Wanted: More Women in Leadership
If there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that there are few women in leadership positions. I know I personally have spent the majority of my career being the only female in the room. And it only gets worse as you go up the corporate ladder. Besides, being able to see the evidence all around us, the facts simply don't lie:
Boardrooms: Only 16 percent of S&P 500 directors are women, according to Spencer Stuart. When it comes to tech companies in particular, where female board directors come to an average of 7.1 percent, the gender gap is painfully obvious.
Management: An HBR study found only 22 percent of management positions are held by women.
Considering these bleak numbers, if I could change one thing about today's landscape, it would be to bring more women into the sphere of leadership. Why?
For one, having women at the helm actually increases chances of success (and boosts the economy). A recent Dow Jones report showed organizations that are more inclusive of women in top management positions achieve 35 percent higher ROE, and venture-backed companies with female founders or executives are more likely to go public, turn a profit or be sold at a steep price.
What's more, women have strong leadership skills. In a study conducted by HR firm Zenger Folkman, women consistently scored higher than their male counterparts on 12 of the top 16 competencies of leadership - suggesting women are just as capable, if not more so, of becoming great leaders.
Perhaps most importantly, empowering more role models and mentors for the next generation of women is paramount from both a social and professional perspective. I consistently hear from women early in their careers struggling to find a female mentor or lacking female role models at their companies. Luckily, even though I work in the male-dominated tech industry, I had the fortune to learn and work under two strong female managers who helped shape my career. These experiences should not be a rare case for young women.
Even if you agree with all of my above points, the issue of how to encourage more female leadership poses a challenge. In fact, this is where my opinion gets a bit controversial, even among women -- I recently sat next to a female panelist who vehemently disagreed with me on some of my recommendations. Regardless, here are my three principal recommendations for helping more women lead the way:
1. More Access. I believe there should be corporate mandates for public companies to ensure female board seats. This could be enforced through tax benefits for companies with female directors or tax penalties for companies that do not. While these measures are considered drastic by some, I believe we are at the point where we need to proactively and legally open the way for women to succeed, instead of relying on half-hearted recommendations to do the job.
2. More Flexibility. Public policy changes can level the playing field by providing women with more options and flexibility. For example, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid maternity leave -- joining Papau New Guinea, Lesotho and Swaziland in our lack of maternity benefits for women. Surely, we can do better. A strong maternity policy (and regulations to back it up) can vastly improve the work-life balance for working mothers.
3. More Collaboration. One of my favorite quotes is from Madeleine Albright: "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." Women are and should continue to step up help each other grow in their professional endeavors. Grassroots activities often have more impact than anything else, which is why I am such a fan of the Lean In efforts and the Ban Bossy campaign. It is also why I co-founded Women At Domo, a group for women at my company. We need to keep doing these types of activities, and more of them.
Of course, there's no silver bullet. But I believe we can do more both as a society and as individuals to recognize this issue and do our best to address it. Rather than let the disparities widen even further, let us work together to welcome more women into well-earned positions of leadership, not only deserving a seat at the table, but also bringing with them a strong shot at success.