Glass Cliff or Brick Wall: Can Women Really Be Successful Leaders in the Tech Industry?
According to the U.S. department of labor, 57 percent of the U.S. workforce is comprised of women. Not only that, 50 percent of the total U.S. workforce is employed in information technology industries. In spite of the influx of women, they are still poorly represented in high tech industries, particularly at the senior management and executive levels. Currently, a meager four percent of IT executives are women, yet most studies reveal that companies with high ranking women are accruing more revenue, and those who are not inviting women to their boardrooms are missing out on a valuable resource.
There are a number of theories as to why a dearth of women executives in IT exists. One of the most popular is the “glass cliff” theory. It supports the idea that women have a greater opportunity than men to acquire jobs in companies that are performing poorly.
Yet real-life examples, such as Kate Swan who turned around troubled bookseller WH Smith, indicate that the best executives are often those that take on a troubled enterprise. A further explanation is that women executives are focused in the media and consumer goods industries, mainly because these fields have been open to women for longer than high tech industries.
Another possible contributing factor hindering women from gaining high level positions in the IT field could be because although they are often highly skilled in their field of technical expertise, they often lack a strong background in business management and finance. Studies on transferability of skills throughout IT fields indicate that advancement in business companies in the high tech industries requires a broader background knowledge and skillset extending beyond the IT field.
Despite the small percentage of women CEOs in the IT industry, it is clear is that today we are witnessing a more educated and ambitious generation of women than ever before. What is also becoming apparent is that women need to continue to maintain their confidence, use their strong communications skills, and keep a clear sense of their goals no matter what obstacles lay in their path. For women looking for inspiration in the high tech industries, here are three successful female CEOs to keep an eye on:
Claire Boonstra, CEO and Co-founder, Layar
After graduating with a degree in civil engineering, Ms. Boonstra ventured into technology and launched Layar in 2009. The smartphone APP draws together GPS, compass and camera to create layers of data about your real location.
Corinna E. Lathan, CEO of AnthroTronix
AnthroTronix is a unique company that develops robots to help children with diseases, such as cerebral palsy, learn how to use their motor functions. Ms. Lathan was inspired to create the concept by her previous studies with NASA. She is also actively involved in outreach programs promoting science and technology to women and minorities.
Leslie Harris, CEO and president at the Center For Democracy and Technology (CDT)
An internationally recognized expert in Internet policy, Ms. Harris spearheads the forerunner in Internet freedom, civil liberties and cyber security. The previous founder of Leslie Harris & Associates, she joined the CDT in 2005 as executive director. She now serves at the organization’s manager and chief spokesperson.
IT is an exciting field for tech-minded women. Don’t let the statistics deter you from entering the profession, or from striving to break the glass cliff. The more frequently dedicated women enter this field, the more often opportunities will become available to young female professionals to raise to executive levels within the tech realm.