Guest blog: Closing the gender leadership gap – #PressforProgress

Guest Blog | Thu 8 Mar | Author – Business & Finance
Women in the workplace

Terri Moloney, Director of Employee Success at Salesforce, explains that having more women in high tech positions would be a huge step forward in bridging the leadership gap.

Terri Moloney

Each year, International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to celebrate the contribution of women to society and the work that has gone towards the cause of gender equality since the first observance of a Women’s Day in New York in 1909. This year’s campaign theme is #PressforProgress, an apt title as Ireland celebrates the centenary of voting rights for women, but despite all the gains women have made since then, we are still some way from parity in a few crucial areas.

One of the most important is corporate leadership. Women make up just under half of the Irish workforce, yet account for just 16% of seats at the boardroom tables in Ireland’s top publicly-listed companies. We are by no means unique in this regard, in with our closest neighbours there are more men named David running FTSE 100 companies than there are women.

Globally, however, the tech industry has a long way to go, which is why, at Salesforce, we’re on a mission to change things and are striving to help women reach their full potential. Here are three vital areas where we believe businesses can #PressforProgress and narrow the gender leadership gap.

Eliminate unconscious bias
Most people believe that they’re not prejudiced and they probably think they’re ethical and unbiased, too. However, a recent piece of research from two UK psychologists found that almost 40% of people have unconscious biases against particular genders or ethnicities. Recognising and addressing unconscious bias within organisations is vital to increase the number of women in leadership roles.

At Salesforce, we have a structured training programme that all managers undergo, targeted at eliminating unconscious bias from our organisation and we’ve made that same unconscious bias training available to everyone through our free online learning tool, Trailhead. Once individuals understand how unconscious bias affects employee performance, as well as recognising bias within the workplace and during the recruitment process, women will face less of those smaller everyday barriers that prevent them from reaching their full potential.

Create a workforce of gender allies
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been at a top-level meeting and looked around to see no other female faces at the table. Without a diversity of backgrounds and experiences in the room, potentially vital issues are not brought up and decisions are invariably made from a narrower perspective.

By creating a workforce of gender allies, businesses can make a positive impact on the gender imbalance every single day, getting female and male colleagues to be part of the decision-making process together. But a ‘critical mass’ of diversity in the room is the real game-changer. I’ve certainly found that having more women in the room makes it easier to collectively use our voice and issues are raised and discussed that likely wouldn’t have been had their only been one or two women – or even none – present.

At Salesforce, one way we have done this is with an initiative called “Women Aiming Higher”, which identifies and nurtures high-potential female talent, building their exposure to senior leadership teams. We’ve introduced a policy that calls for women to make up 30% of attendees at all leadership, product strategy and investment meetings.

Close the confidence gap
These initiatives have the ultimate goal of allowing women to see more people like themselves in senior positions, which will then raise women’s perceptions of what they can aspire to and lead to a dramatic shift in diversity at the top.

Technology companies are working incredibly hard to make themselves a more appealing career option for women and to get more female talent into our industry. This year, for example, Salesforce’s Futureforce graduate intake was 74% female. However, unless we have female leaders for these women to instantly look up to, as well as clear and marked paths to the top, this talented generation won’t fulfil its potential and have the rich and challenging careers it deserves.

#PressforProgress, then, encapsulates where we are as an industry on gender. We’ve made great strides, but there’s much more to be done and leadership is the area we must focus our energy on if we are going to ensure that younger generations of women can flourish in technology. So, I will celebrate International Women’s Day, but in the knowledge that true transformation is still ahead of us.

Terri Moloney is Director of Employee Success at Salesforce.