The impact women have on profitability, retention, and innovation in business is broadly known, and though the hard-but-necessary work of closing the gender gap is far from complete, the value of this critical goal is seen more than ever.
The Business Case and the Human Case
Businesses that prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) are seeing the benefits of leading with a focus on their people, from their people data to their bottom lines, especially when those efforts extend all the way up the corporate ladder, a critical challenge in closing the gender gap.
Corporations have made headway in better representing and retaining women in the workplace, but it’s been a slower pace of change in leadership roles above middle management. “The biggest obstacle to women on the corporate ladder is a ‘broken rung’ in the first step up to the manager level. For every 100 men hired or promoted to manager, there are only 72 women—and only 58 black women.”
But the payoff is significant when women hold those executive roles. “In organizations where 50% or more senior leadership positions are held by women, they’re more likely to offer equal pay, and female employees are more likely to stay with the company longer than a year, report higher job satisfaction, and feel the company is trustworthy.”
In fact, the diversity of experience and perspective that gender parity brings is proving to be a financial boon for those organizations demonstrating the strongest commitment. “[C]ompanies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.”
While retention and productivity, not to mention stock value and profitability, are notable benefits of women in the workplace and in rooms where critical decisions are made, the broader impact is undeniable and far reaching. One in five firms with revenue of $1 million or more is woman-owned, and 30% of all new businesses are women-owned. For the more than 10 million workers employed by these companies and more than $1.8 trillion generated, their influence is immeasurable.
The potential impact that closing the gender gap could have on the world is estimated at $12 trillion added to global GDP by 2025, according a McKinsey Global Institute report. Despite there being a continued digital gender divide globally, resulting from limited access to critical skills and tools required to grow and innovate in today’s world, women’s economic power and influence are major market forces.
Amplified Divide in Tech
For women in technology industries, the gap to overcome is wider. HNM CEO and Founder Heather Moyer recently served on a panel discussion about “Female Leadership in Male Dominated Industries” at the Association for Corporate Growth’s CapCon23, discussing this very situation. Despite women increasing labor marketing participation in the past 50 years, the progress has been much slower in technology-related markets and even women employees in those roles are leaving those roles voluntarily.
“In a 2020 study conducted by GLF, researchers found that in 70% of telecommunications organizations fewer than 30% of technical roles are held by women.” And this imbalance persists globally as well. The World Economic forum confirmed this through LinkedIn, finding that “[f]emale employees account for only 26% in data and AI roles, 15% in engineering and 12% in cloud computing jobs.”
Recent data from Accenture confirms that “the ratio of women to men in tech roles has declined in the past 35 years, with half of women who go into tech dropping out by the age of 35.” A 2022 report from McKinsey points to some reasons for this decline: “only 86 women are promoted to manager for every 100 men across every industry, but when isolated for tech, that number drops to 52 women for every 100 men.”
In telecommunications, utilities, and IT, the gender gap persists up and down the chain. “Women are under-represented in ICT jobs, top management and academic careers and […] men are four times more likely than women to be ICT specialists.
But as Morgan Forbes, Division Director, HNM Systems, notes, these industries are making advances in the right direction, alongside the strides being made in commercial business. “Diversity and inclusion continues to be at the forefront and the industry is evolving in terms of women infiltrating male-dominated ranks. We are seeing an increase of women in high-rank and C-suite leadership positions.”
A Bridge Forward
In 2018 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “Bridging the Digital Gender Divide: Include, Upskill, Innovate,” partnership and collaboration are key to accelerating progress: “Narrowing the gender gap can be achieved not only by empowering women, but also by facilitating men and women working together, to erase differences and biases.”
HNM’s Moyer agrees, making the point that women should especially absolve themselves of the pressure to bear the burden of closing the gap on their own. “Women must lean into their confidence and be able to ask for help, but they must also be free from judgment and exploitation for being human.”
What’s more, she says, is that women shouldn’t worry about abandoning who they are to succeed in what might have been a man’s world. “Use those qualities that make you the woman you are as your strength. They allow you to lead authentically and cultivate trust, so trust yourself to know and have what it takes to succeed. That includes saying No.”
Emily Murphy, Vice President of Operations at HNM Systems, says “As opportunities for women in technology continue to become more prevalent, it’s a great time for women to expand their footprint in fast-paced, always-evolving, innovation-driven industries. At HNM we pride ourselves on being a diverse supplier for our customers and on identifying new opportunities in tech for the most qualified candidates.”
Recognizing wins and bringing others alongside are important to continuing the progress that’s been made. Moyer encourages business leaders especially to celebrate and tout the successes of their minority employees, suppliers, partners, etc., to give those successes a far-reaching, long-lasting impact. “We’re grateful for positive feedback and referrals from all our clients who value our diversity, and we’re especially privileged to have some of our Fortune 100 customers who additionally position us for success by continuously introducing us to buyers, supporting us through RFPs, and more.”
After all, the best way to celebrate the very ability to partner with a woman-owned business in the telecommunications industry is to pass on the good news. Despite the fact that women entrepreneurs are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. economy, “[o]nly one in four startups have a female founder, 37% have at least one woman on the board of directors, and 53% have at least one woman in an executive position, according to a study from Silicon Valley Bank.”
Getting a business off the ground continues to be more challenging for women. “Women-owned start-ups receive 23% less funding and are 30% less likely to have a positive exit compared to male-owned businesses.”
Good for Business and Humankind
It’s clear that supporting and elevating women in the workplace, especially in positions of leadership and influence, not only boost a business’s social image but also presents very direct benefits to the bottom line. “[I]t’s not just about helping women have engaged, rewarding careers. There is also a clear business case for making our organizations more gender-inclusive and equitable.” According to the World Bank, one such benefit is as much as a 40% increase in productivity per worker, for example, by eliminating discrimination against female employees.
In some ways immeasurable, however, are the downstream economic and social impacts of gender equality efforts, from accelerating economic recovery to addressing global poverty, hunger and housing instability. “Empowering women and girls helps expand economic growth, promote social development and establish more stable and just societies.
The role that woman-owned and equity-focused tech firms can play is perhaps one of the most consequential, as globally, women and girls are at risk of being left behind in the digital transformation. “[H]urdles to access, affordability, lack of education as well as inherent biases and sociocultural norms curtail women and girls’ ability to benefit from the opportunities offered by the digital transformation.”
It’s for all these reasons that success and progress, especially in these industries, are invaluable and critical to broader advances. “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right. It is also a keystone of a prosperous, modern economy that provides sustainable inclusive growth.”