and technology development.
Tech is a key driver of social and economic change, and around the world, women like me are transforming businesses, industries, and communities. Sadly, our ranks remain a small fraction of the total workforce. Not only do we need more women in the technology sector; we also clearly need to refocus energy on improving gender equality in the global economy.
Among the many reasons to take this seriously is one any executive should understand: employing women is good for business. In 2013, the European Commission estimated that €9 billion ($11 billion) could be added to the European Union’s annual GDP if gender parity was achieved in technology companies. Similarly, a 2014 Credit Suisse report found that firms with greater gender diversity on governing boards performed better in the stock market, with higher valuations and dividends.
And yet, despite this economic rationale for gender parity, women remain underrepresented in technology firms. Across the EU, for example, among women aged 30 who graduated with a degree in information and communications technology (ICT), only 20% still work in the field. By age 45, just 9% are left. In this sense, ICT is falling into the same traps as old, established industries, which have long failed to do enough to create an environment in which women thrive.
To address this gender imbalance, it is imperative that organizations create environments that encourage diversity at all levels. Executives must strive to build businesses that women actually want to work for, which means, first and foremost, implementing non-discriminatory hiring policies and benefits packages and removing obstacles that women face on the job.
But it also means creating a flat structure and fostering a culture of care and confidence in which women can excel, where ideas can come from anywhere and are valued. Unfortunately, too few companies focus on this area.
There is a misperception among job seekers that opportunities for women in tech exist only for those with coding or engineering experience. To be sure, technology firms do need women with these skills, but they also need women with expertise in other areas, like marketing and finance. And, because having more women in non-technical roles can drive female engagement company-wide, corporate leaders should ensure that diversity extends beyond functional silos.
One of the comments I hear most frequently from women who are reluctant to enter the tech sector is that the industry lacks visible role models. As a female tech leader, one of my responsibilities is to share my story and to support, empower, and inspire others, and to ensure that talented women regard the industry as an attractive option.
One way my company is doing this is through female-only tech initiatives, including a new award that recognizes successful women in the field. The goal of the Technology Playmaker Awards is to empower female talent, and position women to lead the industry into the future.
My company has also partnered with Oxford University and Delft University of Technology to establish scholarship programs for women in technology; established women-in-tech mentoring opportunities; and supported digital skills and job-training programs in Europe.
Booking.com is not alone; many other companies across the technology sector are taking similar action. Accenture’s chief leadership and human resources officer recently announced that by 2025, the company’s workforce will be 50% female. And the American cloud computing company Salesforce recently launched a “mums in tech” program to bring more working mothers into the industry.
Great strides are being made to close the tech sector’s gender gap, but, as with many other industries, parity remains a long way off. Leaders from across the sector must come together to champion and promote inclusivity. Only when we do will our organizations be able to attract and retain top female talent, a trend that will benefit both boardrooms and bottom lines.
Building a Gender-Inclusive Workplace
As women around the world speak out against sexual harassment, executives in every industry are being forced to confront sexual discrimination in the modern workplace. This revolution is long overdue, but changing office culture will require much more than traditional box-ticking approaches.
NEW YORK – The wave of high-profile sexual harassment cases that began with revelations from Hollywood is having a profound impact on far less glamorous work environments. Just as major film studios have been forced to take action against abuse, a similar revolution – powered by the #MeToo movement of women speaking out – is sweeping workplaces everywhere.
It has been terrible to learn of the abuse that women suffered at the hands of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and Al Franken. But it is also deeply encouraging to see the corporate world take this issue seriously, by attempting to create a “shared future” for their female employees. The collective response to the #MeToo movement could mark a turning point in the way employers think about sexual harassment and other issues involving gender – like pay and power.
But the workplace revolution is far from over. New strategies are needed to encourage healthy interactions among employees. When handled properly, gender equality promotes business output and productivity, whereas sexual discrimination, if ignored, can destroy an office culture – and so much more.
Companies have traditionally taken a box-ticking approach to addressing harassment, using written policies and trainings in a feeble bid to encourage respect. But this top-down approach has proven ineffective, as scandals at Uber and other tech firms have demonstrated. If workplace abuse is to be curtailed, business leaders and C-Suite executives need a fresh approach.
The first priority is to achieve gender balance at the top. Diversity in leadership encourages employee cooperation and leads to healthier organizations. This is not a new idea; a 2016 study published in the Harvard Business Review found that companies with more high-level female executives generate higher profits. Other studies have shown that women perform better under stress, often making smarter decisions. But, despite the obvious benefits that women bring, they remain under-represented in senior leadership positions at companies around the world.
