As a Chief Information Officer, I often find myself the only woman in the room, which is why I was not surprised by the results of our global survey of innovation companies this year. We asked, “Does your company have women on your board or at the c-level?” More than 1,200 executives around the world responded. More than half said “no.”
We decided to talk to some of the female executives at our technology and life science clients and in our network to hear their perspectives. They work for some of the most disruptive and innovative companies in the world, so we knew they would have some interesting experiences and insights to share.
They talked to us about their jobs, how they got there and what their experience is like running a tech or healthcare-focused business. Yes, they are all women, but many of the issues they raised were about leadership – not gender.
Similar to what I have found in my own career, there are a few themes that surfaced from our conversations:
- Running a company takes courage. Period. Your risk appetite has a lot to do with your ability to succeed.
- Get comfortable with uncertainty. Nothing ever goes exactly as planned.
- Believe. Learn how to quiet the inner voice that questions your capabilities. The more you believe in yourself, others will believe in you.
- Be a mentor/ get a mentor. No one gets to the top alone.
- Use your network. Women are often great relationship builders, but don’t ask their network for jobs, referrals, or business.
- Build a great team. Hiring may be your most important job as a CEO, or leader of any kind.
When I was growing up, I always had an interest in math and science and looked up to my aunt who was pursuing a PhD. For these and other reasons, I ended up pursuing a degree in computer science. This was not the case for a lot of my girlfriends, but for me has led to a rewarding and challenging career in technology and people management, leveraging business and leadership as well as technical skills. I get the opportunity to work with incredible people, and encourage women I meet to keep their options open to careers like mine. In my estimation, changing the ratio of women in tech leadership starts by encouraging and supporting girls interested in math, science and technology while in school, helping them break into STEM-related careers, and once they do that, inspiring women to seek leadership positions in their field. Certainly the more role models there are, the easier it is to see yourself as a future leader.
With much admiration for sticking their necks out and paving the way for others in the innovation sector, we’d like to thank all the women who were willing to share their stories and offer the benefit of their experience:
Elisa Jagerson, Speck Design
Ann Johnson, Interana
Michelle Lam, True&Co
Martha Lane Fox, lastminute.com
Melody McCloskey, StyleSeat
Kate Mitchell, Scale Ventures
Monisha Perkash, Lumo Body Tech
Maggie Philbin, TeenTech
Heidi Zak, ThirdLove
I was heartened to hear their stories, relate to their challenges, and I am optimistic about a future with more women like these in leadership positions in the innovation sector.