Tech-intensive companies are famous for their scarcity of women, whether in technical jobs or in management. They generally explain this by saying there are simply not enough women graduating in STEM or with backgrounds in STEM jobs for them to have a good enough selection to choose from. (And yes, we do need to encourage more girls and young women to go into the STEM fields.)


But that’s not the whole story.  It’s not even the real story.

My Pledge Against Gender Bias in Tech

On a related note, you’ll be interested in this post from last summer on the Wall Street Journal Accelerators blog. It was written by Ed Zimmerman, one of their startup mentors who is also a venture lawyer and angel investor.  Here is an excerpt from his pledge:

  1. Dinners – If you want to invite me to a business dinner (or lunch or drinks), and you expect at least 10 people to attend, make sure women (plural) are included)….Otherwise, don’t invite me.
  2. Panels – If you’d like me to speak on a panel and you plan to include four or more other speakers, make sure at least one is a woman… Otherwise, I’m out.

Anyone want to join me in making this pledge?

A recent Catalyst study shows that plenty of high-potential women are graduating with technical degrees, but they don’t want to work in tech (a term that includes high tech, telecomm, oil, gas, chemical, energy, automotive, and manufacturing).

In fact, even among the 75% of high-potential MBA grads who worked in tech before going to grad school, only about half return to those industries. Female MBAs are even less likely to enter these industries in the first place, and the ones who do are more likely to leave them quickly.


Catalyst’s research director and author of the study report,  Anna Beninger, says, “We found that no matter the job, these companies are a particularly difficult place for women to work in.”


No surprise. These are traditionally male-dominated fields, not notorious for welcoming women. In fact, 73% of the women in the study cited “feeling like an outsider” as a barrier to working in tech-intensive industries.


In addition, (and here I quote directly from Catalyst’s recent report):


“Despite earning the same high-quality education as men, women in business roles in tech-intensive industries begin their careers at a lower level on average than their male counterparts.”

“Among those who took their first post-MBA job in a tech-intensive industry in a business role, women were significantly more likely than men to start in an entry-level [and therefore lower-earning] position (women, 55%; men, 39%).”

“More than 20% of high-potential women reported leaving their first post-MBA job in a tech-intensive industry for a job elsewhere due to personal reasons. These highly educated women are not opting out of the workforce; they’re opting out of tech-intensive industries.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. The men we work with every day in our Partners Leading Change programs quickly learn to recognize the unconscious bias in themselves and their companies and become eager to change it. Eager? Yes, eager.

Here is just one example. It comes from an operations executive at a Fortune 50 company who wrote his manager a summary of his recent experience at a multiday, high-level seminar organized by a trade group.  (To read more of the amazing feedback from the men in the Partners Leading Change initiative at this giant healthcare company, see Field Notes from the Revolution.)

“Interestingly, there was no content on women in the workplace or women leaders. Because I now [since joining his firm’s Partners Leading Change initiative] look at this through a different lens, I could not help but notice the facilitation team was all men and one female.”

“I asked a female peer with [a Fortune 500 chemical company] what she had noticed about the facilitation team. She was quick to validate my observation, and added that the female facilitator was the only one that was not formally introduced and did not have a supporting peer (a facilitator positioned as an interviewer at the presenters table). Women are keenly aware of how and when they are treated differently.  I still have much to learn. “

His manager, a senior vice president, noted in his cover email to me, “You can see how the Partners Leading Change experience has opened his eyes to observing things in a different manner. PLC is making a difference in our men and will continue to drive more effective and fruitful gender partnerships.”

What are the takeaways here? Companies that need top job candidates (and the tech industries are growing so fast, they need more and more new hires) will need to make themselves appealing to women graduates. They need to transform their old-school mentality into a modern outlook that values and evaluates people based on their performance, not their gender.

The single best way to do that is for CEOs to commit to gender partnership and bring in our dramatically effective Partners Leading Change team to show their top executives 1) how very profitable it is (It’s Not Just by Being on Boards That Women Boo$t Results), and 2) how to realize ALL of the well-documented payoffs of improved gender partnership: not just better financial performance, but better decision-making, more innovation, better products, higher productivity, and better talent acquisition and retention.