Attracting Women in Technology

(And Keeping Them at Your Company)


“In the dream world of Matisse and the gritty reality of American frontier, the diversity of women in our society offers the chance for greater exploration and even greater inspiration.”

 ― Vera Wang

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads are equal in value no matter what their color.”

― Maya Angelou

Diversity of perspective, including gender, is essential to creating and maintaining an innovation culture and, ultimately, attaining financial success. Diversity in the workforce and the leadership team ensure diversity in perspective. And diversity means having women in technology. It means attracting them and keeping them. Turnover is bad for innovation – it’s bad for productivity – it’s bad for competitiveness.

Why do women leave technical jobs? In “Stemming the Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering,” Nadya A. Fouad and Romila Singh studied over 1,000 women who worked in engineering and then left the field cited the following top reasons for leaving engineering jobs:

  • Working conditions: no advancement, too many hours or low salary (30%)
  • Work-life integration: wanted more time with family, conflict with family or too much travel (27%)
  • Didn’t like the work: lost interest or didn’t like daily tasks (22%)
  • Organizational climate: didn’t like culture, boss or coworkers (17%)

And I recommend taking a look at the update made in 2012. The number of women who responded increased, and the report is very comprehensive regarding demographics and reasons why. There is a summary of this update on the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee website.


“Executives realize the race for talent is one they cannot afford to lose. Yet all too few of them grasp the far-reaching changes needed to become a truly talent-driven firm—changes not just to strategy, organization, operations, and technology, but to the more basic dispositions underlying today’s managerial actions, practices, and interventions.”

John Hagel, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison, “Talent is Everything,” 2009

Every company is searching for A-players. We hear it from Venture Capitalists, Angel Investors, CXO’s, Founders, recruiting specialists and now virtually every avenue of social media – “you must get your A-players…A-team…A-level employees.” The problem is…what does that even mean? And more importantly, what does it mean to your company? And how will you measure your players’…A-ness?

In this series, we provide insights and practical steps for building your top performing team by giving you the “Five Keys to Attracting Women in Technology (and Keeping Them at Your Company).” Let’s get started.

Key #1: Create an Innovation Culture

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

— Margaret Mead

Company culture determines who is attracted to work for you in the first place and who stays for the long haul. Innovation culture is critical to the profitability and long-term sustainability of your company because it provides a rich environment for clever people to discover and deliver new products and services. However, as noted by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in the Harvard Business Review, “if clever people have one defining characteristic, it is that they do not want to be led.” United States patent law uses the terms, “new, useful and nonobvious,” to describe a clever, patentable idea. Since being clever is required to create new, useful (i.e. profitable) and nonobvious (i.e. unique) products and services, and if clever people do not like to be led, then an environment that promotes rich ideation and experimentation, an innovation culture, is mandatory for the survival of your company.

Why create an Innovation Culture?

“INNOVATION. It’s the lifeblood of our global economy and a strategic priority for virtually every CEO around the world. In fact, a recent IBM poll of fifteen hundred CEOs identified creativity as the number-one “leadership competency” of the future.”

Christensen, Clayton M.; Jeff Dyer; Hal Gregersen (2011-07-12). The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators (p. 1). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

And how do leaders typically motivate innovation culture that is constantly improving over time? Mostly, they travel – a lot. But typically the main reason they travel is for the purpose of meeting customers or having one-on-one meetings with members of their leadership team. If there’s time, leaders may schedule an employee round table while on the road or have an “all-hands” meeting to disseminate information. While these are terrific practices for any leader, they do not, by themselves, sustain the desired culture of innovation. What happens after the leader gets back on an airplane to move on to their next meeting? The company’s innovation culture is left in the hands of its people.

“In a nutshell, it’s a company where individual differences are nurtured; information is not suppressed or spun; the company adds value to employees, rather than merely extracting it from them; the organization stands for something meaningful; the work itself is intrinsically rewarding; and there are no stupid rules.”

 – Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, Harvard Business Review

Having an Innovation Culture is required for business success and is a significant part of being a company where women technologists want to work. According to Goffee and Jones, an attractive company also “adds value to the employees.” In other words, people want to work at companies where their own personal mission is important – where it’s not just about the mission of the company. Development opportunities, training, promotions and varied responsibilities are all components of adding value.

So it is personal – it’s about the people in the systems and processes that run the operations of the company. The culture is the people. And the people require skills and tools to be able to nurture an innovation culture and keep it on the upswing. They need to practice the soft skills that are harder than one might think. What are the skills needed to instill innovation into the very guts of company culture?

According to Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen who wrote “The Innovator’s DNA,” these “discovery” skills are: Associating, Questioning, Observing, Networking and Experimenting.

In other words:

Get curious.

Stay connected.

Be confident.


Da Vinci HorseGaining new perspectives is extremely powerful when it comes to being able to create something new from disparate ideas (associating). Seeking new perspectives means you’re out there networking – staying connected, you’re seeing something different and you’re stimulated to ask questions – getting curious. Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most prolific inventors of all time, always sought at least three perspectives. You can see this in many of his drawings. Leonardo even invented the “perspectograph” to help artists replicate scenes in the proper perspective. Seeking perspectives, especially new and variant, is critical to the innovation process and is a prominent behavior within an innovation culture.

Next time, we’ll cover Key #2: Get Curious.

Read all Four Parts of this Series:

Attracting Women in Tech – Part 1 – Culture of…
Attracting Women in Tech – Part 2 – Get…
Attracting Women in Tech – Part 3 – Stay…
Attracting Women in Tech – Part 4  – Be…
Attracting Women in Tech – Part 5 – How to Pull this off