Editor’s Note: This article has been updated as of July 10, 2015.
What does it take to attract top female talent and get more women in leadership roles? Faced with a steady stream of gender discrimination lawsuits and enough negative press to make even thick-skinned politicians feel bad about themselves, Silicon Valley executives are now giving this question some very serious thought.
Hoping to seem more female-friendly, many tech companies are beefing up their job perks, offering more flexible hours, extra paid family leave, on-site childcare, and exceedingly generous health benefits. Apple and Facebook made headlines and sparked a national debate last fall by announcing they would foot the bill for female employees to freeze their eggs. (To keep things fair, they pay for sperm freezing as well.)
Such efforts to create more work-life balance certainly make these companies great employers. But to make their companies great employers for women, male executives don’t have to get so creative. They simply need to ask themselves, “What would I want?” A Harvard Business School study of more than 25,000 graduates showed that men and women want exactly the same things from work—both a successful career and a successful life.
Yes, everyone wants balance. But women want more from their employers—and their careers—than reproductive assistance and the ability to work from home. We want equal pay, the same opportunities as men for career advancement, the chance to be mentored, and to see women in leadership roles.
In a recent post about top women in business, I profiled five powerful leaders and shared their advice for how women can advance their own careers. But how can tech companies give women a boost, ensuring they have all the same resources and opportunities as men?
Hiring, developing, and promoting talented women isn’t just good for PR, which tech companies could certainly use right now. It also improves business performance. Multiple studies have shown that companies with women in top leadership positions are more innovative, generate more revenue, and experience more growth than those with only men running the show.
Yet, in the US technology industry, women hold only 7.3 percent of board seats, according to Catalyst, and 54 percent of global tech companies don’t have a single female board member or C-level executive.
The numbers don’t get much better when you look further down the pipeline. The Anita Borg Institute, an organization dedicated to advancing women in technology, reports paltry female representation across job levels:
Making up about 23 percent of the technical workforce and earning about 18 percent of computer science degrees, women are underrepresented in the technical workforce, and are leaving the industry at twice the rate as men due to the inhospitable tech environment.
So, how can technology companies create a more hospitable environment—one where women and men start out on even footing?
Silicon Valley execs know they have a problem, and whether for the sake of conscience or the love of cash, most are trying to do something about it. Some are even setting quotas, promising to close the gender leadership gap within a certain number of years. But while it’s nice to know tech companies are taking the issue seriously, what smart, talented woman wants to know she got a promotion to fill a quota?
The better solution: give women the same opportunities, resources, and support systems that men have—and then let them earn their C-suites.
The following four employers are doing just that. Granted, some on the list have further to go than others to reach gender parity, but all of them are thinking outside the work-life-balance box:
Not only did the Anita Borg Institute name IBM one of the “Top Companies for Women Technologists,” the National Association of Female Executives (NAFE) says it’s one of the top companies for women in leadership, across industries.
In the 17 years that NAFE has compiled its annual list of “Top 50 Companies for Executives Women,” IBM has been featured 15 times, making it the only tech company in NAFE’s “Hall of Fame.” IBM is also the only tech company to make the top 10 this year and the only member of that short list with a female CEO.
Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty isn’t alone at the top. Twenty-nine percent of IBM’s senior managers are women, as are 26 percent of its executives. Considering 30 percent of IBM’s 431,000 worldwide employees are women, those numbers are pretty impressive.
How has the tech giant found so many women with leadership potential? By creating its own pool of qualified applicants. In May 2013, the company circulated a 15-page report entitled “Your Journey to Executive,” a resource for female employees with insights to help them get greater visibility and more career development opportunities. IBM also offers retreats and networking groups for aspiring female leaders, helping them find mentors and career sponsors. And through the “Reconnections” initiative, the company goes after female executives who have left the company—enticing them back by offering continuing education and networking.
Also featured on the Anita Borg list, Salesforce has a few women in senior leadership roles and two on its 11-member board. But overall, men comprise 85 percent of the leadership team at this sales software company. Oh, and the gender pay gap? Salesforce has that too…but not for long.
CEO Marc Benioff has made it his mission to ensure men and women get the same pay for the same work. He is currently reviewing the salaries of all 16,000 employees and righting any wrongs he finds in the process.
Benioff says it will take a couple years to complete this review, but he told Huffington Post that he’s already given some women raises and expects “to be giving a lot more.” Calling equal pay the “third rail” for women, he promises to personally ensure fairness among the genders. “My job is to make sure that women are treated 100 percent equally at Salesforce in pay, opportunity and advancement. When I’m done there will be no gap.”
Considering any real organizational or cultural change must start at the top. Salesforce seems to be on the right track.
Not surprisingly, Google has yet again topped Fortune’s annual list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.” Its job perks have been legendary for years, even before Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson made a movie about interning there. But there are far more men enjoying the great work environment than women. Around 70 percent of Google employees are men, and only 21 percent of leaders are women.
Hoping to get to the root of gender discrimination, Google has begun investigating the role unconscious biases play in hiring and job promotions. The Business Insider explains:
Google HR boss Laszlo Bock was tipped to the possibility of unconscious bias at the company when he read a New York Times story about a Yale University study, which concluded that “science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills.”
If this could happen to male and female science professors, Google realized it could happen at Google.
Hoping to make Google employees more aware of their unconscious biases, the company’s HR department is spearheading a pro-diversity initiative, featuring workshops and educational videos like this one:
Half of Google’s 49,000 employees have already taken the centerpiece diversity workshop, and the company has also put new policies in place to help reinforce this training. For example, employees are encouraged to immediately call out gender bias when they see it.
Coming in first place on the Anita Borg Institute’s list of best employers for women technologists, this financial services company offers a specific career advancement track for technical contributors, ensuring women engineers get equal training and fair evaluation for promotions. BNY Mellon also boasts high female representation across all job levels, including senior and executive leadership.
None of these companies are perfect, and most still have a long way to go before catching up with healthcare and other industries where women executives are a dime a dozen. But these four employers have created some best practices that are certainly worth emulating. It’s at least a strong start.
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