Will having more women in management hamper men's careers?
Last week, as everyone in Sweden was preparing for the Midsummer festivities, more than 1,000 business and world leaders from 98 countries were meeting in New York to discuss the UN’s Global Compact. The Global Compact is a call to companies to act in alliance with universal principles on human rights, labor, the environment, and corruption. Gender Equality is a key piece of the Global Compact.
What all these business leaders have in common is that they believe that gender equality and social sustainability are important. They’re striving for it.
But let’s say you’re one of those leaders. You have your goals all set up, you have your strategies in place. You’re ready to start taking action. But what happens when you have employees who totally disagree with your actions? What happens when people get frustrated with you for putting those actions into place?
On the path to any change, anytime you create any sort of momentum, you’re also bound to encounter resistance. It’s a crucial and an important part of the change process. If this isn’t happening, then you’re probably not actually changing anything.
Have you ever decided that you were going to start going to the gym more regularly but then one day decided that you “don’t have time” or “don’t feel like it?” And the next time, you didn’t feel like it either? And you just kept coming up with reasons why you couldn’t go, so eventually you stopped going altogether?
This is so common, we’ve all been through it before. Because resisting change is an inevitable part of the change process itself. We come up with lots of reasons why it won’t or can’t work.
We’ve now been writing this blog for six months. We’ve piloted this project, and we hope to continue writing it. We’ve gotten fantastic feedback. But some readers are becoming antsy. They’re wondering, is it too much with putting in gender equality goals for management? How is that different from a quota?
As Serge and I see it, the fact that people are writing in their concerns is a good thing. It means that they’re seriously thinking about these things, and how they play out in practice. With this week’s blog, we want to address a specific comment that we got two weeks ago. It was on the blog “B3IT Management’s CEO on How they got to 50/50.” One reader was concerned about the fact that the company had more women in management than they did among employees overall.
Here’s the reader’s comment:
“She said ‘If you look at all management teams, there are 30% women and 70% men. This is actually a higher level of gender balance than we have in total employees, where 21% were women in 2015, and 79% were men.’ How can it be gender-equal if there are more women in leadership positions than there are in the company overall? Isn’t gender equality when both genders are proportionally represented?
In my industry, there are about 25% women. In the private sector as a whole, it’s about 40% women. Then I think it’s unequal if women in management positions in the company exceeds these numbers.
This must be addressed in every business, in every industry otherwise the men's careers will be hampered in those companies where the number of women in senior positions exceeds the proportion of women in the industry.
This is a concern that we’ve heard many times. Thank you for bringing it up. Here is our response:
- Most tech companies in Sweden have more men in management, on a proportional level, than the number of men at the company overall. According to IT and Telekomföretagen, the ICT industry in Sweden has 29% women and 71% men, yet it has 27% women and 73% men in management. Women are only 14% of CEOs, men are 86%. This is the norm. Why is no one really upset when this happens? Or when there are only men on a management team at a company with 30% women? Why does it seem so much more serious or threatening when it happens when there are more women in management than at the company overall? Because it’s not the norm. We’re not used to it. And that’s scary.
- There is a good reason to aim for at least 30% women in management teams. It’s to break the glass ceiling. Research shows that you need at least 30% of the underrepresented gender in order for women to no longer be tokenized. When you break this ceiling, it becomes less scary to both men AND women.
- If you do not have at least 30% women in your management team, you’re risking that women at the lower levels will quit before ever getting to management because they don’t see that they can be successful at your company. They feel like they won’t advance - you haven’t shown them that it’s possible because they have no role models. Women who quit one tech company are likely to quit the industry entirely. Tech’s dirty secret is that a whopping 41% of women leave tech after working in it, compared to just 17% of men.
- One role model who’s a woman in management is not enough to contribute to gender equality at your company. Both because you need multiple people to look up to, and also because you need people in different roles to show the way for people coming up from different departments and roles.
- If you want to change something, you need to actually do something differently. What tech has been doing - having male-dominated management teams - has clearly not worked to contribute to equality. If we want a different result, we have to adopt a new strategy - just like we do in all business plans and roadmaps. If you’re happy with your company’s results, then you can keep doing what you’ve been doing. But if you aren’t happy with your company’s results, do not keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
The bottom line in tech is that the reality is painful. There is a shortage of programmers. Current development is being prevented because companies can’t find and hire the right people. When you don’t have women in your management team, you contribute to this problem worsening because you risk the women at your company leaving - not just leaving your company, but leaving tech and never coming back. Is this ok? Do you want tech to lose more of its already scarce resources?
On the other side, we can do better. We can create a future where women and men work together to build marvelous products and things, and tech doesn’t have to constantly scramble for the right people. We wouldn’t be writing this blog if we didn’t believe in the incredibly smart and talented people in tech - the engineers, the developers, the creators.
But the bottom line is, when you lead change on any issue, you will encounter resistance. We hope you embrace this resistance as a sign that things are progressing. We also hope that we can engage our readers to give you the tools to understand this debate on a real level, to really delve deep into these issues - so that we can together, along with the rest of the world, contribute to a more sustainable future.
Many thanks to Cecilia Jonsson for her assistance in writing this blog.