As International Women’s Day approaches, the tech industry continues to make slow progress towards a healthy gender balance. The 2022 Nash Squared Digital Leadership Report shows that 14% of digital leaders are women. This is very low where it should be – but nevertheless it is the highest proportion we have recorded. The hope should be that as the pipeline fills from below, the rate of change will accelerate.
In the meantime, how can talented women in technology break through that ceiling and reach a position in the Boardroom? The recently published FTSE annual Women Leaders Review found that 40% of FTSE 350 Board positions are now occupied by women – this is an encouraging development, especially as the target reached early three years. So, how do we see similar results in tech boardrooms specifically? And how can women make their mark and thrive there, serving as pathfinders for others to follow?
It is important to appreciate that there are no easy paths to the Board – for men or women. Making it up the corporate ladder is tough and competitive. And there are trade offs to be made. Getting into a senior executive position means devoting a significant part of your life to work, and that almost inevitably means some repercussions in other areas. This applies whether you are a woman or a man, are in a couple or single, have children or not, or have other hobbies, interests and passions. Whoever you are, you have to be willing to make some sacrifices.
That doesn’t mean you can’t strike a good work-life balance and have a well-rounded life. But it means hard work, commitment and a real drive to do well.
Another important point, therefore, is to do your homework and make sure that getting a senior position is what you want. Some people, of both sexes, reach mid-career and realize that they are happy in a middle-management position or prefer to go into a specialty rather than try to climb the higher ladder. of seniority. That is a perfectly valid decision.
If you want to get into a Board position, then there are many things that will really help you along the way. For women in particular, having a good network around you of colleagues within the business or outside contacts that you can turn to for advice, support and encouragement is invaluable. Join a women’s network or other specialist groups related to your field. In particular, see if you can find a mentor (of any gender) who will act as a sounding board, coach and guide. Having a female teacher who has followed this path helps even if they can speak from a point of knowing the challenges and the opportunities and to give practical advice. At times when you experience doubt, feel like you’ve hit a brick wall or have to deal with new and unfamiliar things, the wisdom and experience of a mentor can help you move on and keep going. to grow.
The advice and support of others is golden – but it’s also important to stay true to yourself. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Find a way to work where you are comfortable with yourself, but also push yourself to improve. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you encounter bad behavior. Don’t let sexism or other unacceptable attitudes perpetuate themselves by remaining silent.
Finally, related to this, you don’t expect the next step to just come. The truth is that we still do not live in an equal and inclusive world. It’s not a level playing field. That’s why you first need to be patient and secondly put your hand up for responsibilities that may go beyond your current role – offer to lead a project for example or chair a committee. It’s like school where extra-curricular activities earn you credits. Show willingness to face new challenges and opportunities.
It thrives there
So you came? Congratulations! But what now…?
Taking a position on the Board can feel strange and unfamiliar. It’s like watching a sport you don’t know – baseball, for example. You sit there and think, “What are the rules here? What does good look like? And who really won?”
Same in the Boardroom. You need to get your bearings and understand the rules of the game. It means maintaining all the qualities that probably helped you get there – curiosity, inquisitiveness, questioning, digging deeper. It also means that you don’t just accept what is in front of you. After all, you joined the Board to make a positive impact and contribution. Some Boards are dominated by certain characters. If women are in the minority, they (and quieter men) may struggle to get a word in the contents. If that’s the case, do something about it – go to the chairman, for example, and flag your dissatisfaction and that you want to contribute more. Chances are they’ll give you the first slot at the next meeting!
Strive to make a positive and active contribution. Be prepared for the fact that, if you have an impact, it may mean proposing new things that may encounter some opposition. Again, it comes down to being confident and comfortable in your own skin.
Also remember that Boards succeed or fail together. The best Boards are a collaborative unit, working together for the best interests of the business. Play a full part of that, bring the best of yourself to every discussion, and be willing to listen and learn – and you’ll find yourself continuing to learn and grow as a professional. .
Make yourself available to other women, too. Don’t be one of those accused of ‘pulling the ladder’ behind them. Prepare to act as a teacher; give emerging talent time; be the voice of women in business.
Is the door open?
There hasn’t been enough progress in getting women into the Boardroom – and ethnic minority representation is even worse. However, there are signs of things slowly moving in the right direction. It is the responsibility of all leaders to own the issue and create pathways to bring in diverse talent at all levels including the C-suite. This should be an item on the agenda itself at every Board meeting.
It is more difficult for women than men to reach the top level. However, the feeling is growing that, if you push the door in the right way, it might just open.
Bev White, CEO, and Melanie Hayes, member of the Operating Board, Nash Squared