Why high tech needs women executives

It's not simply about equal employment opportunity

Why should anyone care if there are women in executive-level positions in technology? Is there real value in gender diversity? 

I've been investigating and discussing this topic for a number of years, and the answer is yes, it does matter. Companies are beginning to recognize that gender balancing is good for business and the corporations that are taking actions to identify, promote and retain high-potential women are reaping the benefits.

Women in IT: Success and struggle 

As the CEO of Alta Associates, a recruiting firm specializing in IT risk management and information security, I can attest to the fact that a majority of my clients have identified this need and are wrestling with the challenge of retaining women in executive positions in technology.

Why are corporations interested in having women at the top? A 2007 report by Catalyst revealed that Fortune 500 companies with three or more women on the board gained a significant performance advantage over those with the fewest. In a similar study by McKinsey, it was reported that those companies with the most women on their senior teams showed superior growth in equity, operational results and share price.

We know that the issue of women as leaders is no longer simply about equal employment opportunity or fairness. It's a matter of smart business. At the same time, the factors impacting upon women and leadership have never been more complex, ranging from a host of socio-cultural factors to the economic inequities that still exist, to the fundamental questions that many women ask themselves in the middle of the night, suc as: "Do I really even want a role at the top of my organization?"

In 2003, I responded to the outcry from executive women in the fields of information security, privacy and risk management who were wrestling with such issues and founded the Executive Women's Forum. The evolution of the EWF community is a grassroots effort. What began as one-on-one conversations about gathering like-minded women together to build a trusted network has evolved into a community of more than 500 of the most influential women in their fields who have attended national conferences, regional meetings and interact through an online community.

What makes this community so successful? It's the creation of a "safe place" where women gather and are willing to be authentic in sharing their successes and challenges and discuss issues that they are wrestling with. Members understand the EWF culture they have created is one that is confidential, inclusive, empowering, inspiring and supportive. Everyone acknowledges that to remain in good standing, they have made the conscious choice to sustain this trusted environment.Each year the EWF holds a national conference where nearly 200 women gather for candid conversations, interactive panel discussions, and formal and informal networking events. Vendors participate to transfer knowledge, and although no direct selling is allowed, millions of dollars of business is transacted, new companies are incubated, solutions are created and best practices are benchmarked.

It all leads to women getting to know each other at a much deeper level and building lifelines that last long after the event is over.

Active members of the EWF are exposed to other women that have chosen not to "opt out" and have created their own path to the executive suite. Their career ladders more often resemble career lattices and members gain insight into how other women balance and attain professional success and personal fulfillment.

Although attention is sometimes drawn to this group of women who are executives in a male-dominated field, there's nothing unique about people gathering and exchanging information based on commonalities. The most successful people in the world rely on advice, support and encouragement from their trusted advisors.

The EWF community is unique in that the members have sought out each other and have created a bond that transcends the professional environment to awaken a camaraderie that previously hadn't existed. These women are succeeding in creating the types of deep trusting relationships that not only create success, but change their lives.

Joyce Brocaglia, CEO of information security and IT audit recruiting firm Alta Associates, is also founder of the Executive Women's Forum, a membership community that holds conferences for women in the information security, risk management and privacy fields. Here, Brocaglia speaks about the EWF and gender diversity at the executive level in technology.

This story, "Why high tech needs women executives" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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