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To Succeed in Tech, Women Need More Visibility

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  • A key feature of the tech culture—the shared belief that it’s a meritocracy—may work against change. An important study by Emilio J. Castilla and Stephen Benard has shown that when an organization’s core values state that raises and promotions are “based entirely on the performance of the employee”—in other words, when a company sees itself as a meritocracy—women are actually more likely to get smaller bonuses than men with equivalent performance reviews. Subtle biases against women are clearly at work here. Moreover, 40 years of social science have taught us that such biases will be perpetuated unless they’re intentionally interrupted, and people who think they work for meritocracies are less likely to do what it takes to interrupt them.

  • A significant body of research shows that for women, the subtle gender bias that persists in organizations and in society disrupts the learning cycle at the heart of becoming a leader. This research also points to some steps that companies can take in order to rectify the situation. It’s not enough to identify and instill the “right” skills and competencies as if in a social vacuum. The context must support a woman’s motivation to lead and also increase the likelihood that others will recognize and encourage her efforts—even when she doesn’t look or behave like the current generation of senior executives.

  • Women are making progress at every level except as leaders. We started accounting for 50% of college degrees 30 years ago, but progress at the top has stalled. For the past decade women in corporate America have held only about 14% of C-suite jobs and 17% of board seats. There aren’t enough women sitting at the tables where decisions are made. Reigniting the revolution means I want us to notice all of this and find ways to encourage more women to step up and more companies to recognize what women bring to the table.