Ok, so 2 blog posts in 2 days is a personal record and now makes up two-thirds (as in 2 out of 3!) of my posts so far, but I couldn’t let this topic go without discussing one more thing: Cultural constructs that make up the status quo that many of us, including Gene Marks who authored that Forbes article, don’t think or appear to think about questioning.  In my first blog post responding to the Marks article, (http://t.co/XXzSMlui), I talked about the talent pool.  The talent pool is only as good at the policies, procedures, and practices in place that support the cultivation. 

So, when it comes to the talent pool of the C-Suite, what constructs do we need to consider? What are the policies, procedures, and practices in place that would help to get more women into that seemingly coveted CEO spot (as per my previous post, I don’t think everyone wants that position and NOT for the reasons that Marks had in his article.  That is quite the presumption of Mr. Marks).  But I digress…

Back the topic of constructs:  Men started industry and they created the constructs of the industry including the definitions of success.  For the most part, much of what was created made sense.  And when the constructs no longer fit the context of market requirements, then an evolution and sometimes revolution occurred.  It’s time for an evolution or revolution of change (type of change required depends on who you talk to).

Forms of effective leadership and management have changed as business and society has progressed.  The transactional forms of Tayloresque management in the industrial era wouldn’t necessarily be conducive to the transformational leadership needed for the creation of rapid innovation by knowledge workers in the technology industry, for example.  Of course, this is obvious.  What isn’t so obvious is how people who are supposed to embody the leaders in power are identified.  And, as we are starting to see from new research – the question may not be just about HOW people are identified, but also WHEN people are identified for the C-Suite that matters when we talk about the glass ceiling between women and CEO positions.

Researchers exploring the “what” and “how” causes of the glass ceiling tend to focus on discrimination and discriminatory practices, cultural perceptions, career equity and success, and women’s life choices that impact perception and ambition (Bruckmueller, 2007; Cornelius & Skinner, 2005). Removal of cultural barriers that enable equal access to all positions, early identification of high-potential women, flexibility in work schedules and sites, and visible support for gender diversity are programs that organizations employ to address the lack of women in the executive talent pool (Bruckmueller, 2007; Cornelius & Skinner, 2005; Weidenfeller, 2006).  

Top talents considered to be potential CEO material are often identified during their 40s.  Makes sense, right?  After all, this is a time in our lives when we could be perceived as having gained enough work experience to demonstrates leadership potential (Brizendine, 2008), developed those competencies needed to really understand the operational and strategic requirements of running a business, owning a P&L, and planning for an executing on the strategic goals of that business and its board.  It is also that time when we develop key relationships and build out networks of influential people who can help us achieve a lot.  

Here’s the problem with this status quo of identifying CEOs in their 40s.  The age range makes sense for men, but not necessarily for women (Brizendine, 2008).  The age range represents a time in many women’s lives when biological changes combined with personal priorities take precedence over professional endeavors. “For reasons important to the survival of the species, women in childbearing years undergo changes that intensify their focus on the viability of offspring. It’s a passing phenomenon, but ill-timed for those with career ambitions” (Brizendine, 2008, p. 36).  So, what’s the answer?  Keep on identifying men in their 40s.  Sounds great!  But, in my research, the women BOD members looked at their 50s as when they really started enjoying their professional lives.  That is the time when they felt the most free to be the types of C-Suite leaders they felt wanted to be.  Maybe that status quo of WHEN a C-suite executive should be targeted could be adjusted, in addition to the “what” and “how”.  We need great leaders.  There is a scarcity.  Different times call for different strategies and this is one worth changing.


Brizendine, L. (2008/June). One reason women don’t make it to the c-suite. Harvard Business Review, 86(6), 36.

Bruckmueller, S. (2007). Gender stereotypes and the glass cliff: Reduced importance of male attributes results in more frequent selection of female leaders in times of crisis. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (UMI No. 1451498)

Cornelius, N., & Skinner, D. (2005). An alternative view through the glass ceiling: Using capabilities theory to reflect on the career journey of senior women. Women in Management, 20(8), 595-609. Retrieved December 20, 2008, from Emerald database.

Weidenfeller, N. K. (2006). Breaking through the glass wall: The experience of being a woman enterprise leader. ProQuest Dissertation and Theses. (UMI No. 3245891)

Gene Marks’ Forbes article, “Why Most Women Will Never Become CEO” is having the impact that might have been intended:  a lot of buzz, discontent, agreement, the whole shebang.  http://www.forbes.com/sites/quickerbettertech/2011/10/31/why-most-women-will-never-become-ceo/2/

I enjoyed the article, much in the way I would enjoy a reality TV show – with distraction, humor, a grain (or two) of salt, and the knowledge that what I am seeing has some semblance of someone’s reality. The article enraged quite a few while it struck a chord of truth with others.  It was provocative, I guess, but nothing I haven’t heard before… It was a one-sided article, written from a guy who, I think, was maybe trying to be provocative or trying to have a point of view. I am just not sure what his point was.  So, I will look at it from my perspective instead of trying to guess what point he was trying to make.

While I was not one of the people who had a big emotional reaction, I did feel the need to talk about one thing he mentions, that I think holds a lot of truth: “Yes, women have advanced a great deal in the business world.  Unfortunately, the business world hasn’t advanced along with them”. 

