The IT Pro section of the Sydney Morning Herald has been running an excellent series in recent weeks on women in technology.
Today, journalist Cynthia Karena asks what the male leaders in technology think about the continued lack of women in leadership roles across the sector, quoting prominent IT leaders such as SAP chief operating officer Greg Miller, Google engineering director Alan Noble and Lenovo managing director Matt Codrington in the process.
And, typically, the male leaders are open to plenty of options regarding what could possibly help see more women reach leadership levels in their industry.
And, typically again, they hesitate on the most significant option of all: Quotas.
Indeed, a number note the importance of tapping both sides of the population to get the best talent possible and using diversity to drive innovation.
But asked specifically about quotas, all those interviewed were found to be “unsure” on whether they’d be the best means for seeing more women in their businesses and consequently more in leadership positions (although some saw the merit in targets, noting ‘what gets measured gets done’). Their responses were quite different to the female technology leaders interviewed.
These are typical responses from men in powerful positions these days. I find that interviewing such leaders on gender diversity, hearing the issues discussed at conferences, events and in the media, businessmen will rarely support quotas as a key option – or even as a potential option in the future should the numbers of women in leadership fail to improve.
And yet many women who were once staunchly against quotas, such as Nestle Chairman Elizabeth Proust, Heather Ridout, Anne Ward and Ann Sherry, have now changed their minds on the matter. Waiting decades for some kind of serious change to the proportion of women in power, they believe quotas may well be the solution to finally seeing some significant change on gender representation in leadership.
Others, like Microsoft’s Pip Marlow, have more recently acknowledged the slow pace of change may require some intervention. As she wrote in the AFR earlier this year: “This lack of progress has me becoming even more passionate about playing a role in trying to get meaningful change faster. It has me asking what it is going to take, and for the first time, asking whether it is time for regulated quotas, something I never thought I’d want or need to do.”
In the technology sector, at least one company has seen the positive change a quotas system can create. At IT consultancy Thoughtworks Australia, managing director Lindy Stephens was once herself unconvinced that quotas could work.
However, she’s since seen the benefit of introducing a quota system in her business at the graduate end – something that’s especially challenging to do given less than 20% of graduates with relevant technology degrees are female. As Stephens recently told Women’s Agenda: “Our graduate program has a strict 50/50 ratio. If we hire a man, we hire a woman. If we find another man, we say ‘we like you and we really want to hire you, but we need to hire a woman first’.”
As Stephens later wrote in response to a piece from Marina Go, she too is a convert from the ‘anti quotas’ camp: “It’s time for those of us who want to see real change in the make up of the people who run our companies and our country to stand up and push for quotas. It’s the only way we’re going to get anywhere near equality.”
More senior businesswomen appear to be changing their minds on quotas. But given the small number of women in influential leadership positions in the first place, it’s still ultimately the businessmen who matter in this debate. Is it merely a question of time before they too have a change of heart?