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Three Takeaways in Our Latest Research on Women in Tech That Will Really Make You Think

Woman Typing on Computer Keyboard In OfficeBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Today The Glass Hammer is releasing the latest in our series of research papers: Women in Technology: Leaders of Tomorrow. Sponsored by Accenture, the report examines the next generation of women leaders in technology and the responsibility that companies have in supporting their growth and development.

At our Women in Tech career event last fall, we heard stories of success from women in senior technology roles at their companies. But afterward, during the Q&A and networking sessions, we found that our guests (junior and mid-level women technologists) still had some questions. They had a lot of ambition, but they seemed unsure of how to approach real obstacles in their climb to the top. They asked questions like how to make sure they are taken seriously and getting credit for the work they’ve done, how to deal with supervisors who just don’t seem to acknowledge their potential, and how to be seen and remembered in a field rife with turnover and near-constant reorganization.

Issues like these, we believe, are the ones that drive women to leave technology careers, rather than realize their full potential as leaders.

Yet, the solutions to these issues have little to do women themselves. They are systemic problems within organizations that push women to the side and don’t provide them with the opportunities to flex their very capable leadership muscles. With this research, we sought to find out what engages women leaders, how to support them as they advance, and what they think of leadership and themselves.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be examining more closely the findings of our report and what they mean for women in technology as well as the companies that need them. Here are three big takeaways from our report.

1. Women in Tech are Ambitious. The vast majority (85.3 percent) of the women who responded to our survey (almost 200 women in junior and mid-level technology roles around the world, but mainly focused in New York) said they hoped to get a promotion in the next three years. This is not big news – career advancement is a short term goal for a lot of people.

But our respondents’ ambition was not limited to the short term.

Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of our respondents said they hoped to make it to the C-Suite or Senior Management someday. This is higher than other similar measures that have been reported in recent years. For example, in McKinsey’s 2012 report “Unlocking the full potential of women at work,” only 41 percent of successful women executives said they were interested in a C-Suite job.

We don’t know if long-term ambition is a common characteristic of women in technology as a whole, or if it was just a common characteristic of the women who chose to take our survey. Since The Glass Hammer is a career website for women interested in leadership, it seems likely that these are the type of people who would respond. Either way, we believe this means our report provides a unique insight into what high potential women technologists are looking for in their career and company.

2. Less Than a Quarter Say Their Company “Walks the Talk” on Women’s Advancement. At many companies, it’s become fashionable for corporate leaders to talk about the “business case” for women’s advancement, and to discuss why their companies should develop more inclusive cultures that empower women. But, our survey shows, that’s not as common as we might think. Less than half of our respondents (44.6 percent) said their leaders are vocally supportive of women.

What’s more, less than a quarter of our respondents (24.5 percent) said companies “walk the talk” by following through on the values espoused by corporate leadership by providing real support for women.

A trend in our research showed that “walking the talk” is really important for igniting women’s desire to lead. Women who worked at companies that “walked the talk” were often more interested in advancing to the C-Suite someday. This points to the critical importance of companies following through on promises by providing real, tangible resources for programs designed to develop women leaders.

3. Women Believe They Have Different Core Traits than Today’s Leaders. We were curious about what women thought of today’s leaders, and we were also curious about how that compares to the way they see themselves. In our survey, we presented our respondents with a list of ten traits and asked them to pick three to describe today’s leaders. Later on, we presented the same list and asked them to pick the three that best describe themselves. The differences were striking.

Top 3 Traits for Leaders        
Top 3 Traits to Describe Yourself
Collaborative (44%) Collaborative (50.5%)
Innovative (41.9%) Honest (47.8%)
Decisive (38.0%) Goal Oriented (44.0%)
Technically Adept (35.3%) Confident (32.1%)
Confident (33.2%) High EQ (32.1%)
High EQ (30.4%) Passionate (27.7%)
Goal Oriented (28.3%) Technically Adept (23.9%)
Passionate (23.4%) Creative (23.4%)
Honest (19.6%) Decisive (22.8%)
Creative (16.3%) Innovative (17.9%)

The number one trait women chose to describe both themselves and technology leaders was “Collaborative.” Otherwise, the lists couldn’t be more different. Women described themselves as “Honest” much more than their leaders. They also described themselves as “Goal Oriented” more frequently. On the other hand, for leaders, “Innovative” and “Decisive” were top traits, but they were at the bottom of the list of traits women used to describe themselves.

This poses an interesting question: do women anticipate growing into the traits that mark today’s leaders? Or do they expect to change what it means to be a leader tomorrow?

Our research also produced meaningful information on sponsorship, networking, role models, and more – we will explore these topics further in the coming weeks. Click here to download a full report [PDF].

We would like to thank Accenture for sponsoring this very important research. If you have any questions about how corporate leaders can use this information to better attract, retain, and develop female technologists, please contact our Founder and CEO, Nicki Gilmour at nicki@theglasshammer.com.

4 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Fay Simcock

    So women view themselves (when compared with leaders) as too honest, goal oriented, passionate and creative and not sufficiently innovative, decisive and technically adept.

    So if we assume the world isn’t going to change in a hurry and therefore those skills are going to remain key to leadership success: wouldn’t it be a great idea to design a women’s leadership program to develop those specific skills?

  2. Avatar
    melissa

    Hi Fay, that’s one way to look at it – although I would point out that “creative” was at the bottom of the list for our respondents too. They may see a deficiency on behalf of leaders – perhaps they don’t see current leaders as honest or goal oriented enough. We DO NOT believe women should suffer because of systemic issues that they have no control over, nor should we expect women to change who they are to fit into the stereotype of what a technologist normally looks or acts like. We believe this should be a wake-up call to corporate leaders — these talented and ambitious women will leave their companies if they aren’t inspired and supported by leaders who believe in them.

  3. Avatar
    Julia

    Could it be that the women are just underestimating their own abilities? We see someone else create something and we only see the end result so assume they’re some kind of creative genius – if we create something, we know it was maybe one of a dozen or more attempts so we may shrug it off as a fluke, or at best we know it was perspiration as much as inspiration that won through.

    It would be interesting to know how men would respond to the same questions.