Laurie Burns McRobbie

Women & Hi-Tech Executive Women’s Forum

Good afternoon – happy to be here, great to hear from all these leading lights.

My talk today is about a trend, or something that needs to be a trend, for women in the technology workforce. It’s actually about men in tech, and how we need to get them involved in improving organizational diversity and gender balance.

Now, this may be obvious – despite gains, women are still woefully underrepresented in tech, and it gets even worse when you look at the C-suite. Fewer than 5% of organizational leaders in tech companies are women. So of course if you want to see change in our organizations, we need to engage the guys.
The trend I want to talk about today is male advocacy for women in tech, which has gone from being “nice to have if you can get it” to being actively and openly promoted, and even better, to being an area where some great approaches are emerging for how organizations can develop male advocates, as well as shift the organizational culture.

And we need these ideas and approaches, because finding and developing male advocates for women in tech is much easier said than done, and helping to create change in organizational culture so that men are drawn into the push for diversity of all kinds, is also much easier said than done.

The easiest thing is to lead a group of people just like you – you know what to expect, what kinds of messages motivate members of your work group, how they’re likely to interact with each other.
Majority groups, like men are in tech, will naturally and often unconsciously fall back on what works with them, and thus miss what works for all.

We know from lots of research that diverse teams make better decisions, that diverse organizations have more satisfied and productive workers, that there’s less turnover, and that having gender diversity in management and on company boards can produce as much as a 35% higher return on investment.
But we have to be intentional and persistent about creating these kinds of work environments, and that has to include getting the guys in the room to be part of it.

So what is a male advocate?

Many of us have probably had, or have, wonderful male mentors in our lives, but male advocacy is not about individual men advocating for or promoting the interests of individual women, as important as that can be when it works well.

It’s about men, as the majority group in tech, internalizing the experience of minority members of their organizations, and working consistently to overcome unconscious bias in hiring, promotions, recruiting and retention efforts,
in how they manage interpersonal relations in the workplace, and how they help create a more open and inclusive environment that welcomes workers from all backgrounds and fuels all the benefits I mentioned earlier.

And just like diversity and inclusion is not just a women’s issue (or African American, Latino, etc. issue), male advocacy is not just a men’s issue – women need to help men understand what helps and what doesn’t, and give them room to make mistakes and learn from them.

One organization doing great work in this area is the National Center for Women in Information Technology, NCWIT. I’m part of a Male Advocacy Work Team that is developing a toolkit for organizations seeking to develop male advocates for women in tech.
The toolkit is modular and can be customized to different organizations and situations; I just used the first stage of it, which has templates and guides for holding an organizational discussion about what male advocacy means, to moderate a panel of CIOs at a national meeting.

We’re working on stage 2 of the toolkit, which has seven steps that men, and in some cases women as well, can start using right away.

These steps include tips on avoiding “task assignment biases”, like women winding up being the note takers in meetings; how to assess your contact list so that you’re building diverse networks of colleagues (this is especially important for any majority group member in an organization);
and how to listen for and correct “personality penalties” that many women face, for example, the double-bind of needing to be assertive and forceful to then being penalized for being too harsh and aggressive.

You can find Stage 1 of the toolkit at ncwit.org, and Stage 2 should be available by the end of the summer.

So in conclusion, male advocacy is about getting the guys in the room and about what organizations can do to make that happen, and about making sure that we women are making room for them. The practical guidance being provided by organizations like NCWIT means that we really can move this particular trend forward, and improve our tech organizations across the board.