The other day I was fortunate enough to spend the day with 300 'Women of Silicon Roundabout' in London. Apart from being massively impressed by the talent and enthusiasm of the attendees, I was struck by how many women used the word 'love' when talking about their jobs. It seems that for this group at least, that technology is a vocation rather than a job and the rewards go way beyond the financial.
Why does that matter? Well, as many of us know from personal experience, if you do something because you love it you'll:
1. Do a better job
2. Work harder to resolve challenges you meet along the way
Yet - we also heard that there's an issue in female representation at the executive ranks in corporates and in STEM education. If women love their jobs so much, why are they not making it to the top and why is the message not getting through to - or convincing - the next 'generation'.
One hypothesis proposed by Rebecca Muir of ExchangeWire is that the role models we are offered in tech are just too remote, too perfect or apparently unattainable. Marissa Mayer and Angela Ahrendts may be inspirational, as are Elon Musk and Bill Gates, but, as Rebecca Muir argues, for most of us they're not really easy to identify with.
Indeed, in the corporate world, according to the latest Davies Report less than 10% of exec board roles (at least in the UK) are taken by women so you could say there is something of a shortage of visible role models overall. And we're still some way from addressing that shortage, though a number of corporate and political initiatives try to improve the situation. We need all the digital talent we can get so it's worth understanding whether there's a blockage somewhere in the system.
What holds females back? Is it that women love their current tech jobs so much they don't want to move through the corporate ranks - or even become CEO? Are they missing opportunities? Or not asking for promotion?
In my experience most successful people I've come across, male or female, corporate execs or entrepreneurs, share three characteristics: talent, resilience, and self-belief.
According to research from KPMG, YSC and The 30% Club in View from the Top: How CEOs are Cracking the Code, plenty of women get into tech jobs, so talent doesn't seem to be the issue (though STEM education is another point). As for resilience - we saw a lot of evidence of it in London last week. Take Adriana Vasiu's story: brought up in a remote village in Transylvania, by the age of 14 she had never used a computer, but she heard that it was a cool machine that smart people use so she simply entered a competition to win one, along with a place in one of Romania's top high schools. She won the computer, of course, and was off on her tech career.
So I guess if all of these women in tech are talented and resilient, then could the missing element be self-belief? KPMG says we still need to bust a few myths like women not asking for pay rises (they do) or being reticent about looking for promotion (they're not). But they're not getting through to the executive board. Why not? Surely not as simple as lack of Self Belief or esoteric as CEOs missing subtle ambition 'signals' from female employees?
What do you think? I'm going to spend a little time working on that question - and will share what I find out.