Having studied women who hold board of director positions (the highest form of leadership in business, putting that glass ceiling even higher than the C-suite, as in the article) in public technology and life sciences businesses, I am, of course, always interested in reading about this subject.  Mark’s comments about the business world not changing (I read “business world” to equate to the policies, procedures, decision-makers, influencers) was quite accurate in many cases.  And, those antiquated practices will have implications not just to women, but also in attracting talent from the younger generation… but that’s a different blog post.

While Mark’s article was full of sweeping generalizations and sometimes sad-but-true insights, really, I think we need to look at the bigger picture.  And it is a big picture, so how about we look at one slice:  let’s take a step back and not just focus on the C-suite; as one of the comments pointed out – not everyone wants to be a CEO.  As women, we know that positional power may be good, but there is power in the person as well; thereby enabling anyone to have an impact.  When it comes to women in the workforce, and I can only talk to the technology-intensive industries, what they need is to be ENABLED, not to be empowered by these decision-makers that Mr. Marks talks about in his article.  Stinky, silly boys who Mark seems to think will be the only leaders of our future (sorry, Mr. Marks, you are wrong) don’t have all the power in the current and future talent pool. 

So, about that talent pool… we have a problem in the technology-intensive industries.  Many of us know it.  Some of us talk about it.  Some try to be sensitive while others like to pick fights.  Whatever, the facts are the facts.  And, according to NCWIT (National Center for Women in Technology) the facts are as follows:  56% of the professional workforce is women, yet women only hold 25% of jobs in technology.  Mmm, that’s an awful lot of capable, educated, and experienced talent NOT working in an industry that plays such an important role in the way we live, the way business is conducted, and way societies and governments are sustained, built (or destroyed)…

So, what does this all mean?  Marks’ point that business hasn’t quite kept up with the changing workforce demographics has truth to it.  And, probably, even before women hit the workforce, our educational system, at least in the US, could use a bit of a review.  What is being done in education and in business to attract ALL smart, creative, and capable people to technology?  What is being done to attract, acquire, and develop that talent? Women the HUGE buying power and even more influence over how money is spent. Shouldn’t they also be represented in positions that create the products and services being purchased and consumed?  Practices are antiquated – most do not meet the contextual needs of this dynamic workforce, and just as important, of the customers and other stakeholders that workforce needs to serve.  It’s also true that most still view the issues of the lack of women in power (looking at the sad number of women in the CEO positions and on boards) and in technology overall as a cause to support, with no sustainable impact, and not as a business problem that needs to be invested in and solved.

According to the US Bureau of Statistics, by 2014, over 50% of the workforce will be employed in businesses that are creating or employing IT.  Current workforce statistics show us that women are now 56% of the workforce; and that representation is going to continue to increase.  So, with more women in entering the workforce than men, how can business and HR executives still be talking about diversity, namely gender diversity, in the workforce?  With women as the majority of the working population, isn’t gender diversity an old topic??  The short answer:  No, it’s not. 

Well… at least not in the IT industries.  Why?  The numbers speak for themselves.  Although the number of women in the workforce continues to increase, women remain underrepresented in the technology workforce, particularly in technology, senior management and executive positions.  We women may represent the largest population of users of technology (or at least an equal number) at home or at work by the share number of us walking this earth, but the people who make that technology are mostly men.  Take a look at the decision makers in technology-intensive industries:  Women hold only 10% of upper-level management positions and only 3% of the executive IT positions.  Developer communities are no different.  Only 18% of the SAP Developer community are women.

And, it’s just not big business where there is a discrepancy between the people who use and buy technology and those who produce it.  My good friend, Sharon Vosmek, CEO of ASTIA (check them out:  www.astia.org) leads a community of 1,100 male and female advisors, including 300 former and current CEOs and 200 investors, dedicated to the success of women-led, high growth ventures (high tech, clean tech, etc.).  Here’s what she sees in the world of entrepreneurs who are leading the way for new innovations that large companies can’t spend time on:  Despite the fact that 48% of all entrepreneurs globally are women, only 9.4% of angle investments in technology-intensive start-ups was given to women entrepreneurs. And, only 8% of venture-based technology start-ups are founded by women. 

The cultural constructs of the technology industry – large enterprises or the entrepreneurial ecosystem – are male defined.  Men started industry and the measurements of success, the way business is conducted, how decisions are made are all male-defined.  And, look, no one loves the guys more than me.  Heck, the majority of my mentors are men.  And, yes, some of my best friends are men… but we need to be practical.  Times, they are ‘a changing and that means we have to change too.

Take for example the changing demographics of the workforce. The implications of an aging and more diverse U.S. workforce indicate that businesses may be less equipped to fill knowledge-driven positions. In the next several years, women will continue to enter the workforce increasing numbers and analysis expect the women will stay in the workforce for a significant portion of their adult lives. With the exception of self-employed workers, employees in technology organizations tend to reach executive status through promotion in the ranks. The lack of women in technology executive positions could be an indicator that women are not entering the field or not staying in the technology industry.

Look, this isn’t about best woman or best man for the job.  This is about best person.  And, you can’t get the best person if you don’t have a culture of inclusion;  a culture that accepts (demands!) and includes the best talent.  As the workforce continues to age and retirement rates increases, gaps in the talent pool for the fulfillment of leadership positions may inhibit business innovation and growth.  Executives have responded by creating development programs aimed at building diversity the talent pool available for current and future job openings.  And, if you don’t have the best and brightest able to get funding for their innovative ideas, well, then you won’t get the best and brightest innovative ideas – you won’t get the next VMWare.   And, in an industry that requires innovation to thrive, not to live, don’t we deserve the best and the brightest?