Tag

Women on Boards

Equality

Is 2019 a turning point for women executives?

On International Women’s Day today I find myself asking could it be that the momentum is finally building to escape velocity? Escape from a world where the majority of corporate power is held by white men? It feels like it.

The new California legislation requiring the boards of companies who have their headquarters in California to have women on their boards may or may not be constitutional but for the first time it is absolutely forcing the conversation. I’ve been raising this issue for many years now and for the first time I feel the wind at my back. I am now getting frequent inbound inquiries asking for suggestions of women I know who would be qualified as board directors, sometimes even from men who have been die hard opposers to the need or benefit of adding a woman (or one woman more than me) to their boards.

As any recruiter who has been working on getting women onto boards for a while now will tell you this is not a supply problem. There are plenty of highly qualified CxOs who are female and interested. It’s been a demand problem, especially when the easiest objection to put up is the director must have prior public company board experience which perpetuates the bias to older men. Now it’s finally changing.

We are also seeing, on the heels of the #MeToo movement, that executives who sexually harass their employees, or have affairs within their company, are no longer tolerated. Even a couple of years ago this was not the case as I saw to my dismay but it’s clear now the objectification of women in the highest corridors of power holds them down. Some of the most senior executives are now being brought down by their failure to respect the women around them. It’s about time.

We have the largest number of women in the Senate and in the House of Representatives in history – potentially energized by our current political environment – but maybe also because women are finally coming into their own politically.

And maybe, just maybe, the toxic conversation towards women that we see at the highest level of our government is the dark just before the dawn. Are women finally reaching into enough levels of power that the resistance to us sharing power is having its last, blustering hurrah?

I choose to believe so.

The movement to put women onto boards is profoundly important. In no way will this lower the quality of directors (as several men have told me) but will instead improve the quality of the conversation and the financial results of the companies. Less group think, less clubby agreeing. More diverse input and, I often see, less of the old and tired conventional input. Women who have made it to the top of their game in 2019 have had to work harder and be smarter to get there – they are often over qualified before they come to the table. If a woman graduated in the 1980s or 1990s I guarantee she has at some point had to out-work and out-smart the men around her to get ahead. The unconscious bias has been powerful and unrelenting but when you meet women directors and CxOs today they are impressive because they have had to be to get to where they are.

I believe, more strongly than ever, that we need to create a world where women have equal opportunity with men. As today’s campaign theme says #BalanceforBetter. Balance so women have equal economic opportunity to make money and lead enterprises. Equal opportunity for political power. This is how we create stronger societies and lasting peace.

And I believe the tide has turned, the momentum is building, and we are entering a world where power can be shared across genders.

Photo: Herculaneum © 2011 Penny Herscher

Equality, Leadership

Three things you can do to hire women and change your company forever

Posted in the Huffington Post

Our world is changing very fast, and the role of women is changing
fast with it — and, mostly, for the positive. We have more women in
power, more women in the workforce, more women in control of their lives
but there still aren’t representative numbers of women at the top of
companies.

And yet, we now know that diverse teams make better decisions. We know women make 85 percent of consumer
buying decisions, and so, if you sell anything to them, you probably
want women in your decision structure. As a CEO, if you’re making
strategy decisions, and hiring decisions, you want a diverse set of
opinions around you to advise you. It’s time to pro-actively bring women into your workforce.

So
why would any company build an all-male leadership team now, or an all
male board, or a board that is mostly male with one token female? The
most often-cited reason is that there are no qualified candidates —
what baloney! When Twitter filed for its IPO with no women on the board
(despite the dominance of women on social media) the reason given was:
“The issue isn’t the intention, the issue is just the paucity of
candidates.”

It’s just not the truth (as the NYT kindly pointed out
to Twitter at the time). There are women available to hire, but you
have to be determined to build a diverse leadership team to make it
happen because the easier path (less work) is to hire people just like
you: men. You have to be willing to do the extra work, find the diverse
candidates, and open up your job spec to change your company for the
future — and for the better. It’s just good business.

Here are three roles where you can change the numbers:

Board of Directors: Mostly male still. Women hold only 16.9 percent of board seats,
10 percent of boards have no women on them and those numbers are barely
changing. If, as many boards do, you set your search criteria
narrowly… for example, must have been a CEO (that cuts most women
out), must have prior board experience (that cuts most women out), must
be retired (the women in the workforce are newer and so less likely to
be retired) then, presto! all you see are male candidates.

The
solution here is to open your search up to operating executives who are
not CEOs. They are in related industries in powerful operating positions
like CIO, GM or CFO and probably have no prior board experience. But
everyone starts somewhere, and there are excellent training programs you
can go to to learn how to be a public company director.

Software Engineers: Mostly male still. And with hiring practices like the “Bromance Chamber
at DropBox not surprisingly! Twenty percent of CS majors are girls, and
the best technology companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel et
al) both compete to hire them and invest in programs like the Anita Borg Institute
to learn how to both recruit them, and retain them. But the best
companies also reach outside the rigid spec of pure computer science.

