Women In Tech Need To ‘Communicate The Conviction Of Their Ambition’

Neveen Awad, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group, describes how women often carve out different paths to success compared with their male counterparts and how women can overcome the challenges they face along the way.

If women are struggling to get into leadership roles at tech companies, it’s not for lack of drive. “There’s no ambition gap between men and women,” said Neveen Awad, managing director and partner at management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group, which found in a recent study of over 750 tech leaders that 62 percent of surveyed women were trying for a promotion, compared with 67 percent of men. Awad spoke with CRN’s Jennifer Zarate about how women often carve out different paths to success compared with their male counterparts and how women can overcome the challenges they face along the way. Here is an edited excerpt of the conversation.

What key findings were most striking to you?

There were several. First was that there’s no ambition gap between men and women. And even though women may take different paths, their ambition level is the same. The second was that while women identified their first or second promotion as most critical, the men identified their most recent promotion ahead of leadership being the most critical.

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What were the lessons learned from surveying female leaders in tech?

Women that we interviewed said, while it seems simple, you actually have to state your ambition out loud because we assume people know we want to become leaders, but actually without communicating it, people don’t know how to support us and enable us and help us.

The other thing is often women early in their careers were worried that, ‘Oh my, if I take a maternity leave or [extended time] off it will communicate that I don’t have the same level of ambition as my male colleagues.’ And actually that was not the case when we interviewed their leaders. But rather, especially when women very proactively said, ‘OK, I’m going to take maternity leave. When I come back, this is how I envision some of my on-boarding back and also my trajectory to my potential next role,’ [they could help] their leaders think through it together. So there are many paths to success, and women should not be shy to start to help create their own paths to success, and also to communicate what they envision as a good path to success for them.

What can companies take away from this research about female representation in the tech C-suite?

Women make up just under half the workforce in North America, but they are less than 30 percent of the representation of leadership roles in technology, even though there’s proven value—good business—to having a diverse leadership representation. So really the core thesis we were trying to understand is how do you change that? And it really is a mix of factors that often start very early in the organization, which is just training your managers and senior managers on the importance of putting your arm around and helping enable women, minorities, to take on new roles [for those who] are showing an ambition to do so because actually if you train that and enable that in the early parts of the organization, it will have a very significant impact on your leadership diversity in several years, probably even more than a top-down mandate of diversity training, although that’s important too. So small changes really do make a very big impact.

While conducting these interviews and looking at women in IT as a whole, what did you learn specifically about women in the channel?

So across women in the channel, one thing that we talked a lot about was the importance of technical proficiency. Women felt that technical proficiency was important through their career, and that importance really never subsided, even when they became very senior. And one of the results that was surprising to us was that we thought that that would be more impactful for CISOs or heads of infrastructure or people that have a more ‘techie’ function, if you will. But it actually turned out that the women that were in high-tech industries but less of a tech function role felt more of a test or demand of their technical proficiency relative to their male colleagues. There was more of a difference.

And we actually think that’s related to a culture of feeling that there’s always a need to communicate successes and communicate knowledge, even when the technical proficiency isn’t the most core [aspect of] their job. Whereas when you are leading cloud deployment or running the security operations, technical proficiency is [something] you do day in and day out. So the need to communicate and prove that you can do it, it’s not as strong because it’s something that’s just inherent in what you do.

How critical is this type of research to the channel?

It’s just so critical because there is just such an opportunity, especially now with COVID, where tech and the channel and all the IT functions are going to become incredibly critical, even more critical than they have been. The need to scale even more the demand for the talent of the women in the channel is going to be significant. And it’s important for women to understand, given that, how to create their career paths and communicate the conviction of their ambition.

At the same time, it’s important for organizations to understand how to create a culture that enables a diverse workforce and diverse leadership team because then there’ll be higher performance than their competitor