The heated debate about Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean-In" Campaign is distracting people from the real issue: CEOs need to do much more to promote the success of women in their organizations. Especially in the male-dominated tech sector. Sandberg's critics argue that as one of the wealthiest, most prominent female business leaders, she can't relate to the struggles facing the majority of women in the workplace. They're missing the point. Sandberg no doubt has the ability to afford all sorts of luxuries that most women don't have, but her advice is essential to create a platform of growth for women everywhere. Sandberg urges women to advocate for more flexibility and community, and she's absolutely right.
How can women ask for more when so many companies don't facilitate communication, flexibility and diversity? It's not enough for women to speak up. CEOs are the ones who must pave the way for women everywhere. Let's not waste our energy criticizing Sandberg. Let's figure out what needs to be done now.
First we must recognize the value women bring to our companies. More diverse teams result in faster growth, better decision-making, and a higher level of performance. Women bring a unique perspective to the challenges we face. If we don't promote them quickly, we're ultimately jeopardizing our own success.
Employers need to be thinking differently about how they are promoting women. Technology is one of the fastest growing industries in the economy, yet the number of women pursuing technical fields at the undergraduate and graduate level is nowhere near where it needs to be to equalize the gender ratio. Starting from the ground up, we should create scholarships for women in high school to encourage them to pursue technical careers. Once women join our companies, providing them with opportunities for continuing education will improve their performance and make them more committed to the long-term future of the business.
Women build up an enormous amount of knowledge about our companies during their tenure. It would be shortsighted to make it difficult for them to come back after maternity leave by failing to offer adequate support and benefits. Reimbursing babysitting costs and offering flexible work-from-home arrangements are benefits we can offer to make the transition easier. We need to create an environment where women have a tremendous amount of flexibility when they have children. Instead of using a strict maternity leave policy, we need to let women drive their own policies and come up with creative models that suit their families. There is no one policy that will fit all; each woman has her own individual needs, and as companies, we should build our models around them. Marissa Mayer's decision to ban Yahoo! employees from working from home sends exactly the wrong message to women and will create a culture of inflexibility. For a tech giant like Yahoo! to implement such an antiquated policy shows it lacks confidence in its employees to manage their own schedules and still work productively. It's exactly these types of policies that can create a ceiling for women with children.
It's essential to create a culture of communication that encourages women to speak up, share their ideas, and assert themselves. We need to convey the message that speaking up will get you promoted. We should be offering physical education classes like boxing and Zumba to encourage our female employees to tap into their assertive side. Events that feature major women leaders as keynote speakers are also essential. They help us create a community and culture that celebrates the accomplishments of other women in their industry.
Ultimately, CEOs will only implement these measures when they recognize that a more diverse workplace will improve productivity. Only then will true change occur throughout the organization. If we don't make the effort to create initiatives that train and promote women now, we put our businesses and ourselves in a position to fail.