“I believe a gender imbalance means the industry is missing opportunities for even greater growth, innovation and success”

This quote comes from a 3 September 2014 Information Age post The women in IT issue is not going away, says Salesforce. Eileen O’Mara, Salesforce.com’s Area VP of commercial sales, refers to a recent UK study (the BCS 2014 Women in IT Scorecard) which shows that less than 17% of the IT industry is made up of women and the gender gap is worsening. Why does this matter? Eileen gives some interesting reasons, such as “tech companies with women on their management teams have a 34% higher return on investment” and “It is proven that more varied workgroups generate better ideas. Diversity of perspective outperforms even the most brilliant individual ability.”  A key message is that “Not only do women bring fresh perspectives to the workplace, they are also proven to generally be very good problem solvers and communicators – both key skills for jobs in technology.”

Eileen’s claims are supported by an InPower Women post on September 15, 2014,  Research Says: Women In Groups Make Smarter Groups! “The IQ of individuals in a group is not as important as how gender-diverse it is. Bringing women into the group causes the intelligence to rise.” April Sweazy quotes from a 2011 study, conducted by Carnegie Mellon professor Anita Woolley and MIT professor Thomas Malone, noting “The surprising finds of this study were, the things that were hypothesized to be predictive of how a group would perform, were not.  Group satisfaction, group cohesion, and group motivation were found to be non-factors when determining overall collective intelligence. Another surprising finding was that individual intelligence was also not a factor”

Harvard Business Review (HBR) Magazine challenged Professors Woolley and Malone to defend their research. The interview makes interesting reading, e.g..

HBR: You realize you’re saying that groups of women are smarter than groups of men?

Woolley: Yes. And you can tell I’m hesitating a little. It’s not that I don’t trust the data. I do. It’s just that part of that finding can be explained by differences in social sensitivity, which we found is also important to group performance. Many studies have shown that women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men do. So what is really important is to have people who are high in social sensitivity, whether they are men or women.

In fact, a December 7, 2011 Shambaugh Leadership Insights blog The Brain Science Behind the Integrated Leadership Model provided physiological reasons for the above findings, noting “In her groundbreaking books, The Female Brain and The Male Brain, neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, M.D., offers the physiological evidence for what we’ve always known: men and women are different. (No big surprise there!) Brizendine, who has extensively studied gender brain differences, explains that the unique structure of the female and male brain determines how each gender thinks, what they value, and how they communicate.”

So since at least 2011 there has been solid empirical evidence supporting the case for more women in IT and more women in leadership roles.  However, the issue is still being clouded by a great deal of unconscious bias and pseudo- science.  Even the authors of the acclaimed book The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future have been accused of both, albeit sometimes reluctantly.

An Amazon UK Customer Review by Jonathan Gifford  notes: criticising the book seems perverse and small-minded – like taking a pop at Mother Theresa. But I can’t help myself. So: this is an interesting book and I urge you to read it, but…”  Jonathan goes on to list a number of legitimate problems with the authors’ research, also noting Funnily enough, the authors recount in their introduction how they ran their ideas past a female academic who ‘scrunched up her face like a professor listening to a student offering a terrible answer’ and concluded, “I object to you calling these things feminine.” I’m on her side. But the guys went ahead and did it anyway.”

Less reluctant to criticise was Karen Robertson who notes in a UK Telegraph review, How men can ‘think like women’ to succeed , “Thanks to one of the books authors, John Gerzema, a TED circuit regular with an ability to spin headline gold, (“femininity is the operating system of 21st century progress”), the book’s been receiving some fist-punching female-friendly press. Karen goes on to describe the authors’ methodology, including a list of 10 “feminine” traits, then adds “But before we uncork the champagne and declare a resounding victory for women the world over, let’s press pause for a second. Is it really helpful to apportion values and attributes by gender?”

More recently we have a thoughtful, if sometimes sardonic, June 2nd, 2014 Integral Post blog Time to Be Human by Elizabeth Debold  Ed.D. who is one of the world’s foremost authorities on gender development and author of the bestselling Mother Daughter Revolution. Elizabeth  notes “Recent books, even those written by men such as The Athena Doctrine, explain that women’s ways of thinking or leading will lead to greater success in our highly interdependent, networked world.

It’s now women’s time. Finally. After many, many millennia of male domination, patriarchy is dying and women are stepping forward. Let’s heave a big sigh of relief and embrace the new era of women….

Well, I don’t think so.” Elizabeth goes on to look at the deeper issues: “My disagreement with the idea that women rule or should rule the world is based on what I feel is a misperception of the cultural shift that we are in the midst of. Thinking of this shift primarily in terms of women misses the deeper current of change that is happening.”

So how does Australia compare on Women in IT  and Women in Leadership?

The Australian Computer Society, Australian ICT Statistical Compendium 2013 put the percentage of women employed in technical and professional ICT occupations in the ICT industry at 18.4% (page 41.)

The Australian Institute of Company Directors statistics on Appointments to S&P/ASX 200 Boards show improvements over the past 5 years in the percentage of women on ASX 200 boards to 18.3%  as at 31 August 2014, “the highest they have been in Australia, however we still have a long way to go. A total of 40 boards in the ASX 200 still do not have any women.”

Yes, still a long way to go, but plenty of active involvement and growing industry support. Melinda Nield’s Great Teams need Great Minds article in our August 2014 Newsletter noted that some of our top Australian organisations are heading in this direction with great success. Melinda is Women in Project Management (WiPM) director at PMI Sydney chapter and will be participating in the Women in ICT Forum at the Australian Conference on Software Management (ACOSM 2014) in November. This Forum will also feature participants from ACS Women and from Females in Information Technology & Telecommunications (FiTT.) For more information on ACOSM14, see http://qesp.org/acosm-2014-australian-conference-software-management.