Guest Column | June 2, 2016

From Charity To Parity: Changing The Conversation About Gender Diversity In IT

Cathy Alper, Community Director, CompTIA‘s Advancing Women in IT (AWIT) community

By Cathy Alper, Community Director, CompTIA‘s Advancing Women in IT (AWIT) community

So much of the discussion around gender diversity in IT is about how tech companies need to reverse the discrimination against women in hiring, compensation, and promotion. It’s championed as the socially responsible thing to do. And, it certainly is that, but evidence is mounting that it’s also the financially responsible thing to do for your IT company.

In short, the more gender diverse your firm, particularly at the leadership level, the greater its financial performance and here is some recent data to prove the point:

  • Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above the average in their national industry, according to diversity research published by McKinsey in 2015.
  • The Global leadership Forecast 2014-15 from Development Dimension International Inc. found that among the top 20 percent of financial performers 37 percent of their leaders were women while the among the bottom 20 percent only 19 percent of the leaders were women.
  • A study published in February 2016 by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that an increase in the percentage women in corporate leadership from none to 30 percent resulted in a 1 percent increase in net margin, which is a 15 percent boost in profitability for a typical organization.

Statistics like these show hiring and promoting women in tech is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do. They also show it’s high time to change the conversation about gender diversity in IT. It’s not about giving women charity; it’s about giving them parity, so they can stand shoulder to shoulder with men and build high-performing organizations.

CompTIA’s Advancing Women in IT (AWIT) organization is encouraging such a shift in the dialogue by example. Instead of dwelling on past injustices against women and perpetuating a “poor me” perspective, AWIT looks to the future — to find out what’s working and how to educate the industry on these best practices.

Similarly, AWIT does not tolerate “male bashing” that can poison pro-women’s organizations; instead we invite men to participate in our community and to help us understand and promote the value of gender-balanced organizations in IT.

Indeed, while almost no one is opposed to gender balancing, both men and women can be uncomfortable with quotas for hiring women, writes expert Avivah Wittenberg Cox, CEO of gender consulting firm 20-First, in an article published in the Harvard Business Review. “Men feel that [quotas] are deeply unfair, while women are insulted at the idea of being perceived as getting promotions only because of their gender,” she explains.

Instead, let’s view women the same as we view men and visa versa — capable of contributing to the success of our organizations. Here are just a few benefits that you are likely to realize from gender-diverse teams:

  • Better financial performance — as noted previously, gender-diverse management teams have been proven to outperform companies with all-male leaders reporting higher returns on equity, higher price/book valuations and higher payout ratios, according to a 2014 report, The CS Gender 3000: Women in Senior Management, from Credit Suisse Research Institute.
  • Greater innovation and productivity — gender-balanced teams are more likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge and fulfill tasks, according to a 2007 study, Innovative Potential: Men and Women in Teams, from Lehman Brothers Center for Women in Business.
  • Increased operational performance — companies with three or more women on their executive board outdid other companies on leadership, direction, accountability, coordination, external orientation, capability, work environment and values, according to a 2007 study from McKinsey & Company.
  • Superior problem solving — because men and women have different perspectives, gender diverse teams tend to be better at solving problems, according to research published in 2014 by Gallup.
  • Improved recruitment and retention — with greater diversity at the top comes increased effectiveness in monitoring staff performance and less gender discrimination, which helps to recruit, promote and retain talent, according to the aforementioned February 2016 report from Peterson institute for International Economics.

These and many other studies show that gender diversity is not just a “women’s issue” but a business issue and, frankly, a business priority for forward-thinking IT organizations that want to improve their competitive profile with high-performance teams.

About the Author

Cathy Alper is the Community Director for CompTIA‘s Advancing Women in IT (AWIT) community. She works with IT volunteers to empower women with the knowledge and skills necessary to help their pursuit of successful IT careers, as well as to inspire women to enter the IT field as a career choice. Alper brings more than 20 years of experience in technology training, technology leadership and organizational development. Before coming to CompTIA she owned her own business where she taught facilitation and presentation skills internationally. Alper holds a Master’s degree in Human Development from the University of Connecticut and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin.