female leader, women leading the way featured

How can leaders create positive workplace environments

female leader, women leading the way

Article by Megan Barbier, Vice President, People & Culture

While International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women’s accomplishments, we also must stop to remind ourselves of the importance of getting more women recruited into the technology industry by creating an inclusive workplace.

All too often, businesses see creating a positive and inclusive workplace environment as an afterthought, and though companies are making great strides in shifting away from this attitude, they can always do more.

For organisations within the technology sector, improving female representation must become a priority that is actively pursued rather than just a token gesture. The process of shifting the gender balance to include more women can seem overwhelming. Move the needle by weaving diversity into all aspects of the employee experience: talent acquisition, development and recognition. Providing equitable access to training, projects and other resources, coupled with structured guidance on their professional development, businesses can better support the advancement of women in technical roles.

Businesses must also reflect on and acknowledge the importance of promoting diversity and inclusion across every aspect of their organisation. Diversity and inclusion are key in driving business innovation and creativity. To help women thrive in professional technology environments, leverage the power of both ERGs (employee resource groups) and male colleagues to build a strong community and promote ally-ship. By creating a diverse and inclusive workforce, organisations can tap into a wide range of perspectives and unique ideas, whilst unlocking creativity – all of which add immense value to critical decision making.

It comes as no surprise that for many organisations and their employees, remote or hybrid working has become the norm as a result of the pandemic. Though this has created an era of flexible working that we’ve never seen at this scale before, it’s also led to a lack of shared experiences in the workplace. Whether that’s getting coffees at lunch with colleagues or in-person meetings – the workforce is no longer as connected as they once were. It’s crucial that businesses reimagine their culture and values by focusing on inclusivity, in order to create the best possible environment for all employees to thrive, wherever they choose to work.

Megan BarbierAbout the author

Megan and her team drive the global people and culture strategy. She has 20 years of experience leading HR functions for large and emerging technology organizations. Prior to Jumio, she led international people operations for Wrike.


Meet our 100 incredible leaders breaking the bias & calling for societal change this International Women’s Day

As part of our #WeAreBreakingTheBias campaign, we will be sharing the thoughts of over 100 leaders who are calling for societal change for women. We hope you will join us so we can amplify why we should all #BreakTheBias for gender equity.


Technology Leadership featured

Unique challenges female leaders need to overcome | Dr Pippa Malmgren


By Dr. Pippa Malmgren, Co-author of The Leadership Lab, Winner of the 2019 Business Book of the Year

Women need to overcome many things in the work place, and so do men.

So, what is more specific to women than to men? A few things. First, we have to remember that humans are still part of the animal kingdom. They respond to many things subconsciously. Studies cosnsistently show that humans are more likely to designate someone as a leader if they are tall and loud. Many organizations are thus run on the “whoever speaks first and loudest” principle. This results, as everybody knows, are not great. We end up promoting the blowhards not only because of these qualities. It is also because we believe that confidence equals competence. As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic says in his Harvard Business School article called “ Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?” So, women not only have to learn how to speak up. They have to learn to be more confident.

This is easier said than done. Chamorro-Premuzic found that men typically say they are ready for a job when they are only 40 per cent to 50 per cent ready. Women typically wait until they are 100 per cent ready before they will say so. What is the end result of this gap? We get many men who overpromise and underdeliver and almost no women who underpromise and overdeliver. Maybe women should step forward and alleviate this gap?

But, you cannot change your height. So, for women, competing on size is never going to work. It’s not just height as well. Notice how men will drape their arms over nearby chairs and manspread across two places at a table. They are commanding space. Women are not designed for this. But, there are ways of taking the control back. One is to be better prepared. This does not just mean doing the homework. It also means figuring out where all the vested interests are. Women may not have height, but they have convening power. They can figure out how to align opposing interests before the meeting starts. They can be ready to explain not only the best course of action but to show that she had already garnered support for her vision. If she can also show everyone why it would be in their best interest to follow her, they are far more likely to. People trust someone who has thought through the consequences for someone else. Men could do all this too. Good leaders always do this. But we have few really good leaders these days. Women can easily take advantage of the shocking shortage of good leadership.

Not all women want to be leaders. Not all men want to be leaders either. But we still have to learn how to successfully swim in a fluid environment. Too many people think a job or a role or a current project are fixed and lasting things. Organizations are not fixed like a mountain that we are learning how to climb. Organizations are fluid. They are in perpetual motion. The skill needed is less like a mountain climber and more like a surfer. The people will change. The purpose of the work will change. So, women need to get better at managing highly fluid and ever-changing environments. A smart move is to set one’s sights on the next job, role, career, organisation that looks interesting to you.

