I managed a team of 12 business development representatives, with 80%+ being men. We were a close team and people were honest with their opinions – about both our work and our interests.
I’ve always been open with my views on gender equality, and the topic of feminism, especially in the workplace, was not off-limits. One day when chatting about an event for women in technology, one of the guys said: “well if I started a ‘men in technology’ group, that would be called sexist!”
That is a multi-layered statement, and I could easily write a whole post deconstructing it. The reason I tell this story though, is because it’s exactly why we do need women in technology groups.
I spoke at the Glasgow Salesforce Women in Tech group earlier this week and shared these thoughts:
Women in Tech in a Historical Context
I’m a bit of a history nerd, so it’s important to me that we begin these conversations with historical context. Traditionally, women have not dominated what economists refer to as the “public” sphere: the space of politics and business. Breaking down the barrier to entry into the public sphere is an achievement that we can’t forget – and part of what women in tech groups do is recognize that accomplishment.
Another consequence of separating the public and private (family life) spheres by gender, is it’s affected how we perceive each other as human beings. Unconscious bias, or when people make assumptions based on parts of your identity (gender, race, age, ability, sexuality etc.) because that’s the dominant narrative in our lives, affects the way we run our companies, who we hire/promote, and what talents we think exist in our organisations.
So, women have had to overcome a particular type of adversity to advance and succeed in their careers. For example, we tend to see women as fit for marketing, HR, and customer success roles and men as a natural fit for sales & executive leadership roles.
Beyond recognizing women in tech, these groups also exist to grow and cultivate more agents of change.
The Business Case for Women in Tech
The final reason is about the business case for women in tech (yes, there is one).
A commercially successful venture depends on organising a diversified group of skills oriented towards a common goal. Especially in start-up tech culture, you’ve got to be creative about how you maximise your often limited resources, which is what I’ve experienced at Apttus.
There’s a few economic theories that are relevant here, and some development concepts from the non-profit world that when combined, have powerful implications for businesses.
In economics, we have the capabilities approach (Amartya Sen), which focuses on what people can do in order to develop & how as a society we can expand those capabilities (versus simply increasing resources). There’s also the concept of economies of scope, which refers to when it’s actually more cost-effective to drive multiple outputs from 1 source of production instead of separate facilities to produce 2 different outputs.
Finally, in the non-profit space, we have asset-based community development (MckNight & Kretzmann), which argues that resource-poor communities actually have existing strengths/assets that are not being mobilised enough to their advantage.
How does all that come together in the context of women in technology?
1. Most businesses operate in a resource-limited environment and are fighting global economic market trends that threaten their success & sustainability.
2. In technology, and especially in the Salesforce ecosystem, products need to be full-service platforms versus just providing 1 solution.
3. Machine learning, AI, and digital demands of customer experience/big-data create a new set of problems for business leaders to solve.
4. The experience of overcoming adversity brings a unique perspective and set of skills to problem-solving. We have an existing pool of talent (women currently in your organisation, young women making career choices, and young girls with aspirations) that’s arguably not being mobilised enough across multiple areas.
If businesses are tracking towards an outcome of commercial success & self-sustainability, then they need to focus on what people are capable of doing, coach people to learn skills outside what society thinks their career trajectory is, and be fluid about how they get the most talent out of their employees.
Change, innovation, and successful problem-solving in today’s business world requires cultivating transformation as part of your culture. Be an agent of change by believing in the women & people you employ because you understand there’s a world of hidden talent they can offer you. Create a space where women can easily explore a multi-disciplinary skillset, succeed in a leadership role, and convert their own talent into an invaluable resource.