Change is needed in the digital workplace as well. Predators may lurk around the water cooler, but they are also active in online communities, chat rooms, and forums. Concerns raised by the #MeToo movement spread virally on social media within hours, and similar anger could engulf an organization at any time. Companies must therefore place a premium on promoting online decorum, and take seriously any comments and concerns expressed by their employees. Most companies already monitor social media for reputational risks and customer satisfaction; they should do the same to protect their staff.
Finally, companies must be responsive to the concerns of their youngest employees, who will inherit the office of the future. With more millennials entering the workforce and demanding greater equality, the youngest employees already have a stronger voice at work than previous generations. A recent Boston Consulting Group study found that young male employees are often more open-minded than their superiors on issues like family leave and diversity, suggesting that true leadership on gender equality may actually come from a company’s youngest staff members.
Moreover, researchers at Rutgers University have shown that more than 50% of millennials would consider a pay cut if it meant working for a company that shared their values, while the Society for Human Resource Management notes that 94% of young workers want to use their skills to benefit a good cause. Rather than resist these trends, companies should look to harness the benevolence of their youngest talent.
To build a more inclusive workplace, management must craft narratives that support the changes their employees are demanding. Most important, employees need role models. The willingness of celebrities like Salma Hayek, Rose McGowan, and Reese Witherspoon to share their stories of sexual harassment empowered women from many walks of life to speak out, too. Changing workplace culture will demand similarly strong leadership.
That shift is on the horizon, and I am inspired by the women and men who are calling on future generations to work together more equitably. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the complexity of these issues, but if managers and employees can commit to building purpose-driven and inclusive work environments, change is inevitable.
The women of Hollywood may have initiated what has become a global call for equality at work, but the workplace revolution is no less significant for those of us who walk on less colorful carpets.
Feminizing the Command Line
BRUSSELS – This year, International Women’s Day is focused on “inspiring change” and challenging the status quo to achieve gender equity worldwide. The sad reality is that, despite significant social, political, and economic progress, women still face major personal and professional obstacles in developed and developing countries alike. This state of affairs does not hurt only women; it undermines everyone’s prospects.
Consider the information and communications technology sector, which is critical to the future competitiveness of major economies – particularly Europe’s. With application-software development alone capable of employing 4.8 million people and contributing €63 billion ($87 billion) to the European Union’s economy by 2018, enabling women to contribute to the ICT sector’s development is a matter of common sense.
The good news is that the European Commission seems to recognize this imperative. Having identified technological progress as one of the most important sources of growth and employment, the Commission has specified 101 policy measures – including programs aimed at increasing women’s participation in the ICT workforce – to deliver sustainable GDP growth through digital technologies.
But much more must be done. Despite stubbornly high unemployment levels across Europe – more than 10% of the working-age population and over 20% of young people remain unemployed, according to Eurostat – up to a half-million vacancies are expected in the technology sector by next year.
This gap can be explained largely by students’ belief that a career in technology is not a viable option – a view that is particularly prevalent among women. Indeed, outdated cultural norms and stereotypes – such as the idea that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are “for boys” – continue to prevent women from pursuing ICT-based careers. As a result, only 2.9% of bachelors or first degrees held by European women are ICT-based, compared to 9.5% for men.
To be sure, there are women who are working hard to challenge the stereotypes. For example, earlier this week, at Microsoft’s annual AppCup competition, which gives European developers and young entrepreneurs the opportunity to showcase their skills, two promising female developers ranked among the 13 finalists – a major accomplishment, given that this year’s contest attracted 200 submissions from 31 countries.
Andreea Pleșea, a business software developer from Romania, submitted Mobile Gamification – an app that motivates employees by providing incentives for participation, engagement, and loyalty among team members to achieve specific business goals. And France’s Dominique Sauquet presented Dynseo, which allows health-care professionals to administer the full battery of cognitive tests needed to assess cognitive impairment and memory loss in the elderly.
But Pleșea and Sauquet remain the exception. Women account for only 9% of developers in Europe’s booming app industry, and comprise only 30% of workers in the broader ICT sector.
Underrepresentation of women in the sector is damaging its competitiveness and impeding Europe’s return to growth. According to the European Commission, if as many women participated in the ICT workforce as men, Europe’s annual GDP could increase by €9 billion. Moreover, given that organizations with more women in management achieve a 35% higher return on equity and 34% better total return to shareholders than their counterparts, greater gender parity would be a boon for the sector.
More important, women’s exclusion from the ICT sector is a disservice to thousands of talented young people like Pleșea and Sauquet. It is also simply bad business: Consider the millions of potential customers whose ways of living, working, and playing might be transformed by these women’s ideas.
Addressing the technology sector’s gender gap must begin at the university level, with a diverse range of students – especially women – being encouraged to pursue tech studies. At the same time, initiatives like Web-based training, game-based eLearning, and social networking – as proposed by the European Commission – could help motivate women to enter or return to the ICT workforce.