Men constantly work with headhunters so that they know exactly what their skills are worth in the open market. Those relationships lead to the phone call about a new job that the man can fill before its even advertised. Headhunters regularly complain that women won’t take their phone calls. They want to recruit them but can’t. This is often because the woman either feels unready for the role (see above) or because she is happy where she is. That’s fine. Be happy where you are. But find out what the market rate is for your skill set. Take the free opportunity to build relationships with the headhunter who will help you find the next job even if it’s years away. Know your market.

Finally, women, and men, need to build out interests other than work. Life is short. It is important to find fun and balance. Having outside interests also makes you a more interesting person. But it serves in one further way as well. Most people solve big problems at work when they are 1. Not at work. 2. Not working 3. Not trying to solve a work problem 4. Doing something pretty inane like taking a bath or washing the dishes or going for a walk. Therefore, if you want to really excel at work, you must leave bandwidth for your brain and build in time for switching your head off. Men should do this too. But it is possible that women have an advantage here. Men more frequently pin their identity on their work. This makes them slaves to work and prevents them from switching off. Women are less likely to believe that their work role equals their identity. So, they have more freedom to park work at work. This is a gift that not many men have and many others wish they had. Take advantage of it.

Women in Tech

Pioneering change for female leadership


Women in Tech
Just 24 per cent of respondents to a recent Skillsoft survey reported that they felt their organisations had a strategy in place to develop women leaders.

Whilst there may be unofficial women’s groups within companies, often programmes specifically designed for female development are not implemented. This seems a counterintuitive business strategy when research shows that getting more women into leadership positions can make a significant difference to the bottom line.

In 2012, Bloomberg published a study of 2,360 companies, conducted by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, which compared company financial results based on the makeup of leadership teams. It found that companies with a market capitalisation of more than $10 billion and with women board members outperformed comparable businesses with all-male boards by 26 per cent worldwide. DDI, a global human resources firm, also found that in the top 20 per cent of companies – in terms of financial performance – 37 per cent of their leaders were women. In the bottom 20 per cent, women comprised just 19 per cent of the leadership.

More than 9 out of 10 of respondents in Skillsoft’s recent survey agreed that there is a lack of women in leadership. Most companies have a lot of capable women who simply are not making it into leadership roles, and organisations cannot afford to underutilise this significant percentage of their workforce. The key question that needs to be answered is how to best use this untapped resource, which comprises almost half of the country’s total workforce.

Businesses need to ensure talent pipelines are realising the full potential of the female workforce. The best performing companies in this area are taking small, simple, yet effective steps to increase the number of women in senior leadership positions.

 Implementing change

 Tapping into this talent requires changes across the board. This includes changing behaviour, process and the culture within an organisation. Companies have had some success by fostering greater senior leader accountability, by becoming less biased in decision-making processes and by changing their cultures to be more inclusive. In reality, however, there is often a lot of talk and little action.

The 2016 McKinsey ‘Women in the Workplace’ report found that approximately 75 per cent of US CEOs felt gender diversity was a priority. But is this reflected within the organisations? When Skillsoft conducted primary research on the topic, 71 per cent of respondents felt that their organisations were not doing enough to address the lack of women in senior leadership roles.

While the intention to change is often present, when attempting to implement strategies, good intentions often meet a lack of will across an organisation. A variety of common factors contribute to the ineffectiveness of change efforts.

 Addressing the gender gap

HR leaders are often pressured to deliver results that demonstrate they are addressing the gender gap. They need to produce evidence that programmes are in place and projects are underway. Many efforts do in fact produce useful outcomes, but they often fall short of their full potential because they are not fully integrated into the organisation. When training is not consistent, widespread and fully integrated into the culture of an organisation, it can very easily turn into a check box activity.

Women’s leadership training has a much higher efficacy when integrated the whole organisation. Too often, a selected group of women are offered sporadic professional development opportunities, where they attend one or a few sessions without any specific follow-up, measurement of progress, or any attempt to link the programme to particular leadership skill gaps. Women return to their daily work environment, and due to lack of on-going reinforcement and environmental support required to cement any changes, the organisation as a whole fails to make any meaningful change.

 Identifying areas to change

Women often predominate in human resources and marketing but are less represented in operations, finance, R&D and other areas of the business. Some businesses do exceptionally well at talent development, but struggle with promotion. Others excel at helping women get into positions of power but face challenges in keeping them there. Identifying what the organisation already does well and where it needs to change enables the challenge to be broken down into more manageable aspects. These can be assessed, changed and measured for success against specific progress criteria.

