BY SARA DANSIE JONES, CO-FOUNDER WOMEN TECH COUNCIL
I’ve been in the technology field for 15 years, first as a patent attorney, and then shifting over to the entrepreneurial side. So, I’ve spent most of my career in industries that are dominated by men. Actually, let me clarify. Usually a majority of the entry level and staff positions were filled by women, with a few women in mid-level roles. But there were very few or even no women at the top. I always wanted to be in a position where I could make impact, so for me, that meant striving for the top. This can present a challenging set of circumstances for any ambitious woman. More importantly, this can sometimes present a challenge to men who wonder why women care so much to have a place at the top. And most men don’t understand the journey that women have to take to earn their place at the table.
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to be the CEO of a company that has 70% women and 70% women in leadership. You might think that I must have moved into a womendominated industry. But it’s actually a technology company called ApplicantPro I’VE BEEN IN THE TECHNOLOGY FIELD FOR 15 YEARS, FIRST AS A PATENT ATTORney, and then shifting over to the entrepreneurial side. So, I’ve spent most of my career in industries that are dominated by men. Actually, let me clarify. Usually a majority of the entry level and staff positions were filled by women, with a few women in mid-level roles. But there were very few or even no women at the top. I always wanted to be in a position where I could make impact, so for me, that meant striving for the top. This can present a challenging set of circumstances for any ambitious woman. More importantly, this can sometimes present a challenge to men who wonder why women care so much to have a place at the top. And most men don’t understand the journey that women have to take to earn their place at the table.
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to be the CEO of a company that has 70% women and 70% women in leadership. You might think that I must have moved into a womendominated industry. But it’s actually a technology company called ApplicantPro ApplicantPro sells an applicant tracking system to human resource professionals, so I admit that its high percentage of women in sales and support correlates with the fact that a high number of human resource professionals are women. However, notably, ApplicantPro has women in key roles in sales, product, and technology, which are usually roles held by men in technology companies, especially in Utah.
The research is clear that more women in leadership positions in any organization translates to better revenue, profitability, and better managed companies and organizations. Susan Madsen, Professor of Management at Utah Valley University, through her work on Utah Women and Education has clearly established that more work needs to be done for young women and girls in Utah to message to young women and girls in Utah why completing education is an important component to women’s future success. So I won’t spend precious words here reiterating what we already know to be true. Instead, I’d like to offer three personal insights that I’ve learned through my career journey that can perhaps help others as they work toward women-friendly organizations.
1. Leadership Matters: Take Action
I’ve always known that leaders have great ability to make decisions that impact the strategic direction of an organization. Leaders also drive cultural decisions, which is manifest in thousands of small decisions over time (some deliberate and some by acts of omission). For some reason, leaders have largely left the responsibility of addressing professional development and work life balance to human resource professionals. In my experience, these are two key factors that will make a difference in whether organizations can attract and retain women to their organizations. However, HR professionals are driven by the executive directives, and if the executive directives do not include a clear commitment to professional development and work life balance, HR professionals are often left to deprioritize these important issues in lieu of higher-prioritized business imperatives.
When leaders don’t take action, there is a quantifiable, virtual drag on the culture, as illustrated in this real-life example:
Early in my law career, as an entry-level attorney about to have my first child, I proposed a maternity leave policy to the board of directors at the law firm. Suffice it to say that my appeal to the board of directors was not successful. At that time, my informal survey of regional and local law firms indicated that eight weeks paid leave was the standard, especially at the size where my firm was positioned. So my only option was to take FMLA unpaid time off. For some reason, it was difficult for the men in the law firm to believe that I was the primary breadwinner in my family, and so it was a financial burden not to receive paid time off. For the next 9 years at the law firm (because we were able to recruit more women), I often brought up the need for paid maternity leave, citing the known benefits – higher engagement and loyalty of women attorneys. I believed in the benefit to the bottom line retention value. And when I left the firm after almost a decade, still no official maternity leave had been established. Truly disappointing and avoidable.
The research is clear that MORE WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP POSITIONS IN ANY ORGANIZATION TRANSLATES TO BETTER REVENUE,profitability, and better managed companies and organizations.
Contrast 5 years later, the first week I joined ApplicantPro, I noticed that a couple of our employees were close to delivering children. I immediately recommended to the founder that we establish a paid maternity AND paternity policy. He encouraged us to give a generous paid leave. And it was done in a 5 minute informal conversation. In my new leadership role, I was able to establish change 500 times faster than trying to appeal for change from the bottom ranks of the law firm.
It was a huge paradigm shift for me to see how effortlessly a decision to make change happened from the top. Yet everywhere we see companies who claim they want their women to grow professionally, but then rely on the women in their organization to “self-organize” a corporate women’s group to be responsible for any company changes for women-friendly policies. In my book, that is the leadership’s responsibility. When leaders don’t act, the women have to decide whether to accept the status quo or whether to place themselves in a politically precarious situation by risking being subtly ostracized for daring ask for women-friendly policies. Often, they have little political clout in the organization, similar to what I experienced at the law firm. I would welcome more leaders (both men and women) to step forward and be willing to institute women-friendly policies quickly and decisively without putting this burden on their employees.
