5 Strategic Imperatives for Tech Executives to Avoid Innovation Strangulation
What if you could peer into the future and identify exactly what will be constraining your business? Would you want to know? Would you look? Maybe more important, would you take action?
I’ve got great news! Some powerful entities have combined forces to generate some fascinating data that is quite actionable for Tech Companies. The World Economic Forum has been actively tracking the progression of women in business and society for many years. This organization is responsible for the claim that it will require 151 years to achieve gender parity in North America. In their 2020 report, they also took an additional step and identified the critical growth professions powering the frontiers of the new economy. To do this they teamed up with LinkedIn to identify several areas of rising labor demand that are key for the new economy. Combining this data with the gender gap data reveals the professions that will be at the forefront of the emerging economy. These professions, not surprisingly, are also right where some of the largest gender gaps exist today. So, right from the start you have a big problem. Let’s take a look at the latest data.
Figure 1 identifies the 8 clusters of professions with elevated hiring based on five-year hiring trends on LinkedIn. This figure also shows the current gender gap for each of these professions. Only in the first two professions do the number of women in those positions exceed the number of men. For comparison, the third category (or bar) was added which shows the share of women in professional or technical roles (as opposed to low skilled or manual work). The remaining 6 categories begin to show the magnitude of the problem that we face. Female workers make up only 37% of Sales, 35% of Product Development, 26% of Data and AI, 15% of Engineering, and 12% of Cloud Computing. Keep in mind these are the high growth area professions across 20 leading economies.
They also developed a list of professions that are high growth, but don’t fit in any of the above categories. Putting all these together, Table 1 gives you a list of high growth professions along with the current representation of women.
These are the professions that have the capability to drive significant growth in your company. Now that you know where the real problem areas are going to be, what can you do about it? How are you going to tackle the gender gaps in these areas? Doing what you’ve done before isn’t going to work. You will need a plan to get in front of this to ensure you have access to the right mix of talent. Note that these roles are also right in the heart of your innovation engine. If you do not strive for diversity here, your ability to innovate will be suffocated.
So, now what do you do?
There are two situations possible here. Some of these professions are not yet constrained by the availability of talent as shown by the four areas highlighted in Table 1. This is where you need to dip into other talent pools.
Other professions are constrained by the availability of talent. This is the case for the last six professions in Table 1, there are simply not enough women in the field or entering the field to meet the demand.
Your company may be in one or both situations, depending on the critical skills needed for your business.
I’ve outlined 5 strategic imperatives that can help alleviate this situation. Note that these are not sequential steps. You will need to launch on all five at the same time. Unfortunately, this is not an easy problem to fix and you need to take the long view. It is best to think of this as a long-term process that will take time to remedy. Since the future of your company relies on your ability to hire from these professions, it is a worthwhile investment.
Figure out your Critical Skills
What skills are you going need in the future? Generate a list of skills critical for your business. You can start with the skills you currently use, but you should include skills you expect to need based on future products and services.
Fix Your Culture: Double-Down on Both Embracing Diversity and Implementing Inclusive Managerial Practices
This is even more critical than it was before for your company. You are already suffering from a lack female talent and need to bring more talent in. What do you think will happen if these new recruits experience a “bro-culture”? These women are going to be a scarcity and will immediately be wooed by other firms. It is imperative to get your culture adjusted now, or you will be facing a bucket that is continuously emptying faster than you can fill it. You must develop a culture where women are valued and respected. Where they are paid on par with their male counterparts and are groomed and promoted into leadership positions at the same rate. If you need a framework to do this, I present one in my recently published book: You Can’t Fix What You Can’t See: An Eye-Opening Toolkit to Cultivate Gender Harmony in Business.
Use Existing Talent Pools - Recruit women from professions with high skill similarity
Often, there are people in different professions that have similar skill sets to those you seek. The highlighted professions in Table 1 under-utilize the existing talent pool. These professionals may be working in other industries, so you may need to offer industry specific immersion. Some level of additional skills may be needed. Consider creating a targeted program for referrals, recruitment, on-boarding, mentoring, and re-skilling programs. Publicly highlight your program and how your recruits are being successful in their careers. Your goal is to attract more talent to these areas from other industries.
There may also be women looking to reenter the labor market that have the skills you need. Consider programs that facilitate the re-entrance of these women.
Get Out Your Spotlight - Highlight Career Path Opportunities for workers with your critical skills
Your goal is to get more women and minorities to consider this as a career. Consider programs with educational institutions. Perhaps you can hire summer interns or offer project opportunities for specific classes. Strive for interaction with the students. Consider scholarships to incentivize students to pursue the profession you need. Recognize your push needs to go all the way down to elementary schools. Yes, you read that correctly, elementary schools. The elementary school years are when many girls stop being interested in math and science. Your imperative is to keep them interested. Encourage employees to participate in school career days or other programs where professions are being discussed. Sharing their experience with our young people plants the seeds that they too may want to pursue this career. Many women’s conferences now have special sections for high school age participants. Perhaps you should be sponsoring these and sending girls from local schools to participate. There are lots of organizations working with girls interested in tech and coding and they often have events where the girls can learn about careers. Make sure your employees are there! Introducing the participants to the fields that are critical for your survival. Sponsor these organizations and send your diverse team members to work with these girls. It is critical to spread the word that these careers are fun and challenging and will be worth their while. Ensure presentations made by your staff highlight their career success and overall life satisfaction.
Develop Disruptive Technology Skills
There is another cluster of skills where you need to pay attention. Disruptive technology skills are an area where you want equal participation of women and men. These skills are associated with developing new technology like: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Genetic Engineering. Currently in this skill cluster, women are under-represented making up only 29% of the skill cluster. We face an urgent need to attract women toward developing disruptive skills. All the actions described above can be applied to this area as well.
This data from the World Economic Forum will only be valuable if you take action on it, now! Clearly, from the 2020 Gender Gap report, we find ourselves mostly in a stalled condition. I want to challenge Technology Executives to figure out how to make the needed changes. It is not just your innovation, the heart of your growth, that is at stake here. There are millions of careers and families that will be affected. You have the opportunity, especially with the current pandemic, to hit the reset button and decide you will be a leader in recruiting and retaining women and minorities in the technical areas of your company. Obviously, making this leap before your competitors do is in the best interests of your company.
 Cornwell, Karen F. “151 Years to Close the Gender Gap in North America?”, Medium, Feb 11, 2020. https://medium.com/@karenfcornwell/151-years-to-close-the-gender-gap-in-north-america-a832f7c9a00b?source=friends_link&sk=11d1fa915a7424cd3b4ccbea3c252955  “Global Gender Gap Report 2020”, World Economic Forum, 2019 (http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2020/?doing_wp_cron=1595871710.8630890846252441406250)