CIO Straight Talk - Issue 9 - 38
I was a high school teacher and coach before
I joined the corporate world. In the days
before Title IX, girls' sports always got the
hand-me-down uniforms and other equipment.
The unfairness of that bothered me, and I'm glad
to see how things have changed since then.
Evolving laws and attitudes have also opened up
opportunities for women in business. Still, areas
of inequality remain-for example, the lower pay
that women on average receive compared to
that of men doing the same work. And that also
But efforts to increase the number of women
technology leaders isn't just about gender equity.
It's also about gender diversity. When we talk
about someone "having a seat at the table," I
think of that table as round-different people
sitting at different points of the compass
around it, offering a variety of perspectives.
Those different people, including women, won't
necessarily come up with different answers to
a problem. But they do bring different points of
view to t he question.
And that's good for business. Thomson Reuters
recently created a new financial tool, the Diversity
and Inclusion Index, which reveals that companies
with a proactively diverse workforce typically
outperform their peers. A company with more
women in senior leadership roles will have greater
access to diverse perspectives and insights.
I wanted a program that focused on
women in technology, given their
disproportionately low numbers at
companies around the world.
There are numerous well-known reasons for the
low percentage of women in technology. Not
enough girls take so-called STEM subjects-
science, technology, engineering, and math-in
their school years. That results partly from a
technology "branding problem." Too often
saying you work in technology conjures up
images of a bunch of guys writing code all night
long and sleeping in their clothes.
Fewer women in technology obviously means
fewer women technology leaders. But some
of the shortfall undoubtedly results from an
unconscious bias that still can permeate a
company's culture and affect the way women
are promoted. And women in technology roles,
because of their small numbers, often lack an
organizational network of female supporters and
mentors who can facilitate their advancement.
Let me say up front that I can't take credit
for designing what has turned out be a very
successful program. That was primarily the
work of two people, Molly Ganz, a senior talent
director here at Thomson Reuters and Susan
Davis-Ali, an outside consultant. Together, they
helped create and run the initiative.
But in my various roles overseeing the
technology group-including CTO, CIO, and COO
for technology operations-I was the supporter,
promoter, and protector who made sure that
the program happened. Technology is a key skill
area at Thomson Reuters, and it involves enough
people-around 10,000-that I thought we could
really make an appreciable difference.
We started out looking at the statistics.
They showed that in fact we were recruiting
a good proportion of women into entry-level
technology roles. The problem was the big
drop-off in their number as they became more
senior in the organization.
So we made some tactical changes, particularly
for lateral hires-for example, developing genderneutral job descriptions for open positions and
ensuring that we had diverse slates of candidates
for those positions, as well as diverse teams to
But the centerpiece of the initiative was
"Leadhership1," a six-month program designed
to engage and retain rising women technologists
in the company. The aim was to help participants
achieve greater clarity on their career goals, gain
confidence to achieve those goals, and build
a network of women in technology who could
We started out the first year with a cohort of 25
women, who met here in our office in Minnesota.
The third year we went global, with a group of 84
women connected through video conferencing.
When our seventh cohort completes the
program this year, nearly 400 mid-level women
technology executives will have participated.
The Leadhership1 program has been refined over
time and today is built around 10 modules, on
topics ranging from "Proactive Career Planning"
to "Lessons Learned from My Biggest Mistakes."
It also includes 40 one-on-one coaching
sessions, a mentoring system, and access to a
private online community, where participants
can share experiences, best practices, and
It should go without saying that the program
is not about jumping women up the leadership
ladder. The women I know from the program
don't want an undeserved advantage. They just
don't want an undeserved disadvantage.
Evidence of the Leadhership1 program's success
is both quantitative and anecdotal. Although
we still lose too many women technologists
as their careers progress, the experience of
program participants has been encouraging.
The retention rate among them is 4% higher and
their promotion rate is 12% higher than among a
control group of similarly positioned women at
And graduates of the program report that it has
made a significant difference in their careers.
When asked at the end of the course about their
career objectives, 93% of participants say those
goals are clear, compared to 75% of those asked
at the beginning of the program. Moreover, 95%
of graduates say they are confident they can
reach t hose goals, compared to 56% of those
asked as t hey enter the program.
The positive impact can be seen in more than
the numbers. I attend the closing ceremony
each year, and I'm struck by people's personal
statements about what they got out of the
program. You hear things like, "I was able to
address some questions I'd been avoiding,
and doing that helped me to see the career
path I want to take." If we can help women get
greater clarity about their career goals, retention
improves. We've already got tomorrow's women
technology leaders. We just need to keep them.
Technology has a "branding problem."
Too often saying you work in
technology conjures up images of a
bunch of guys writing code all night
long and sleeping in their clothes.
What have we learned from our experience with
the Leadhership1 program so far? Two things
stand out for me.
One is that, for a program like this to succeed, it
needs to be a sustained effort. Our seven-year
commitment to the program has allowed us not
only to continually refine it but also to measure
the results over an extended period.
Too often, programs like this simply fade away
as they lose their novelty and the organization or
the sponsor loses interest. Or they get canceled
because they don't produce immediate results.
Clearly, you should constantly evaluate a
program and, if over time it isn't working,
try something else. But if you've identified a
problem in your organization and pulled together
a group of smart people to address it, then
launch the program, measure the hell out of it,
and stick with it.
Another lesson grows out of the Leadhership1
curriculum and involves the responsibility
women have for their career in an organization.
Work-life balance issues can end up being
more complicated for women than for men. For
example, you have children or elderly parents
and find that work saps the energy needed to
care for them. So you go to your manager and
say you're quitting.