2. The Ideal Combination: Women and Men Partnering Together
When I co-founded Women Tech Council (www.womentechcouncil.org) in 2007, we quickly realized that in order to grow the impact of the organization, we would need to align with male business influencers. Why? The truth is, men make up a significant portion of the workforce. And, quite simply, most of my career opportunities had actually come from men. Since one of the key pillars of Women Tech Council is to generate opportunity for women in technology, then by necessity, we would need to include our male colleagues. Since its beginning, Women Tech Council has been inclusive of men on our advisory board, at events, as speakers, and as advocates in the community. And that is the secret to why Women Tech Council has thrived in the Utah business community.
Now I recognize that this is a very different way of running an organization that fundamentally supports women. But, it’s the 21st century, and it’s time to rethink the way things have been done historically. Parity for professional opportunity and pay for women and men has not improved significantly since the 1970’s.
I BELIEVE WOMEN’S INFLUENCE IS POISED TO GROW. When you have opportunities in your organization, be willing to think outside the box and ENCOURAGE WOMEN TO APPLY FOR THOSE ROLES.
By establishing partnerships with men, this had a profound influence on me because I let go of the mentality that powerful women must forge their path alone. In fact, the exact opposite is true and leads to better outcomes for both women and men. Both women and men benefit by leveraging each other’s strengths to get to the next level. Sharing power is a mutual value exchange and can be done in a way that is unthreatening to either party.
I was recently invited to join the board of the Women’s Leadership Institute (www.wliut.com). WLI is another organization in Utah that has chosen to include men advocates on its board. WLI CEO Pat Jones is another visionary that understands that this is the direction that will create the most impact on this conversation. Integrating men at the highest levels of WLI definitely changes the tenor of the conversation to one that is highly productive. I believe the same happens when women are integrated at the highest levels of organizations – to deepen and enrich conversations.
On May 14th, WLI launched the ElevateHer Challenge. The challenge encourages corporations and organizations to do at least one of the following to elevate women in organizations and beyond.
• Increase the percentage of women in senior leadership positions in your organization.
• Increase the retention rate of women at all levels of your organization.
• Increase the number of women on your organization’s board of directors, extend the influence of women in your industry, and encourage women to serve on community and corporate boards. • Monitor pay by gender and close identified gaps.
• Establish a leadership development and/or mentoring program for women or enhance existing programs.
• Recruit women to run for public office and give follow-up support.
• Create your own innovative ways to elevate the stature of women leadership in your organization.
I was thrilled to see Governor Gary Herbert take the challenge on behalf of the State of Utah. In addition, dozens of other women and men leaders from prominent organizations in Utah took this important challenge.
3. Create Pathways: Upward Momentum
In my career, I have worked hard for my opportunities and believe I have earned them. So I’m not an advocate of giving women opportunity without being qualified, just because they are a woman. But there are plenty of opportunities that men are “handed” that aren’t handed to women in the same way. Some of these opportunities make a big difference for men to get their start or get to the next level, even when they are not qualified. Let’s undo the belief system that a man can be assumed to be capable and prove himself, whereas women are assumed incapable. Let’s start doling out opportunities to women at the same rate as men, to give women their “chance” to prove themselves.
I believe women’s influence is poised to grow. When you have opportunities in your organization, be willing to think outside the box and encourage women to apply for those roles. There is a bevy of research that shows that women often won’t apply for job opening or ask for an opportunity if they don’t feel 100% qualified. It’s important to note here that the critical word in the previous sentence was “feel.” It is quite possible and often the case that a woman actually has enough experience for that next step or can be trained into that next step. It’s an unfortunate consequence that many women lack confidence if they are in a men-dominated industry and don’t see a lot of successful women role models that can help build that confidence. So in industries where there are few women at the top, the men need to step in and provide this belief system. Because there simply is no one else that can do that.
I am confident that every industry can benefit from more women at the top. There is much work to be done, so let’s start now. By leaders acknowledging their responsibility to be a catalyst for change, with women and men partnering together, and by giving women upward opportunities, we can truly make a difference.
Sara Dansie Jones, Co-Founder Women Tech Council – Sara Jones co-founded Women Tech Council (www.womentechcouncil.org) in 2007, allowing her to support economic opportunity for women and girls in tech. She is still active on the board, driving thought leadership, operations, and strategic partnerships. Women Tech Council has grown to a community of almost 7,000 women and men through its membership and social channels. This September, Women Tech Council will host the 8th Women Tech Awards.
Sara has been a technology professional for 15+ years. She runs her own consulting firm IFINIDI (www.ifinidi.com). She loves working with technology companies who want revenue driven focus, are committed to growing their talent, and want to make a social impact.
Sara Jones was most recently the CEO of JobMatch LLC, dba ApplicantPro, which sold an end-to-end hiring software platform to over 3,000 HR professionals. Prior to this, she consulted at eBay building technology career pathway programs. She was the VP of Strategic Development for Patent Law Works LLC, a silicon-valley based intellectual property law firm. She gained deep understanding of professional learning while heading business development and product development at School Improvement Network building video and technology K-12 PD learning products. She began her career as a patent attorney at Workman Nydegger, working her way up to shareholder, practicing in the software arts.
She has her law degree from BYU and a chemical engineering degree from the University of Utah.
Sara is frequently invited to speak on entrepreneurship, women in technology, and leadership. You can reach her on Twitter at @saradansiejones or at firstname.lastname@example.org.