It is time to welcome many more women into the ICT sector. Europe’s future competitiveness depends on it.
Why Gender Parity Matters
A new study estimates that the cost of gender inequality is even higher than previously thought – with far-reaching consequences. While reaching gender parity will be no easy feat, it is vitally important, both to improve outcomes for women and girls, and to advance economic development and prosperity for all.
BERKELEY – The high cost of gender inequality has been documented extensively. But a new study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that it is even higher than previously thought – with far-reaching consequences.
The McKinsey study used 15 indicators – including common measurements of economic equality, like wages and labor-force participation rates, as well as metrics for social, political, and legal equality – to assign “gender parity scores” to 95 countries, accounting for 97% of global GDP and 93% of the world’s women. Countries also received scores for individual indicators.
Unsurprisingly, high scores on social indicators correspond with high scores on economic indicators. Moreover, higher gender-parity scores strongly correlate with higher levels of development, as measured by GDP per capita and the degree of urbanization. The most developed regions of Europe and North America are closest to gender parity, while the still-developing region of South Asia has the furthest to go. Within regions, however, there are significant disparities, owing partly to differences in political representation and policy priorities.
One overarching conclusion of the McKinsey study is that, despite progress in many parts of the world, gender inequality remains significant and multi-dimensional. Forty of the countries studied still exhibit high or very high levels of gender inequality in most aspects of work – especially labor-force participation rates, wages, leadership positions, and unpaid care work – as well as in legal protections, political representation, and violence against women.
The costs of this inequality are substantial. If women matched men in terms of work – not only participating in the labor force at the same rate, but also working as many hours and in the same sectors – global GDP could increase by an estimated $28 trillion, or 26%, by 2025. That is like adding another United States and China to the world economy. Closing the gender gap in labor-force participation would deliver 54% of those gains; aligning rates of part-time work would provide another 23%; and shifting women into higher-productivity sectors to match the employment pattern of men would account for the rest.
Given recent rates of progress, it is unrealistic to expect full gender parity in the world of work in the foreseeable future. But countries could match gains in the best-performing economy in their region. That would add up to $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025, boosting GDP by 16% in India and about 10% in North America and Europe.
To achieve this, the McKinsey study recommends that governments, non-profits, and businesses emphasize progress in four key areas: education, legal rights, access to financial and digital services, and unpaid care work. As these critical and mutually reinforcing efforts boosted women’s economic standing, they would naturally help to improve women’s social position, reflected in better health outcomes, increased physical security, and greater political representation.
The first step is improved education and skills training, which have been proven to raise female labor-force participation. Smaller differences in educational attainment between men and women are strongly correlated with higher status for girls and women, which helps to reduce the incidence of sex-selective abortions, child marriage, and violence from an intimate partner. Women who enjoy parity in education are more likely to share unpaid work with men more equitably, to work in high-productivity professional and technical occupations, and to assume leadership roles.
To reinforce such progress, legal provisions guaranteeing the rights of women as full members of society should be introduced or expanded. Such provisions have been shown to increase female labor-force participation, while improving outcomes according to several social indicators, including violence against women, child marriage, unmet need for family planning, and education.
Improved access to financial services, mobile phones, and digital technology is also linked to higher rates of female labor-force participation, including in leadership roles, and decreased time spent doing unpaid care work. And, as it stands, women spend a lot of time on such work, accounting for 75% of it, on average, worldwide.
Unpaid care work – which includes the vital tasks that keep households functioning, such as looking after children and the elderly, cooking, and cleaning – obviously amounts to a major hurdle to more active participation in the economy. If men shared such responsibilities more equitably, businesses adopted more flexible and “care-friendly” work schedules, and governments provided more support for childcare and other family-care functions, female labor-force participation rates could rise significantly.
It is certainly in the interest of companies to do more to support gender equality, which expands the pool of talent from which they can select employees and managers. Moreover, more women mean more insight into the mentality of female customers. And, perhaps most important to a company, a growing body of evidence suggests that the presence of women in executive and board positions can increase corporate returns.
One of the highest barriers to gender parity, however, may be deeply held beliefs and attitudes. As Anne-Marie Slaughter emphasizes in her recent book, both men and women undervalue care work relative to paid work outside the home. Likewise, surveys indicate that sizeable shares of men and women worldwide continue to believe that children suffer when their mothers work. And numerous studies document continued implicit biases against women in hiring and promotion processes, triggering growing interest in Silicon Valley startups that use technology to mitigate such biases throughout their human-resources operations.
Clearly, reaching gender parity will be no easy feat. But it remains vitally important, both to improve outcomes for women and girls, and to advance economic development and prosperity for all.