Myriad changes have been identified as effective, including expanding the talent pipeline in recruitment, job diversity, and middle and senior leadership by broadening where the talent is identified. By identifying and changing the unconscious biases embedded in the decision-making processes around talent, mind-sets will open up and women are empowered to realise they are capable of moving into positions of leadership. Continued professional growth and development, including focused training with follow-up and implementation support, then helps ensure these benefits are sustained.

Starting small

Widespread, lasting changes are not easy to make. Large organisations are often successful at creating lasting change by starting the process with one team, in a single business unit or defined area of the organisation. They learn what works, and the effort can then be scaled into other areas of the organisation.

Businesses need to start small to provide an opportunity to experiment and create a comfortable pace of change. Commitment to company-wide leadership programmes that are relevant, time efficient and flexible is key. Leadership education must focus on key competencies required for career growth at all levels. To meet the time demands of all workers, education programs should be efficient and tailored to fit the experience level of each employee. Starting small creates built-in change agents for a wider rollout and means everyone can become comfortable with the pace of change. It also yields examples that can be shared organisation-wide to increase understanding and reduce resistance. Like any area of sustained change though, the development of women for leadership roles requires continuous, on-going education.

About the author

This article was provided by Tony Glass, VP and GM EMEA at Skillsoft.


How to be an effective female leader


Jackie Kinsey, Chief Leadership Officer at ThoughtWorks

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, the definition of what makes a good leader needs to adapt and change with it.

Female leader
Image via Shutterstock

The traditional image of a leader as autocratic, in control, unemotional and hierarchical is a leader who is relevant to a work environment where technology wasn’t central to work. Today’s technology-centred environment is more fluid, constant and open which therefore creates the opportunity for a different type of leader to empower this new way of working. The range of personalities, styles and approaches is infinite, and therefore there should not be one solitary style, or stereotype, of an effective leader. The workplace is varied and challenging, therefore, being authentic and honest with yourself are two essential characteristics to being a good leader in today’s workplace. The obstacles that cross our paths often occur when we have stretched ourselves in an unnatural way, but ultimately you need to find a way and definition of leadership that works best for you and by doing so help to change and evolve the current outdated stereotype.

At ThoughtWorks, we wanted to focus on accelerating our women leadership talent pipeline and experiment with different approaches and explore how to facilitate a broader range of leadership styles. We created a programme where the goal and outcome was to make an impact. It didn’t matter what area of the business or how deep and broad – just an impact. A number of the participants struggled with the openness of this goal and what this allowed for was even less restrictions. We took the participants through a process to explore what they were passionate about and then figure out what they could do to move these ideas forward.

After running a number of rounds of this programme, the results have been incredible: one woman is currently setting up her own startup around a vision to improve a product in the medical industry and another women progressed from being an amazing business analyst to co-leading with another woman our Brazil business, which has 360 people in four locations. While these are just two examples, all of the participants have taken action and moved forwards towards the area they are passionate about and so made an impact for two reasons.

Firstly, the individuals explore and define leadership in their own words and terms. This is a deep and reflective exercise, where the women define leadership in words that describe them best, which are varied, and enables them to step into a space that they have tailor-made. The women feel comfortable, confident and relaxed with their personalised definition of leadership. The second reason why these programmes have been successful is because the women are able to focus on what they are most passionate about at work. Confucius said, “Choose a job that you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.“ In doing these two things, our leadership team members develop a clear focus on their passions and leadership style, which provides a strong springboard into future career development and progression.

While there is often a lot of conversation about why separate programmes or attention is needed for younger women when it comes to leadership development, we don’t often hear about the reason why these programmes are needed. There are inherent implicit biases in us all, both men and women, that we need to be aware of when it comes to the standard stereotypes and systems of work. Instead of accepting the unconscious bias as truth, it is better to bring these to the surface so we can all be more aware. For example, during a session in our leadership development programme, some of our younger women discussed how they didn’t feel there were problems and perceived work as a meritocracy.

However, as women progress (or not) through the system of work it becomes apparent that this isn’t the case. Women make up 50% of the workforce, but are they on 50% of the boards or leadership teams? Not right now, so one of the values of having a female-only group is that you can discuss and focus on growth, and we remove one aspect of bias around subtle differences in gender behaviours from the meeting. We all have unconscious bias and some of the things we accept in our day-to-day world subtly reinforce this. One observation which captures this is on the London Underground. Ironically my husband pointed this out to me – as I hadn’t even noticed.

