Women’s Leadership is Valuable
This past year has drawn increasing attention to the correlation between women’s innate strengths at creating positive outcomes and outputs during times of rapid change. Traits that decades ago were often dismissed as weaknesses and soft, are now viewed as indispensable leadership assets as humanity confronts historically unprecedented circumstances:
- The pandemic has called for resilient leadership.
- Cries for social justice have called for empathetic leadership.
- New generations of employees have called for inspirational leadership.
- Global business has called for communicative leadership.
The list goes on. While not exclusive to women, these traits are more often associated with women, and women will often self-identify with these traits.
To get to the business brass tacks of women leadership, “firms with more women in senior positions are more profitable, more socially responsible, and provide safer, higher-quality customer experiences — among many other benefits.” (Harvard Business Review) What’s not to value about that?
The Tech Industry Lags in Gender Leadership Diversity
So while these skills and women leaders are increasingly valued, they are still ridiculously scarce. In technology, it’s the most stark and perhaps the most needed. The tech industry has poor gender representation to begin with. While women make up nearly half of the workforce, they only make up 25% of the tech workforce. With that small pipeline of women professionals to develop into leaders, it’s not surprising the numbers get slimmer at the top. Women hold only 16% of senior positions in tech companies, and only 1 in 10 executive level positions. This is why the Women Executives Channel Advisory Network exists.
Thus Began WECAN
WECAN originated around a boardroom table in Vegas in 2019. Kate Johnson, Microsoft’s US President and Lani Phillips, Microsoft’s Vice President of US Channel Sales convened about a dozen senior women leaders from Microsoft’s partner ecosystem – an ecosystem comprising 800,000 companies by some counts (no one knows exactly, it’s so vast) to talk about what it would take to ensure more women were represented in leadership roles in technology. And talk we did – so boisterously that we decided that day to continue the dialogue – and more importantly to take action. And thus WECAN was born under Lani’s leadership.
And now, WECAN has entered a new phase for the organization. We recently applied for not-for-profit status and have reorganized under a new leadership team when Lani chose to step down. Lani handed over the President baton to me to run this next stage of our race to leadership equity with the incredibly impressive roster [LINK]of women who serve on WECAN.
The women in this advisory group are CEOs, SVPs, and VPs of their organizations. They personify the leadership the tech industry needs now, and are volunteering their time and energy to ensure more women are brought into leadership in an industry where it may be most challenging to be a woman professional, and yet where the payoff to companies may be highest.
WECAN Aims to Help at the Source
We at WECAN believe at this critical juncture, the fastest solution is to support the leadership of technology firms themselves in creating a pipeline of competent and effective women leaders so they can someday achieve gender equity.
While there are many membership organizations today designed to provide women with networks of other women and the opportunities to compare notes (something I can personally attest as having immense value), WECAN’s unique approach aims to work directly with the companies to:
- Serve as lived-experience sounding boards for company leadership and HR on how to create a workplace attractive to women and conducive to their career advancement
- Provide role models and mentors from outside their own organizations
- Offer practical and effective executive development unique to women
- Develop and curate resources and playbooks to support their journey
A Powerful Ecosystem to Accelerate Leadership Equity
WECAN will get its job done through the power and network effect of ecosystems.
First of all, WECAN is focusing on the channel partner ecosystem of large technology players, and our initial focus is on Microsoft’s channel because a) it’s where we all play a role currently, and b) Microsoft is deeply committed to enhancing diversity not only internally but also among those it does business with, and we want to be a catalyst for Satya Nadella’s vision.
Secondly, each of the women on the WECAN board, because of their years of experience and their executive-level roles, have strong networks of their own. We hope to have both direct and indirect engagement with our network through mentoring, content, speaking, and just how we show up every day at our jobs.
And lastly, we are building our own ecosystem of partners that share our vision and can contribute to our mission. We are grateful to the influential tech powerhouses who have aligned their values with ours: RedHat, Insight, and Microsoft for joining as partners at the Elevate level; Crayon and Ecuity Edge at the Empower level, and Zensa at the enable level. A strategic partner of ours is the Athena Alliance, which is dedicated to elevating more women into the boardroom. The women and companies involved in WECAN directly benefit from Athena’s executive development and community.
In this ecosystem of ecosystems, together we will set goals for change, make a plan to achieve them, and work side by side to ensure we move the needle on gender equity.
Equity in Tech Leadership = A Brighter Future for All
Achieving gender equity in technology leadership is a big opportunity for companies to achieve the benefits to growth, profitability, effective culture, and corporate social responsibility. It’s also one of the biggest opportunities for economic empowerment of women, which has disproportionately positive downstream effects on families and communities. It delivers the strengths and skills needed to lead companies through accelerating change, navigating toward unrecognizable business models in just a few years.
And the “why” for WECAN stretches beyond companies and careers. We believe in not only humanity’s ability, but obligation, to proactively and continuously shape a future that’s better for each of us. With women in leadership roles at technology companies, humanity is sure to enjoy not only unbiased coding and development of the tools and apps integral to our lives, but also the assurance that AI and other emerging technologies will be developed with the safety and wellbeing of humanity and our planet in mind.