The Underside of Uber
While the car-hailing app Uber’s board members and investors have received an outpouring of praise in recent days for forcing CEO Travis Kalanick to resign, they don’t deserve it. On the contrary, while Kalanick did indeed need to go, the move was long overdue – and it was delayed for all the wrong reasons.
LONDON – The car-hailing app Uber’s board members and investors have received an outpouring of praise in recent days for forcing CEO Travis Kalanick to resign. They don’t deserve it. On the contrary, while Kalanick did indeed need to go, the move was long overdue – and it was delayed for all the wrong reasons.
Founded in 2009 as “UberCab” in San Francisco, Uber has grown from an innovative startup to a $68 billion global behemoth at an astonishing rate. With the help of multiple rounds of financing from major investors, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Goldman Sachs, it has emerged as a massive industry disruptor, operating in 570 cities worldwide, in less than a decade.
But the company’s rapid ascent has been accompanied by a steady stream of revelations of dubious behavior, from violating customers’ privacy and deceiving local government regulators to mistreating drivers. When guests at its Chicago launch party in 2011 were entertained by the company’s “God View” system, which allowed them to see the whereabouts of all current drivers and riders, it was a clear privacy violation, but the demonstration at least kept its subjects anonymous.
The next one, at the same event, did not: it showed in real time the location and movements of 30 named people in Uber cars in New York City. It was a breathtaking – and breathtakingly casual – breach of trust. Yet the company faced only negligible repercussions: after a little bad press, it was back to business as usual.
In 2014, an Uber executive used the God View system to track a reporter without her permission. Another noted that he could dig up dirt on a reporter who had criticized the company. Again, after a flurry of news reports, Uber continued its forward march unchanged and undeterred, its investors silent.
The same year, a woman in India was raped by her driver. Uber had failed to conduct a proper background check on the driver, and then proceeded to violate the woman again, by obtaining and distributing her medical records internally.
These events are illustrative of a larger pattern and attitude. From the outset, Uber has tried, time and again, to railroad lawmakers in cities around the world, arrogantly ignoring safety rules and regulations. More recently, it was revealed that Uber may have been tracking and profiling individual drivers, as part of a so-called “Hell” program aimed at determining, among other things, the status of competitors’ drivers, including whether its own drivers also worked for its competitors.
Kalanick, who declared in 2012, “I like pissing people off,” was the most directly responsible for these decisions, and recent news coverage of Uber has rightly held him up as a poster child for leadership gone wrong. But Kalanick was no Übermensch, unbound by rules intended for mere mortals. He could not have continued on his destructive path if not for the investors and board members who – hungry for profits and full of excuses – allowed misogyny, disregard for ethics, and poor judgment to become entwined in the company’s managerial fabric.
In fact, until recently, neither Uber’s board nor its other investors treated Kalanick’s attitudes toward privacy, workers’ rights, and women as serious issues, much less fireable offenses. They were too busy buying into – and, indeed, encouraging – Kalanick, who was often described in nod-and-wink terms like “brash” and “disruptive.” And each time an ethical misstep amounted to nothing, Kalanick’s – and, by extension, the company’s – sense of impunity intensified, enabling him and others to continue to push the boundaries of business ethics and human decency.
Even now that Uber has been forced to confront its failings, there are doubts about its commitment to change. Yes, Kalanick is out. And Uber’s board hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to review concerns surrounding the company. But will Holder’s recommendations – more than 40 in all – be implemented?
During a company meeting on the day Holder’s report was released, Uber board member David Bonderman equated the addition of more women board members with “more talking.” For a company facing sexual harassment claims, the comment displayed more than poor taste; it showed an appalling failure to grasp the gravity of the situation. The good news is that Bonderman resigned shortly after the meeting, suggesting that the company’s leadership may finally be ready to clean house.
Uber’s experience should serve as a cautionary tale for boards and investors far beyond Silicon Valley. Innovation and disruption are not the problem – far from it. But they must be linked to a sense of responsibility and corporate governance that ensures accountability.
For board members, this means recognizing the importance of a firm hand, beginning in the startup phase. For investors, it means looking beyond short-term returns, in order to avoid the damage to a company’s long-term health and wellbeing that can result when relationships with customers, suppliers, employees, and the communities in which it operates are not properly maintained. A company that allows disregard for ethics to become entrenched risks paying a steep price – as do its investors.
As for Uber itself, it may not be too late, though the company faces a long and difficult road ahead. The company needs root-and-branch change, accompanied by a genuine and concerted effort to rebuild trust with customers, drivers, partners, and lawmakers. Only then can it move past not just the lawsuits it faces, but also the public mistrust that could irreparably harm its future performance.
If Uber’s leaders fully commit to such a transformation, they could achieve one of the great turnaround stories of our time. If they don’t, Uber will become an acquisition target or, worse, a zombie company, unable to compete with more vital competitors that learn from it what not to do.