March 9, 2017
Making the case for female CEOs and directors as we reflect on International Women’s Day.
Having spent 25 years in Silicon Valley, there’s little doubt in my mind that innovation is the lifeblood of our region. The technology industry here has developed at lightning speed, with transformative products, services, and business models introduced almost daily. That’s part of what makes this place so special.
Yet as a leader driving new business around tech, I see one area where we haven’t kept pace: leadership. In particular, we need more women leading technology companies here in the Valley—and across the globe.
It’s not just a matter of gender parity for its own sake; it’s good business. While I’ve seen this first-hand, it’s also something borne out by PwC’s 2017 CEO Survey. In our analysis of the professional attitudes of male and female leaders (which made up just 7% of the nearly 1,400 CEOs we spoke with), we found that women CEOs have a unique approach to innovation and technology. Not only are they more likely to value and see its potential, but they’re also more agile and reasoned in their approach.
Agile and results-driven
Women CEOs are more likely than their male counterparts to believe that technology has completely reshaped the competitive landscape in the past 20 years, and will continue to do so in the next five years. They are also more likely to collaborate with entrepreneurs and startups to drive corporate growth and profitability.
However, female leaders take a more measured approach to both business and technology. Our survey found that 44% of women CEOs are extremely concerned about uncertain economic growth (compared to 33% of male CEOs). The same holds true for 9 out of 10 areas of concern that could threaten a company’s prospects—from speed of technological change (39% vs. 28%) and new market entrants (72% vs. 57%) to changing customer behavior (70% vs. 65%) and lack of trust in business (70% vs. 57%).
These findings indicate that women leaders prioritize innovation, but we don’t blindly pursue it unless we’re sure we can drive real results.
Solving the pipeline problem
So if women are such insightful leaders, why are so few of them in the Silicon Valley C-suites—and boardrooms? The pipeline problem is typically cited as the culprit; that is, there are too few qualified women being cultivated for leadership roles. We can begin to address this issue in a number of ways, including promoting STEM education for girls, creating mentorship programs, and challenging prevailing corporate cultures that favor men’s contributions over women’s.
Another way to tackle this is through innovation—which I see as the goal of organizations like theBoardlist. The curated online marketplace of female leadership candidates aims to bolster the diversity of boards at tech companies. Diverse boards can help bring an innovative point of view to companies and assist in recruiting qualified female leaders to management teams. And it’s needed: a recent study of SEC registrants by PwC’s Governance Insights Center found that less than a quarter of technology companies have women on their boards. And theBoardlist estimates similar numbers for private tech companies.
This makes perfect sense: At the epicenter of innovation, why wouldn’t we conceive of novel ways to bring more women into industry leadership? And all of us current leaders—male and female alike—need to work together on the next wave of game-changing ideas to capitalize on the female perspectives and expertise in our industry.