Again
the solution is to be open to a wider set of candidates, without
compromising quality. Open up to girls (and boys) with math majors, or
double majors in math and computer science — those who wouldn’t make it
through the narrow filter of typical CS hiring processes, but who are
likely smarter, harder working, and need just a small amount of training
to be fully effective for your company. Facebook even runs a summer
intern program for students without technical degrees, knowing they can
train them and wanting the very best brains for their engineering teams.

Sales People:
Mostly (white) male still. A lingering bastion of the smart,
golf-playing male in a crisp white shirt. When challenged on the limited
number of female candidates being presented, most recruiters will whine
and complain about the limited pool.

The solution: Deliberately
ask your recruiter to do the extra work to find the diverse candidates.
At my company our sales recruiter did, and we found excellent female
candidates immediately. It’s been my experience that women sell just as
well as men, so why not get a mixed team in place so you see the selling
challenges from more than one perspective?

In all these cases,
you are not trying to hire women. I’d never compromise the quality of
the hire for race or gender. Many women would (quite rightly) be
offended if they thought they were only being hired because of their
gender. What you are doing is insisting on a diverse candidate pool and a
level playing field for those candidates. And, in my experience, that
leads to stronger candidates, to gender balanced teams and, as a result,
to better decisions.

At my own company, FirstRain,
where I am CEO, our board is 50 percent women. My senior leadership
team is half men, half women. That’s no accident. If you are determined
to see diverse candidates you will — and have absolutely no compromise
on quality — quite the reverse!

Boards, Equality

Why the Debate About Twitter’s Board and Women at the Top in Silicon Valley Is a Healthy One

Posted in the Huffington Post today

Is the fact that Twitter has filed for its IPO with no women on the board,
and only one (new) woman in management a question of supply or demand?
Is it the “arrogance of the Silicon Valley mafia,” as Vivek Wadhwa believes,
or “difficult” due to a lack of qualified candidates as Twitter
insiders have implied, or just competing priorities while managing a
rapidly growing company?

This is a critical debate, one that has been growing since Lean In was released and a debate that is good for technology companies. We now know that having diverse product design teams creates better products. We also now know that having women on boards makes companies more competitive. So why would a company build its management team and board entirely from men?

Some would argue it’s a priority issue and the debate Vivek and Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo,
sparked on Twitter gets us thinking about the priorities. When you’re
building a company, especially one as visible and ground-breaking as
Twitter, it can be hard to do anything that takes extra effort. It’s all
you can do to keep up with the demands of the voracious needs of your
company and a second-level issue, like diversity, probably does not feel
urgent. It takes time and effort to build a diverse team because to do
so you have to demand that your recruiters do the extra work to provide
you with diverse, qualified candidates.

The trustees at the Anita Borg Institute from Women in Technology,
where I have served on the board for the last ten years, know this
firsthand. ABI is funded by companies like Google, Intel, Microsoft,
IBM, Facebook, Amazon, HP… the board is made up of both men and women,
executives who believe growing women in technology is important and the
way to change the numbers is to make diversity a priority. To focus at
both the college level and in the workforce — to focus on solutions
that keep women in technical roles, that reduce the isolation many women
feel in tech, and that teach the skills necessary to get ahead in a
male dominated world.

Some would argue it’s a supply issue – that there are just not very
many women in tech to chose from so finding qualified ones is hard.
It’s true, there are not as many of us as there should be, but there are enough that boards can find one, or two, women to help them diversify their ranks. It’s a question of good governance in the end. Catalyst research has shown women on boards increases the rate of return to shareholders over time which is one of the reasons the EU is moving to quotas of female directors, and why the UK has a percentage target
of female directors for the FTSE by 2015. But in the fast pace of
private Silicon Valley companies few VCs would tell you having women on
their boards matters because it’s all about rate of growth, and when
you’re moving fast you hire who you know, or people who’ve done it
before, which is most likely men like you. My experience over the last
twenty years is that the bias in neither conscious, nor intentional.

So yes, women on boards is not usually a priority to young tech
companies, but Silicon Valley is not ” virtually closed to women,” as
the NYT
claimed on Sunday. There are plenty of us here running companies,
building products and building companies that we believe will change the
world. For the first time we have women at the top of several high
profile technology companies — all at once! We have the glamorous
Marissa Mayer at Yahoo and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook; we have the
intensely focused Meg Whitman at HP and Ginny Rometty at IBM; we have
high-growth, smaller company leaders like Amy Pressman at Medallia and
Christy Wyatt at Good Technology and we would all tell you that while
we’re not done, the environment is so much better for women now than it
has ever been.

But in the end, the debate itself if the best thing that’s happening.
Sheryl’s making people talk about how to encourage women in the
workplace with Lean In, ABI is challenging leaders to measure the
quality of their company by what kind of company it is for technical
women to work in (Intel was the most recent winner),
and Twitter’s IPO gives us another chance to look at the statistics,
take a deep breath, and once again set out to change them. As Dick Costolo’s final tweet last night said, “The issues are much bigger than checking any 1 box.” It’s time to address them.