Impressions from the Wall Street Journal’s Women in Technology panel: Ways to Advance and Maintain Diversity in our Workplaces

Earlier this week, I attended a dinner and panel discussion hosted by the Wall Street Journal on the topic of Women in Technology. Moderated by Nikki Waller, the Journal‘s Global Management Editor, the program featured a panel of senior leaders discussing their companies’ strategies regarding challenges affecting women in technology today. Industry-led insights from the McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org Women in the Workplace research study were presented during the evening as well. Panelists included Padma Warrior, Chief Development Officer and U.S. CEO, NextEV; Carl Bass, President and CEO, Autodesk; Elissa Steele, CEO, Jive Software; and Eric Kutcher, Managing Partner, Western Region Americas, McKinsey & Company. McKinsey & Company Partner, Lareina Yee, led a Q&A session as well.

As someone who writes and speaks often on the subjects of diversity and of women in technology, especially those in leadership, I attended in hopes of gathering ongoing ideas for how to encourage more young women to pursue careers in technology. As RingCentral’s EVP of Innovation, I try to keep an ear to the ground not just for technological innovation but also for innovative ways to attract, retain, and advance the most outstanding and diverse workforce possible. To that end, something Carl Bass said resonated deeply with me. He offered that as a CEO, his job involves making lots of important decisions each day — yet the longer he serves as a CEO, the more he realizes that his leadership is more about setting the tone of the company’s culture than it is about making decisions. He wonders why many women start careers in technology then leave as well as about where they go afterward.  He believes, as do I, that CEOs can set up a culture in which women are more likely not only to succeed, but, most importantly, to stay. Statistics offered by McKinsey support the payoff for that retention, too; the rate attrition of women in senior positions in tech is only 7%, lower than the 10% rate for men.

My own sense is that the key to retaining all people, not just women, in the workforce is to offer mobile and flexible workplace solutions. This makes me especially proud of our company, as that’s what our technology enables people to do. Ours are gender-neutral solutions, and those solutions extend from the tools RingCentral offers to how I run my business. Right now, among my direct reports, I have no young women, but I do have some young men with young families. Theirs is a life that has to have some flexibility built-in so that they don’t feel like they’re compromising their lives for their work. I don’t want them missing their kids’ games or field trips because that’s the kind of stuff that creates an unhappiness in employees that can’t be offset by even the best of jobs. What I want to do is give them the tools to succeed from wherever they need to work that day. As long as their work gets done, in-office face-time doesn’t matter as much to me. Personally, I go beyond that. If I need to talk to one of them on a weekend, for example, I’ll ask them what time works for them. I may be the boss, and this may inconvenience me a bit – but if it makes for happier staff, it’s a small sacrifice to make in the interest of retaining these really good, really hard workers.

When it comes to women, specifically, I feel strongly that they have to see women in positions of leadership from the moment they walk in the door so that their path is clear. Padma Warrior shared something along these lines as well. Her company is private presently, but she shared her commitment to making her board 50/50 men/women when it does become public. As women leaders, we receive calls often asking us to join boards “because they really need a woman.” Elissa Steele feels as frustrated by this as I do. She indicated that she wants go get that call because of her talent, not because of her gender. Elissa is mindful of the combination of talent and diversity on her own board, which boasts two women, and she mentioned hoping for a third. Whether at 2 or 3, that amount of women on a board is statistically high for Silicon Valley. Elissa’s management team also includes her head of people, also a woman, and Elissa cited the importance of putting the person in charge of compensation alongside her at the helm of her ship.

Attention to pay equity came up a bit in this panel discussion, and the consensus of the panel was that men are far more likely than women to ask for better compensation and for raises. This served as a reminder to me that fairness has to be based on something other than who asks. Maternity and paternity leave came up as well – another gender-neutral approach any company can take – with Carl emphasizing how unnecessary it is for people to be physically in the office. What matters is that they achieve results. He gave an example of how it’s great for young staffers to be able to play foosball in the break-room at 10 pm, but that’s not for everyone – especially those who need to head home to families. Flexible hours came up as important again and again.

Advancing more women into technology workplaces isn’t the only key to having a diverse staff, though. Diversity includes race, gender, and more, and it also needs to include those of different natures. Carl shared an example of introverts and extroverts as equally important to team diversity. This made me wonder if companies like Google, who screen for personalities, are looking for this sort of thing. It’s something I’ll be mindful of as I continue to team-build. Padma feels strongly that attention to diversity in every form has to drive the hiring process, not the other way around, something with which I agree.

It’s my belief that the key to attracting as well as to retaining good employees across a diverse spectrum is that idea of culture — especially when leaders create a culture that inspires employees to be better than they already are. This means challenging them by making the work interesting. An important part of that challenge is trusting them to do the work flexibly as needed. I’ve found this brings the best out in my staff, women and men alike. The panelists echoed much the same: that a mobile workforce with flexibility will be key to securing more women in positions of technology leadership. This makes me especially proud to be part of a company offering solutions accommodating this important workplace need.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn on March 24, 2016.

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About Kira Makagon

Kira Makagon is a successful serial entrepreneur and tech industry leader. A graduate of UC Berkeley with both an undergraduate degree in computer science and an MBA, she enjoys sharing her lessons learned from being a veteran “only woman in the room.” Kira's recent awards and recognitions include the following: 2015 YWCA Silicon Valley Tribute to Women Award 2015 Golden Bridge Business and Innovation Awards Named to Silicon Valley Business Journal Women of Influence in 2015 Named to SF Business Times Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business for 2015 and 2016 2016 Bay Area CIO Awards finalist

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