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3 Practical Ways to Leverage Women in Tech for Business Benefit

Stop thinking quotas and start thinking value in filling talent shortages, spurring innovation and building loyalty.

Pam Baker

October 18, 2019

5 Min Read
Businesswomen
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Building, maintaining and promoting diversity in tech is a pillar topic at conferences. That’s understandable given it’s not just a push to “do the right thing” but one means to address a growing talent shortage.

Thus, the Women in Tech breakfast at this week’s Acronis Global Cyber Summit in Miami was expected. Its approach to tackling the obstacles, however, was refreshingly different. Specific pointers were offered by the panelists, but the breakout discussion groups offered even more.

Attending any of the “women in tech” breakfasts and lunches routinely offered at conferences is obligatory for many of the attendees. Showing up for an hour somehow becomes equated with meaningful support, which is unfortunate as that leads to more than a few believing they’ve got a good grip on the issues or have done their part over a donut once a year. That’s how it comes to be that so many men in the audience chat among themselves – and why so many women tune out – rather than listen attentively to the speaker or panelists. Both men and women know they’ve heard it all before.

And that’s generally true of many “women in tech” sessions — the points made seem to be eternally unchanging and are repeated endlessly on a continuous loop. But once in awhile something happens to refresh the refrain.

The stage was set like so many others with accomplished female panelists and an experienced female moderator. At the Acronis conference, the Women in Tech panelists were Katya Fisher, partner and chief privacy officer at Greenspoon Marder law firm; Dr. Linda Babcock, behavioral economist, author and professor of economics, and chair of the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University; and Cheryl Robinson, founder of Ready2Roar and a contributor for ForbesWomen. The moderator was Katya Turtseva, vice president of communications at Acronis.

Much of the discussion covered familiar ground with advice such as “be confident,” “don’t be afraid,” and “yes, ladies, you can have it all.” Cheerful but too vague to put into practice, these comments border on platitudes and dull the ears. Fortunately, the conversation didn’t stop there.

3 Ways Women Can Advance in Tech

While several points stood out in the panelists’ conversation, and in the table breakouts afterward wherein a panelist or the moderator dropped by to spur the conversation between audience members at any given table, three in particular resonated in the room.

1. Replace standard performance review forms with performance metrics. In this day and age when nearly all business decisioning is driven by data and analytics, it’s simply shocking that performance reviews are still subjective measures of any given human’s worth on the job.

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Carnegie Mellon’s Linda Babcock

“Performance evaluations are ambiguous and subjective and therefore more susceptible to bias,” said Babcock.

Today’s annual performance evaluations reveal little of use to a company. Employers should replace those with actual performance metrics that measure all activities an employee engages in to get a more accurate read on actual work performance.

Women who are subjected to standard, biased performance reviews should come to the meeting with data in hand to support a fairer judgment on their performance on the job. This will also aid them in successfully pushing for advancement.

2. Replace or augment mentor programs with sponsor programs. This point has been mentioned at other events but it’s infrequent enough that it bears repeating. The difference is that a mentor teaches, whereas a sponsor promotes.

A sponsor actively promotes their sponsee in being included in highly visible projects, leadership roles, job promotions and raises, and other situations likely to benefit the sponsee’s career. A sponsor can also serve as a mentor by teaching the ropes (internal workings at the company), or teaching/advising on …

… skill development. By contrast, mentors can also serve as sponsors but very few do.

It behooves companies to have formalized sponsor programs in place, particularly when the goal is to fill talent gaps by training and promoting within.

“Be sure to articulate what sponsorship looks like and what exactly is expected of sponsors,” recommended Babcock.

For women looking to advance in companies with no active sponsors or sponsorship programs, consider starting such a program informally or formally within the company, an outside professional women’s group, or among co-workers.

3. Stop thinking quotas and start thinking hard value. Diversity programs, whether aimed at recruiting, hiring, developing and promoting women or minorities, are not acts of charity or fairness. Diversity programs are like any other business initiative in that they aim to fill a business need and accomplish a specific goal.

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Greenspoon Marder’s Katya Fisher

“This is not about quotas. Women are needed to fill talent shortages, because there simply isn’t enough tech talent available to fill all the jobs,” said Fisher.

Women are also needed to spur innovation by providing additional experiences and perspectives in order to break brain ruts and entrenched group think.

Further, American women in particular are powerful economic blocks who are not just employees, but also consumers. Reflecting those realities within a company to its highest echelons is a smart brand differentiator and consumer draw.

Companies are actively seeking women to fill highly visible and much needed roles. This is why internal diversity programs are essential to company growth.

Women who are employed at companies that don’t yet have diversity and sponsor programs need to take the initiative to promote themselves without hesitation or second-guessing their worth.

“Actively propel yourself forward at work, in social media, in published blogs and other works,” advises Fisher. “You aren’t asking for a handout; you’re selling your value to a company.”

Savvy companies do not dismiss diversity as a business strategy with the wave of a hand and a proud proclamation that the leader “isn’t politically correct.” Nor do conferences approach the subject of diversity as an aside or a dish of platitudes; instead, those companies seeking to fill their rosters with the best and the brightest will develop a plan to find, recruit and train such people from every walk of life.

Here’s hoping the next “women in tech” event you attend will be as much or more on point and relevant to an actual business strategy as this one was.

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About the Author(s)

Pam Baker

A prolific writer and analyst, Pam Baker’s published work appears in many leading print and online publications including Security Boulevard, PCMag, Institutional Investor magazine, CIO, TechTarget, Linux.com and InformationWeek, as well as many others. Her latest book is “Data Divination: Big Data Strategies.” She’s also a popular speaker at technology conferences as well as specialty conferences such as the Excellence in Journalism events and a medical research and healthcare event at the NY Academy of Sciences.

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