As the importance of technology across all levels of business continues to skyrocket, solid skills on this front can be a vital stepping stone for women looking to get ahead in the corporate world.
Take a look at the female directors sitting at the top of some of the world’s leading companies—from Disney to General Motors—and you will find a lot of them have one thing in common. They have held a key technology position, or had senior-level responsibility in a tech firm at some point in their journey to leadership.
In fact, new research by Accenture finds that female members of corporate boards are nearly twice as likely as their male colleagues to have professional tech experience. While there is a general lack of tech experience—among women and men alike—in boardrooms around the world, the findings suggest that companies could be putting a premium on female techsperts.
Accenture examined women’s representation on the boards of 518 Forbes Global 2000 companies in 39 countries to understand the role technology plays in the careers of female board members.
The research found that while only 10 percent of board members overall have professional technology experience. The percentage of female board members with tech experience—at 16 per cent—exceeds that of male board members with tech experience, which stood at nine per cent.
And this phenomenon isn’t isolated to one or two countries.
Most tellingly, the same held true for the 10 most represented countries in our study: the UK, USA, Japan, Germany, China, France, Spain, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia. Only Spain, Canada and China had higher percentages of male directors with technology backgrounds.
The research also found notable differences among industries. Of the 15 industries included in our research, the percentage of women with technology experience on corporate boards is highest in the technology industry, at 51 percent. Communications ranked second, at 29 percent, followed by healthcare, at 22 percent.
In all but two industry sectors—capital markets and diversified financials, and insurance —the percentage of women with technology experience exceeds the number of men with technology experience.
It’s no secret that the acquisition of technical and digital skills on corporate boards has a new urgency, but why is that?
One reason is that companies increasingly recognise that without greater technology expertise guiding strategy and operations, they’re going to have trouble anticipating the forces re-shaping their industries.
We’ve spent the last decade trying to get the technology right, but at the heart of successful transformation there is one factor that doesn’t always comply with the algorithm.
The only option for innovation, transformation and change isn’t technology led or driven; it is enabled by technology but propelled by people who solve the problems that keep CEOs awake at night.
The findings suggest that at least at the highest levels, possessing the right technical skills to able to confront those challenges could be a key differentiator that is moving women into the boardroom.
I long for a day when we are no longer talking about the gender issue, but for many organisations, finding that balance in their workforce is still high on the agenda. And it’s unsurprising when we look at the research. A report by Catalyst found that corporate boards with the highest percentages of women at board level perform better financially.
In fact, companies with the most women board directors were found to have outperformed those with the least by 42 percent in their return on equity.
Simply put, it is essential in a digital economy like ours that organisations continue to evolve quickly, remain powered by technology, and are driven by a diverse workforce that truly represents the world we live in.
About the author
Emma is a senior managing director and leads Accenture’s Technology business in the UK and Ireland. Before joining the company 20 years ago, Emma completed a degree in engineering followed by an MSc in electronics from the University of Edinburgh. Much of her career has been spent delivering large scale complex programmes with an engrained technology architecture background.