Why You Should Cultivate Gender Diversity in IT Leadership

It’s time to rethink our corporate environments by recognizing the unique experiences, skill sets and strengths that come from diversity in teams and leadership.

Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary

October 14, 2019

5 Min Read
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Fifty-five percent of the participants in our executive leadership team meetings at Saba are women. This includes some female leadership roles that in some traditional tech environments have typically been led by men. In addition to HR, marketing and communications leaders, we have female executives leading product strategy, customer service and support, global sales, and strategic alliances. Fifteen years ago, in my first leadership role as a vice president, I was the only woman in the room. I’ve held several leadership positions at various companies since then, and I can see what makes a difference for organizations that have a higher proportion of women in leadership roles.

While, as a B2B SaaS provider, Saba can proudly claim a strong balance in leadership gender ratios, the technology industry is still lagging. For example, globally, only 16% of women are chief information officers. And those numbers have continued to remain low in technology and IT companies, from the executive leadership to overall headcount.

Yet organizations that embrace gender diversity in their leadership deliver returns with more stability. A report by Morgan Stanley found that, “More gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity, greater innovation, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction.”

Technology and IT organizations can do a better job of recruiting, retaining and promoting women to leadership positions through several talent strategies and developmental efforts that benefit all employees.  

Start by hiring the best candidate for the job -- full stop

We are laser-focused on hiring the right person for the job, regardless of their sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. Candidates should be asked the same behavior-related and results-focused questions to ensure that hiring managers are not differentiating a person based on personal feelings and ideas about who they are. Training to help hiring managers and other leaders understand both conscious and unconscious bias is an important way to help shift mindsets and behaviors they may not be aware of. While you don’t necessarily need a gender quota, you do need to make conscious efforts to recruit from areas and talent pipelines that will naturally source candidates that are more diverse.

Cultivating a healthy workplace culture means that every hire needs to reflect the values of your organization. The #MeToo movement has more fully exposed the toxic behaviors that have no place in a healthy work environment. The barometer for the health of your organization is measured by the worst behavior your leader is willing to tolerate, both actively and passively. Fostering a healthy workplace is the responsibility of every employee.

A healthy, diverse workplace should be something that’s clearly promoted when recruiting new employees. You attract candidates who resonate with your company’s mission and core values – and especially showing how you uphold them. Our people know that they can bring their full selves to their jobs to contribute their best. We encourage them to build on their identified strengths, and then offer personalized learning and development, and continuous, ongoing performance coaching to further develop each of our core organizational competencies.

Look at your data and give your people opportunities to develop

Make sure your managers have the tools and training to identify and coach the high-potential employees for their next role in the organization based on a defined set of criteria. When looking at high-potential programs, ensure that you have access to a breakdown of the gender ratios in areas like management levels or by department, to be transparent about where there may be imbalances that could benefit from the addition of talented female team members, or vice versa.

Our organization uses multiple approaches to give our employees opportunities to build their skills and grow to the next stage of their careers, whether that’s with us or with another company. That commitment has served both Saba and our people extremely well over the years, even during two acquisitions, where we subsequently increased our percentage of female leadership.

In my experience, and according to many workplace studies, women take their careers very seriously, and are extremely driven and passionate about their work. Those who are ambitious and have the ability, commitment and motivation to move into leadership roles often take on a mentor or a coach. We offer a formal mentorship program, and are pleased to see the level of active participation by women serving both as mentors and as mentees. Our mentorship program is one developmental activity in addition to thousands of digital learning courses, which are mapped to core and job competencies, and tailored leadership development programs to ensure everyone gets the ongoing support and development to bring their best to work every day and grow their careers.

A brighter, more balanced future

It’s time to rethink our organizational cultures and our corporate environments in technology companies so that we can better compete by leveraging and recognizing the unique experiences, skillsets and strengths that come from diversity in teams and in leadership. Giving everyone the opportunity and tools to drive their own development is mission-critical. These are foundational requirements in nurturing more female leaders in our industry. 


As the Chief People Officer of Saba Software, Debbie Shotwell is responsible for human resources, learning and development, employee communications and community relations. Shotwell brings more than 25 years of passion and experience building high-performance teams and cultures that deliver results. She is a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP), a member of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and has been featured on Inc.com, Forbes and the SHRM blog. She's the recipient of the National Association of Professional Women's Humanitarian Award and has served on the board of directors of Pleasanton Partners in Education and 101 Best and Brightest.


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Guest Commentary

Guest Commentary

The InformationWeek community brings together IT practitioners and industry experts with IT advice, education, and opinions. We strive to highlight technology executives and subject matter experts and use their knowledge and experiences to help our audience of IT professionals in a meaningful way. We publish Guest Commentaries from IT practitioners, industry analysts, technology evangelists, and researchers in the field. We are focusing on four main topics: cloud computing; DevOps; data and analytics; and IT leadership and career development. We aim to offer objective, practical advice to our audience on those topics from people who have deep experience in these topics and know the ropes. Guest Commentaries must be vendor neutral. We don't publish articles that promote the writer's company or product.

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