Research finds that there aren’t enough women in leadership positions. Here are four ways leaders can create a workplace that fosters more diverse leaders.

Chitra Balasubramanian, Chief Financial Officer, CircleCI

July 17, 2023

4 Min Read
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According to a recent McKinsey report, only one in four C-suite leaders is a woman and only one in 20 is a woman of color.

As a CFO and woman of color, this is disheartening. Organizations are missing out by not having more diverse leaders. Research has shown that diverse teams outperform, and that having more diverse voices in leadership positions can lead to better financial performance and increased innovation.

So how can organizations create a workplace that fosters more diverse leaders? Here are four ways I’ve seen make an impact over the course of my career.

Build an Inclusive Culture that Encourages Employee Growth

One of the first steps in creating a more inclusive workplace is to prioritize the employee experience and build a culture led by curiosity. This means creating an environment where employees are encouraged to share their failures and challenges, solve problems together, try new experiences in order to grow and learn new skills, and celebrate their wins, big and small.

Leaders should also take the time to understand the needs and aspirations of their employees and provide opportunities for growth and development that align with those aspirations, as well as with the needs of the business. This can include offering mentorship programs, training, and development opportunities, helping with hiring or restructuring teams, and finding ways where individuals can help achieve business success. For example, we do a lot of company-wide skills swaps and collaborative monthly call hands presentations and offer folks across teams and tenure the opportunity to host, moderate, or take part of the skill swaps in front of the whole company and their peers. 

Great leaders will be able to support initiatives that not only encourage employee growth but can also have a positive impact on business. By fostering purpose and belonging, organizations can see increased productivity, more employee engagement, and ultimately better business outcomes.

Leaders should also focus on building diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives as these give opportunities for underrepresented employees to be heard in a company-wide setting, and often you’ll see natural leaders emerge. Employee resource groups (ERGs) are a great asset to organizations and can be utilized as part of a larger DEIB strategy.

ERGs can help provide support for underrepresented groups and are a great way to regularly talk about the individual needs of each group, the corporate policies and benefits that need to be in place, and what the company can do to better meet their needs. These create safe spaces where employees can gather and talk about the challenges they’re facing inside and outside of work. As a result, ERGs can have a substantial impact on the business including tackling company-wide challenges, improving work conditions, breaking barriers between team members, and solving business objectives. 

As a mentor for CircleCI’s Women & Allies Employee Resource Group, CircleSHEi, I encourage underrepresented groups to eliminate imposter syndrome, challenge themselves to take on the hard stuff, and conquer their goals. When leaders come to the table with empathy and a business centric mindset, ERGs can be great motivators for teams to ask questions and be vocal about what they want so that they are continuously learning.

Praise Employees Publicly

As leaders, we should set the tone for how to support other teammates. It’s important that we view colleagues as our support system and not our competition. One simple yet effective way to build meaningful relationships is to be more public about praising. This can be as simple as introducing new team members in a way that emphasizes their strengths and contributions or publicly congratulating another team’s success. If your employees see you building a positive environment that builds each other up rather than takes each other down, your employees will be encouraged to do the same.

Address Biases and Lead by Example

Finally, leaders should be willing to challenge biases and self-limiting beliefs. This means recognizing the unique challenges women face in the workplace and taking action to address them. Leaders should be willing to have difficult conversations about biases and take steps to create a safe workplace culture. By challenging biases and self-limiting beliefs, leaders can cultivate an environment where all employees feel supported and valued to reach their full potential while also improving the bottom line with better employee performance.

Creating a workplace that fosters underrepresented groups to become leaders in tech requires a multifaceted approach and is unique to each company’s culture and values. Some ways I’ve seen leaders grow is by creating opportunities for leadership and advancement, prioritizing DEIB initiatives, expressing praise and appreciation often, and challenging biases and self-limiting beliefs. By embracing diversity and inclusion, leaders can create a more innovative and successful organization that benefits everyone and the bottom line.

About the Author(s)

Chitra Balasubramanian

Chief Financial Officer, CircleCI

With more than 20 years’ experience accelerating business growth through data analysis, Chitra Balasubramanian is best known for scaling technology startups. As the current chief financial officer at CircleCI, she is responsible for overseeing the company's general & administrative functions across the globe. Chitra serves on the Board of Trustees for the Computer History Museum. She is a certified public accountant and holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

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