Women, We Have a Problem: Moving Forward In Tech Leadership Roles

Amanda Signorelli, CEO of TechWeek, addresses issues of women in tech at the Chicago Growth Summit.

Amanda Signorelli, CEO of TechWeek, addresses issues of women in tech at the Chicago Growth Summit.

“We all know there’s a problem,” said Amanda Signorelli, CEO of TechWeek, introducing the Women In Tech breakfast recently at the Chicago Techweek Growth Summit.

That was the understatement of the week, perhaps of the year.

With the recent leadership implosions at Uber, and more recently at Binary, the less than female friendly culture of tech in this country is under fire– and under new construction– for good reasons.

The less than female friendly #techculture in this country is under fire... for good reasons

Even TechWeek, that describes itself as partnering “with tech leaders, corporations and the community to build a unique experience for investors, entrepreneurs, and Hero Companies” in Chicago, as well as Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Dallas and Toronto offered its Chicago audiences one day last week a Growth Summit with 43 males speakers and panelists and seven women speakers and panelists. That’s just seven percent.

Perhaps that is because it is the norm.

According to The Observer, the stats show that women in tech are outnumbered, particularly women in leadership roles.

“Women own only 5 percent of startups in tech. They earn only 28 percent of computer science degrees.  Only 7 percent of partners at top 100 venture capital firms are women. After peaking in 1991 at 36 percent, the rate of women in computing roles has been in steady decline. Now, they hold only 25 percent of computing jobs. Women hold only 11 percent of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies,” writes Sage Lazzaro.

“In the high tech industry, the quit rate is more than twice as high for women (41 percent) than it is for men (17 percent).  Last year, venture capitalists invested just $1.46 billion in women-led companies. Male-led companies earned $58.2 billion in investments. While 82 percent of men in startups believed their companies spent the ‘right amount of time’ addressing diversity, nearly half of women—40 percent—disagreed, saying ‘not enough time was devoted,’” Lazzaro writes.

“There are constantly obstacles facing us,” Signorelli said. “But what are the solutions?”

Ann Yeung, senior director of software engineering for Capitol One, a sponsor of TechWeek, said she is working to be part of the solution. As a software architect she heads the Women in Tech Chicago chapter for Capitol One and partners with organizations such as Black Girls Code to inspire the next generation of women in tech.

“We have a very visible and proactive, sanctioned support of women,” says Anu George, chief quality officer at Morningstar, says of the technology culture overall. Transparency is key to that movement of more women moving into tech leadership roles, George says.

Transparency is key to getting more women moving into tech leadership roles #WomenInTech

“You have to attract younger talent,” she says, and that can start by actively supporting girls and young women in STEM and tech pursuits as young as middle school.

Lauren Zwick, an intern at PhenixP2P, says she is the only female at her start-up company and “sometimes I feel that divide.”

George, who three decades ago was the first woman sales manager to work in rural markets in India, says, “The power is shifting to equality and diversity, but you must be proactive about it.”

Barbara Roering, social practice at Catapult Marketing, suggests the way to parity is to go by the numbers.

“Don’t ever be afraid to ask for what you believe you are worth, put together a business case and get emotion out of it,” Roering says. “Do not just say I deserve it, bring it down to a value. Build trust that you are part of the fabric of the company and with you they are building value.”

Women helping other women to aspire to leadership roles is especially critical in the tech industry, George says. “Build a nice support system and know that as you give, it always comes back I have always gotten my jobs through friends. “

Making the most of her networks for her online and on site retailer, Brideside, Sonali Lamba, cofounder, says she started her company as an online service only and now has four locations. Lamba coined the terms “human assisted commerce.”

Her organizing principle and mission of the company is “peace of mind.” And as a leader, she says, she does not “think about things top down, but bottom up.”

As the head of the company for Lamba that means she knows the “growth goals of the company” and is not afraid to “pull back from things that are not working.”

As women continue to grow in the ranks, under-representation is still the norm. It also causes some to consider the label of “women in tech,” as if gender is a qualifier and the descriptor is necessary.

As women grow in the ranks, under-representation in tech is still the norm #GenderEquality

As Amy Williams, Founder and MD of ethical adtech company. Good- Loop, and a winner of the GoDaddy Scholarship for Women in Technology, writes in Campaign, the moniker has its uses.

“It’s about championing women more generally; making their successes more known and their voices more heard – especially in sectors where they are traditionally not as welcome or encouraged,” Williams writes.

“I am privileged to have such strong and iconic female leaders in my early career. Seeing other women climb the ladder – equipped with stiletto heals and the phone number of a solid baby sitter – it’s made me know I can do it too. It’s given me a picture of the type leader I want to be one day and it’s given me something tangible to drive towards.”

Learn more about strategies and solutions at Take The Lead’s “Building Support for Women in Tech,” Virtual Happy Hour On Wednesday, July 12 at 6:30 p.m. ET.  Heather Cabot, co-author and co-founder of Geek Girl Rising and Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead will talk about advice moving forward. Cabot will share the success tips she learned from women interviewed in her new book, Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech, and what actions you can take to rise in your career and help transform the industry. Register here.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com