Strong women want to code

Why don’t we have more women in technology, or in business in general? It’s one of the biggest cultural questions of our time, but perhaps the best thing about my job is that every day I get the opportunity to play a personal role in trying to solve it.

As a mother and a leader I do find myself questioning why the problem is taking so very long to solve. Logically we all understand that diversity of gender, religion, age, ability and culture makes teams and businesses more dynamic, more successful and a better breeding ground for creativity.

Consulting firm McKinsey & Company has estimated that ‘companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.’

Even in companies like Cisco where we focus a lot on this issue, we still have work to do. I try not to be offended when a peer of mine, like me, a senior sales leader, calls me ‘kiddo’. But I doubt he would use the same greeting were I not a women. It is this notion of unconscious bias that the BBC journalist and author, Kate Russell, recently spoke about when she joined our annual Women of Impact Conference at Cisco.

She called her presentation ‘Girls Don’t Game’ and the core of her message centred around the fact that actually women in technology also share many of the same unconscious biases as men. As a child she had questioned her right and credibility to game, something she still enjoys doing to this day.

So her presentation made me think about myself and whether I am actually a good role model to my three kids. After all, I have encouraged my son to code, but perhaps unconsciously haven’t done the same with my two daughters, who do not.

Recently I was with some of my closest women friends, who are all hugely successful, interesting and grounded. They are some of the ones who have been fighting this cause for close to 30 years and come from various places around the world: Singapore, London and various parts of the United States. I asked them ‘Are we actually making any progress?’ Gladly the answer was a very loud ‘YES!’

However, we all agreed the change is happening too slowly. My personal view is that we must keep pushing forward. This isn’t just critical for our daughters but also for our world. And it’s this opinion that was reinforced by another speaker at our Women of Impact conference at Cisco. We had the privilege to listen to Halla Tomasdottir. Halla is a remarkable woman, person and leader that led the ONLY successful financial services firm in Iceland through the country’s well publicised financial meltdown.

I am not saying that her company was only successful because it was led by two women, but they embraced a culture of being conscious and collaborative, versus the greed some associate with other parts of the banking industry.

Halla’s ambition knows no bounds; she is now running for President of Iceland! Yet she brings with her a thoroughly human and authentic style which we all warmed to. Her final quote made me want to laugh and cry at my own journey as a mother and leader: ‘I want every girl that is told she is bossy to know she has leadership skills!’