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Dang... How Did I Miss International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8?!

by Debra Danielson on Friday March 13, 2020

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While there have been some successes when it comes to getting women involved in tech, by and large, we haven't made enough progress.

Missing International Women’s Day is such an anomaly for me. In the last 10+ years I’ve been coaching, mentoring, and guiding women in the industry by supporting and participating in some really great organizations dedicated to leveling the playing field for women and minorities in tech, including Springboard Enterprises, Tech Girls Rock, WITI (Women in Technology International), and the Anita Borg Institute.

However, within the last year there have been some exciting developments I wanted to share related to this topic. I joined Digital Guardian in April 2019 as the Chief Technology Officer, responsible for overseeing a global engineering organization. I’m absolutely thrilled to be working with an executive leadership team that is seriously gender diverse. Four out of nine executives on our leadership team are women; this demonstrates firsthand what I’ve come to learn through research and science: Diversifying your leadership team can lead to better performance, innovation, and an improved workforce culture.

This is a really important topic, internationally, and in US-based tech companies in particular. We already have a serious technical talent shortage across the tech industry and somehow, we’ve managed to exclude a significant part of the talent base pool.

Statistics around about the lack of diversity in tech can be pretty depressing. I’ve been very involved in efforts to increase the participation of women in tech for more than 15 years, and while there have been some successes, by and large, we haven’t made enough progress.

What’s changing:

  • The glass ceiling can be broken. Marissa Mayer, Ginni Rometty, Ursula Burns, Marillyn Hewson, Safra Catz, and Lisa Su are just some of the big names added to the Fortune 500 Tech CEO list in recent years. In 2019, 33 of the Fortune 500 companies had women CEOs, an all-time record and an increase over 2018’s total of 24.
  • The percentage of women on corporate boards has jumped to a record 20.4% in the US. Nearly two-thirds of all Russell 3000 corporate boards have changed their board composition to include more women.  California’s recent law mandating at least one woman on the board of any public company based in state is one of the external pressures driving this change. Another driver is Goldman Sachs’ recent refusal to take a company public unless it has at least one member who isn’t a white man. It’s ironic that we need external pressures to drive change, especially when research shows that having women on boards improves the performance of companies, leads to making better acquisition and investment decisions and less aggressive risk-taking.
  • With 11.5% of all venture capital investment, venture funding to women-led - and mixed-gender companies is at an all-time high. Women-only leadership teams also had record investment at 2.8% of all capital. That sounds pretty good until you do the math and realize that men-only leadership teams accounted for a whopping 85.7% of venture capital money in 2019.

What we need to change:

As an industry, we still have serious pipeline problems in getting girls and young women to be interested in the tech industry and STEM. We have problems attracting and keeping female university students interested in computer science. We have problems recruiting and hiring enough women, retaining women beyond mid-career in tech, keeping women in tech careers and not shifting them out. We have pay parity and promotion equity problems and we have to constantly fight pervasive expectations that women aren’t as technical as men. Ugh. Bummer.

I’ve now been spoiled by my experience at Digital Guardian. It’s always hard to gauge whether the reason we have such collaborative, thoughtful, respectful executive meetings is because of the diversity – but it’s a positive data point.

After being here surrounded by an amazing and diverse team, I never want to work again in an organization where I’m the “odd man out,” and I’d love it if all women had the opportunity to experience this in their careers.

Tags: Company News

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Debra Danielson

Debra Danielson is the Chief Technology Officer & SVP of Engineering at Digital Guardian.