Promoting the Promotion of Women…. Really?

My company currently is promoting the promotion of women in a big way. I find it a bit pointless to constantly receive emails that laud our goal to continue to promote gender diversity and get more women in management positions. Why odd? Because I don’t believe having a “management initiative” that sends out emails, hosts networking and institutes mentoring programs is any way to get this done.

I’ve been at over 10 leading Silicon Valley companies (OK two were not exactly leading) and the biggest difference I’ve seen is that companies who truly promote gender diversity don’t need campaigns to instigate action. That is, they have women embedded in the organization at all levels – from the board, through the executive team all the way down to first line managers.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about this. I’ve worked in Silicon Valley for almost 20 years and was once told to stop asking about women in leadership positions because I was “becoming known for asking that kind of question.” So over the years, I’ve learned not to ask or worry about the promotion of women, but the problem seems odd and I think, is somewhat unique as it occurs in high tech companies.

So what’s the deal? My 2cent theory is that the valley was born as a big old-boys, chip-based network and ultimately hasn’t really grown up or lost that DNA. The thunder and bravado of high tech CEOs such as Larry Ellison, Mark Benioff is a direct descendent of this gene pool as is the fact that you rarely see women leading, or in high levels, of high tech companies (at least for long – sorry Carly).

But here is the twist, I work for a German company and lo and behold, same problem. A 2009 Germany ministry of family study found 3 mindsets among male bosses about women (see article):

  • Those who simply don’t think women are cut out for it
  • Those who think they are, but fear their colleagues don’t and worry about cohesion
  • Those who say that in theory gender does not matter but in practice women who make it “overcompensate” and are not “authentic.”

Yikes! Who would have thunk another culture could be more messed up about the view of women in management?  (BTW, since that article was written, Angelika Dammann has left SAP after only 1 year.)

Given Oracle, Salesforce, and other valley company’s competitive spirit, I wonder if they would be upset that they’ve been out prejudiced by their German rivals? It is clear that none of these mindsets are good… at all. What is a  woman to do?

A colleague from Switzerland and I were talking about what it takes to manage women vs. manage men. She pointed out that women need better, softer management such as encouragement and personable colleagues. Her simplified take gave me pause.

In a funny way, what if it was just that simple, that cultures – both country and company – that encourage encouragement and getting along are able to retain women at all levels? Yes they are “soft” skills and environmental factors, but I certainly don’t need more emails and programs to encourage me and my colleagues to promote women.

Listen up Larry, Mark & my German management…. ultimately, my best jobs were made by having colleagues I enjoy working with and a culture that values enjoying what you do and who you do it with — please don’t forget the good paycheck —  with a little encouragement sprinkled on top.

– Michaela


One response to “Promoting the Promotion of Women…. Really?

  1. The world is definitely a very different place with very different mindsets from the one I grew up in.

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