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Louise Doherty

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Invest in women to beat tech’s diversity problem


You’d be hard pressed to find an HR professional who isn’t acutely aware of the diversity problems that the technology industry has. Everyday there’s another horror story and calls to ‘do more’ to get employees from more diverse backgrounds into technology-based companies and roles – often with few actionable solutions.

The technology industry’s gender problem is matched by C-suites of all industries. Following pressure from the government, the proportion of boardroom roles doubled between 2010 and 2015. About 26% of FTSE 100 boardroom roles are now occupied by women, up from 12.5%, but most are in non-executive and part-time director positions.

The most striking statistic is that more men called John run FTSE 100 companies than women. 17 men named John are CEOs or chairs, compared with seven women.

Gender diversity improves innovation

Women do not have power at senior levels in any industry. But why should they? And why is this so important for technology?

A study covering 1,500 US firms included in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index found that women in top management does improve financial performance for organisations where innovation is a key focus of the company’s business strategy.

Invest in women. Give them cash and lots of it.

Cindy Padnos, founder of Illuminate Ventures, compiled data from 100 studies on gender and tech entrepreneurship. She concluded: “When you have gender diversity in an organisation, you have better innovation, and I don’t know where innovation is more important than in the high-tech world.”

To prove this point further, when Catalyst studied the link between gender diversity in senior management and company financial performance in Fortune 500 companies, it found that women in leadership roles increased Return on Equity (ROE) by 35% and Total Return to Shareholders (TRS) by 34%.

So having women in senior positions leads to better returns for investors, particularly in the technology sector.

Female board directors value diverse teams

Not only does having women in high-level roles offer financial benefits, but it also helps create diverse and inclusive workplaces.

A study by PwC showed that 42% of female board directors (but only 24% of male directors) considered racial diversity important. The turnover rate is 22% lower for companies with diverse teams, according to Cumulative Gallup Workplace Studies, which also found that companies with inclusive cultures recruited more talent. 

Overall, women in senior positions make their companies more money and create self perpetuating diverse teams – especially in tech. 

If every single woman in the UK who wanted to start her own business had the support to make that possible, it would immediately produce 340,000 new businesses and support 425,000 new jobs.

But where are these wondrous women?

Sadly, in my experience, the same answer comes back… “Women just don’t apply for jobs in tech.” Perhaps this has something to do with the tech industry’s boys’ club of hiring practices, which assures the opposite of diversity.

I could write another 1,000 words on that topic alone, but it’s the radical answer I want you to consider:

Invest in women. Give them cash and lots of it.

Invest in women to create new businesses that put both diversity and profits at the heart of their mission, creating a ripple effect across every industry tech touches.

It’s estimated that in the UK alone, if every single woman who wanted to start her own business had the support to make that possible, it would immediately produce 340,000 new businesses and support 425,000 new jobs.

A big push to support women’s businesses

This is why we need to dramatically increase the number of female-led businesses. And, as HR professionals, you can support female founders in a number of ways:

1. Invest personally into female-founded businesses on equity crowdfunding sites like Crowdcube.

I’ve just raised over £300,000 on the platform from a highly diverse investor base that will support my social planning app PlanSnap as it grows.

2. Set up corporate business accelerators to fund women from the business you work in.

AB InBev did this in partnership with Techstars in New York, which is a programme that I took part in. They looked inside and outside their business for innovative ideas to help them maintain a culture of innovation and an edge on talent. 

3. Mentor a female-led business.

Or, even better, set up a company-wide mentoring programme that supports women who are looking to start their own business.

4. Quit your job and become a female founder yourself!

I truly believe that solving tech’s diversity problem starts with women.

That doesn’t mean that diversity means hiring (just) senior women, but that is the start of encouraging a culture of diversity in all its forms –  ethnic, socio-economic, age, LGBT diversity and more. 

It’s an approach that has been proven to work. But you can go one better than that if you truly want to make an impact by doing everything you can to fund female founders.

Want to learn more about this topic?

Visit our diversity hub featuring expert articles, interviews and opinion pieces on creating a workplace that brings together individuals from all walks of life.


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