Which Tech Companies Are Ahead of the Curve in Women's Leadership?

As we've seen from a flurry of media reports over the past few months, tech companies are beginning to "out" themselves for lack of diversity. Facebook, Yahoo, Google and LinkedIn are among a growing number of tech firms whose voluntary disclosures on demographic data reveal industry trends of a workforce that's still primarily male and white -- especially at the executive levels and in actual technology jobs. (See "The Genie Is Out of the Bottle for Silicon Valley: Lack of Diversity.")

Based on SHAMBAUGH Leadership's research, which includes working with a number of tech organizations as well as other industries, a number of identifiable factors lie behind these concerning trends. Outdated and non-inclusive cultures, poor relationships with managers, and a lack of mentors and sponsors have all contributed to the industry's apparent failure to appropriately recruit, advance and retain women and minorities.

Other problems include lack of women in the pipeline, and gender blindness. Tech has been a man's world for many years, but the talent pool is changing with a growing number of qualified women entering the workforce. These challenges have not significantly improved, which puts added pressure on companies to release their internal data on diversity. What's also troubling is that once talented women are hired into a tech company, they often don't stay. In fact, women leave tech companies at twice the rate of men, according to a report released by the Anita Borg Institute.

Despite these challenges, some inroads are being made. While men still hold the vast majority of senior-level roles at tech firms, we're seeing more individual women making their way into the Silicon Valley inner leadership circle, such as Marisa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook). Based on these women's positions of power and influence, one might wonder why their own company's statistics look surprisingly bleak regarding the representation of women.

Yet before condemning these tech giants completely, it's important to remember that there is a primary difference between what their companies are doing compared to others that have been less forthcoming with their numbers. Though the companies in the former group admit that their diversity demographics leave much room for improvement, they are at least not hiding behind the data.

When it comes to moving the needle for women and minorities, executives need to make this issue a business imperative, shifting from an intellectual conversation to intentional action that holds everyone accountable. While it will clearly take some time before such strategies result in widespread change throughout the industry, here are some companies that are off to a good start:

  • Cisco. While the number of women at the senior leadership/ executive level could be higher at Cisco, they are taking intentional strides to move in the right direction. The company recently launched a Sponsorship Initiative to help facilitate women's advancement internally, which not only taps on talented women and minorities but also engages men as advocates and sponsors.
  • Dell. Strong leadership development is part of the missing link for directing women's career paths upward in many companies. Not so at Dell, which offers its Women in Leadership training to female employees director-level and up. The course provides women leaders with not only executive-level classes to help groom them for greater things, but with specific action plans to get them there. Dell also offers a sponsorship program to its women execs in commercial sales that link them with senior leaders who can help open doors.
  • HP. While HP gets high marks as one of the few tech firms with a female CEO (Meg Whitman) not to mention a female CFO (Cathie Lesjak), the company deserves kudos in other areas as well. HP launched an 18-month sponsorship program, HP Ascend, to provide female directors and VPs with opportunities including global job rotations. As a result, the tech giant nearly doubled its percentage of women's internal executive promotions -- from 35 percent in 2012 to 65 percent in 2013.
  • IBM. For the past 16 years, IBM has appeared on NAFE's list of Top 50 Companies for Executive Women as a "Best Company for Multicultural Women." The company offers a number of initiatives designed to boost its growing number of female executives. The "Pathways for Experienced Technical Women" initiative focuses on guiding up-and-comers through development plans and mentorship, while the "Reconnections" initiative helps former employees who have left the company return smoothly. IBM has also engaged a number of their hi potential women in SHAMBAUGH's nationally recognized Women in Leadership and Learning Program.
  • Intel. 2013 was a banner year for diversity at Intel, with Renée James appointed as the organization's first female president, and seven other women advanced into VP roles. Intel execs also benefit from a wide range of coaching initiatives, sponsorship programs, workshops and symposia designed to help women succeed and ascend at the company.
  • Texas Instruments. With a goal to promote women in STEM occupations, Texas Instruments stands out for taking action. All levels of employees receive sponsorship to participate in career development programs from Leadership America and the International Women's Forum. Female product line managers have the opportunity to build 100-day action plans and receive intensive executive coaching. Plus, the company's Women for Fellow Initiative helps women in tech positions work with mentors and create development plans to facilitate advancement to the executive level.

While the tech industry clearly still has a long way to go when it comes to figuring out how to get women into the field, help them move up and keep them from leaving, this list shows glimmers of hope. So does the choice by companies like Google that are releasing the statistics on their workforce demographics. Because regardless of the current results failing to show a positive picture for women and minorities, transparency is always the first step to bringing forth change.

To find out how organizations can eliminate outdated assumptions and move toward true cultural transformation, visit www.shambaughleadership.com. A SHAMBAUGH consultant can help your company take a deeper dive on this critical issue.