The informational voice is a female, and the instructional voice is a male. While this is an example of unconscious bias, it points to a larger struggle women face in business when it comes to leadership positions.

If as in the case of the London Underground announcement distinction, they are expected to give information rather than instruct, they will have a harder time gaining respect as they are going against an unconscious bias that both men and women have. This is why all leaders need to invest the time to challenge their conscious and unconscious biases. It is only through this practice that the unconscious becomes conscious and therefore can be corrected as and when appropriate and we will be able to have a more inclusive and equal work environment. One example of where exploring these biases resulted in a positive outcome is research conducted by Claudia Goldin and Cecelia Rouse surrounding Orchestra selection, named “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of "Blind" Auditions on Female Musicians” After they introduced blind auditions with screens there was an increase between 30 and 55% of the proportion of female new hires.

When it comes to the ‘system’ of work and pay, I was disheartened to read the latest definition of “Mummy tax.” The BBC recently shared a report which reinforced the statistic that when women return to work after having a baby, they continue to earn less than men for many years afterwards, This affects all women in all industries, and it isn’t always about having maternity leave. Jennifer Lawrence wrote an open letter reflecting on how one potential reason for the difference in pay between her and her male movie stars was she had not been assertive enough in asking for more pay. It would be great to imagine a world where people were genuinely paid equal amounts for equal work.

The Equal Pay Act in 1970 was hoping to do this but it hasn’t been achieved yet. One very helpful exercise we use in our leadership development programme is exploring assumptions, given that assumptions shape our behaviours, whether or not they are valid. Jennifer Lawrence had an assumption that she “failed as a negotiator” and that in asking for more money she would be seen as “ungrateful” or “spoiled.” I don’t think that the male movie stars thought for a moment how the request would come across and how they would be perceived, they just asked for what they wanted. In order to change the system we need to be aware of the biases, and to challenge and then act on our own assumptions to create a more equal system.

With this in mind, what suggestions would I have for women entering the workforce? First, be aware that this isn’t an equal and fair world but also have the courage and conviction to ask for what you think is right both in terms of opportunity and pay. Secondly, get comfortable with what you want to ask for and practise asking for the pay rise in a way that fits your communication style and approach. This, of course, does run the challenge of going against implicit bias, but it is the only way things will improve. Finally, do not let your own assumptions hold you back;challenge the assumptions you may have about either how people perceive you or your work in a way that is authentic to you.

When it comes to what makes an effective female leader, it is about reflecting and clarifying what your strengths, skills and passions are.

If you are clear on these areas then stepping into situations and leadership won’t feel as much of a challenge. Don’t let the existing perceptions of what a leader must look like stop you from considering yourself as one. We have a duty of care to each other to help support, mentor and share our stories to illustrate the variety in leadership styles and help give the future generation of leaders the confidence and ability to lead in a way that works for them. In doing this, we will eventually change the ‘system of work. You should be empowered to challenge the assumptions and biases that exist today, but by doing it in your style, this will help us have a more inclusive and diverse definition of leadership than we have today.

High performing companies devote best talent to digital, says McKinsey survey

Leadership and talent are the biggest hurdles to business success, a survey from McKinsey has revealed.

The Cracking the Digital Code: McKinsey Global Survey found overall that the most successful UK businesses are reshaping their strategies more often than others, devoting more of their best people to digital and making an effort to keep their employees engaged.shaking hand

High performing companies were found to be dedicating the best people to digital and were keeping them engaged through cutting edge and exciting work. High performing companies were also found to be more than twice as likely to allocate their best people to digital. 47% said working on cutting-edge digital projects helps to attract and retain digital talent. The culture, energy and morale within a company also placed high on respondents’ lists.

The survey of almost 1,000 respondents found that 31% of all businesses struggle to find internal leadership, both functional and technical, for digital projects.

Companies found to be outperforming others had more active digital agendas, with three quarters saying their business activities are in a digital nature.

High performing companies more often reported having strong digital leadership, true ownership for initiatives and a clear career path for digital employees.

In addition, successful companies said speed plays an important factor in their business, with 43% saying digital initiatives take less than six months to go from idea to implementation.

Two-thirds of high performing companies CEOs were found to be personally sponsoring digital initiatives within their businesses and that companies with more involved boards were more successful as a result. 35% of high performers said their boards sponsor digital initiatives compared to 16% of their peers.