As a member of the tech ecosystem, I’ve often been the only woman sitting around a table of male executives. Granted, they were from different countries, so there was cultural diversity. As we look forward to 2021 and hope to put the challenges of this year behind us, I see an inspiring wave of support for diversity and inclusivity. But turning hope into reality requires grit and collaboration.
Although I’ve lived in the Boston suburbs, I was born and raised in India. Yes, we had a woman prime minister, Indira Gandhi, who first took office in 1966. In Israel, Golda Meir became prime minister three years later. Margaret Thatcher followed in 1979 as prime minister of the U.K. Even Bangladesh had a women prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, in 1996. But not the U.S.
As a mom and an advocate for women in tech, it has always been hard for me to answer my daughter when she asks why America didn’t have a woman president — especially when I’ve been telling her she can be anything she wants to be.
That will change when Kamala Harris is inaugurated as vice president. This is a milestone to celebrate — you can hear the reverberation of the glass ceiling shattering all across the country.
Our nation is focused on diversity like never before. Just look at some of the candidates who have been elected to congress. Kudos to the women who are running 37 of America’s largest corporations. Yes, it’s the best time to be a woman, especially a woman of color.
So, what’s next? I say we shatter more glass ceilings. Let’s help more companies become diverse, irrespective of size and revenue. Based on my experience and as an entrepreneur, here are tips on how tech companies can boost gender diversity in 2021 and fuel the innovation economy.
Remind executives that diversity does impact the bottom line
Profitability fuels every business, large or small. We have all seen data that shows the positive financial impact of diversity.
To give just one example, according to a McKinsey global study, organizations in the top quartile of gender diversity were much more likely to outperform on profitability.
Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform their national industry median on EBIT margin and 27% more likely to outperform on EP margin. Other studies have demonstrated that gender diversity significantly boosts revenue, market value, gross and net margins, and return on equity (ROE).
Define and lead diversity
Diversity can mean different things to different people. It could be gender, religion, race, culture and more. The leadership team, especially the CEO, must define what they mean by diversity and lead by example. Every company should hold each manager accountable for building and fostering a diverse culture.
You can add more dimensions to your own company’s approach to diversity while drawing inspiration from new sources and joining forces with other businesses and associations. My company is a member of MassTLC, an association focused on developing an inclusive technology ecosystem in Massachusetts. I get to learn best practices from my peers and also support companies with their diversity initiatives.
Empower the person leading diversity
At most small businesses, the head of HR is likely to pull double duty as the diversity leader. Many large companies, on the other hand, are fortunate enough to have chief diversity officers. But in either case, it’s not enough to just appoint a person and check off the diversity box.
The CEO or the founder must empower the individual with resources and budget to make a difference. They should regularly check in to hear about challenges and find ways to help, encourage and support them. Operational transformation is tough, and culture can’t be changed by one person alone. The management team must support the change, or it won’t work.
Develop an integrated strategy and programs that touch all functions
Some companies hire a slew of consultants who present to employees about inclusivity and diversity. It means nothing unless you have a strategy built into your business plan. Once you have a strategy, give your team the guidance and the right tools so they can execute your plan. Teach them how to build diverse teams and inspire and motivate them. Show them what diversity should look like. Help managers develop the skills they need to lead multi-cultural teams. Create programs to empower every employee to promote diversity — at work and elsewhere.
Also, encourage employees to join global associations such as Women in Technology International (WITI) for personal growth and to interact with peers and learn about best practices. WITI board members, including myself, work hard to create programs and events to help foster inclusivity and boost innovation.
Free women executives from some of their responsibilities
Many businesses have a handful of women leaders who are asked to be the “face of diversity” for the company. For most, this becomes a chore because they still have to deliver on their projects, manage teams and meet P&L responsibilities.
In addition, during the pandemic, many of these leaders are juggling work deadlines with home schooling, taking care of elderly parents, doing household tasks and more. If you want your women executives to be the face of the company, take some of the other responsibilities off their plates. Let’s not stretch them too thin.
As we head into 2021, I’m hoping that every company will make gender diversity a key business initiative and everyone will be our ally. Together we can shatter more glass ceilings and tell every little girl that she can be anything she wants to be — and mean it.
What other tips do you have to further help shatter the glass ceiling?