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QConSF: Is Managing Men & Women Really That Different?

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Mitch Shepard of WiRL presented a session called “Is Managing Men & Women Really That Different?” Shepard identified reasons why there are fewer women in leadership roles and on boards in the IT community, why this can be detrimental to the organizations, and how to improve the situation.

Shepard referenced data which show that “innovation and creativity are inextricably linked to diversity of thought,” and, diversity of thought comes from having a variety of differences in the workforce, including gender.  When there are three or more women on a company’s board, that company benefits financially from this diversity, shown through a higher return on sales, higher return on invested capital, and higher total return to shareholders, just a few of 39 reasons why diversity matters that Shepard referenced. While in most organizations, entry level positions are shared evenly between men and women, a McKinsey report Shepard cites shows that the percentage of women in mid-level and senior-level management drops significantly, and that women make up only 19 and 4% of board member and CEO positions, respectively.

There is wide variation between the competence and confidence levels that women feel compared with men when applying for promotions. Men will commonly feel confident enough to apply for a position when they meet about 60% of the required skills on the job description, while women will not have the confidence to apply for a position unless they meet 100% of the skills.

Shepard then moved on to talk about what to do with this information. She identified four items that can be helpful in encouraging women to stay on the path to leadership, and noted that members of the IT community must challenge their perceptions of what it means to lead. Practices like acknowledging women’s contributions, ensuring that there is space for voices that are less likely to interrupt, repeating the ideas that women suggest, and serving as a mentor or sponsor can be very useful in encouraging individual women to make the transition to leadership. Additionally, learning more about the ways corporate culture discourage women from bringing their whole self to work.

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