Ok, we know hi-tech has a woman problem. We know Silicon Valley has a women problem. We know that women comprise only 30% of Google, Twitter, and 20% at Apple (and 31% of Facebook) while many companies won’t even release their numbers–perhaps because they’re too ashamed. (For the hi-tech companies in the S&P 500 that do reveal their numbers, they average only 29% women–and only 20% in management.) The fraternity of male engineers in hi-tech–obviously rule the roost in the Valley.
But it looks like Apple is best positioned to win the “Where Are the Women?” award this year, given the total absence of women on stage at their product rollout last week. All the presenters–I counted six over the two-hour event–were men, not to mention the four fellows in U2 who performed towards the end. (Not a lot of women in the audience either, except for the first few rows.) And this despite the fact that Apple has come under fire from shareholder groups for the scarcity of women on their board (one) and upper management ranks. And only 20% of Apple women work in tech jobs.
There are women VPs at Apple–including the former Burberry CEO, Angela Ahrendts, who is now VP of Retail and Online Stores and two other women VP’s–who could have played a role in the lengthy product presentation, which would have sent a loud communication to women watching that they’re not only welcome at Apple, but they’re welcome in Apple’s executive suite. Why did it not occur to CEO Tim Cook to include at least one of them?
As an owner of a hi-tech startup and as someone who has worked in corporations for decades as an employee or business consultant, I have wrestled with this issue for a while–the absence of women in corporate leadership in general and in hi-tech leadership specifically–and have come to some conclusions.
First, too many businesses see the absence of women in leadership positions as primarily a gender equality issue and not a leadership issue. Businesses need to see that it’s in their economic self-interest to have women in senior leadership positions.
Study after study shows that women bring a different value set and a different vantage point to leadership. Women are more motivated by intrinsic rewards, their relationships with coworkers, and longer-term success than men. Also, as Sally Helgesen and Julie Johnson report in The Female Vision, “Researchers find that men tend to focus deeply and narrowly on a single perception or task, whereas women’s attention is often simultaneously engaged by many different things.” In fact, “Women’s domestic experience, socialization, and evolutionary development” have habituated them to see the world differently. Their “broad-spectrum” awareness, as contrasted with men’s more analytic focus is a vital complement to men’s strengths. That’s the whole point of diversity: a richer mix of perspectives enables smarter decision-making.
Secondly, too many businesses don’t see that the lack of women in leadership puts them at a disadvantage in understanding their customers. Women make the majority of purchasing decisions for most products. Though exact numbers are difficult to verify, Neilson.com in an article “US Women Control the Purse Strings” points out that women are expanding past their dominance in consumer goods purchases to “other big ticket purchases.” This includes hi-tech. The Anita Borg Institute reports that half of computer purchases are made by women. Other estimates are as high as 66%.
This raises rather obvious questions such as: Shouldn’t the workforce represent the market? Wouldn’t women in leadership positions in business provide some insight into consumer preferences? Wouldn’t we expect that women know what women want?
It’s not surprising that an Illuminate Ventures white paper on hi-tech start-ups concludes, “Organizations that are the most inclusive of women in top management achieve 35% higher ROE and 34% better total return to shareholders versus their peers.” Meanwhile a McKinsey & Company, “Women Matter”, study reports that European companies with the highest level of gender diversity in senior management outperformed, on average, their sector in terms of operating results (EBIT 11.1% vs. 5.8%) and stock price growth (64% vs 47%).
I am a long-time Apple customer who began with the original Macintosh in 1984, and I have been an Apple shareholder for many years; but after seeing no women on stage at the Apple product announcement–and reading for years about the under-representation of women in Apple’s upper management ranks–I am now reevaluating my product loyalty to a company that just doesn’t get it about women.
Warren Buffet sums it up well. “We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.”
It’s time for Apple to share in that vision, imagine what would be possible for Apple if they did.