Quick: Name the five most famous books written by women on the subject of management. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Bzzzzz. You lost out. Sorry.
Let’s try an easier question. Aside from Marrisa Mayer, Ursula Burns, and Carol Bartz (to take out the easy ones) name five leading women in tech. Tick. Tick. Tick. Oh, forget it.
Where are all the women in this age of gender diversity in the workplace, especially in tech?
Women supposedly account for more new businesses than men do. According to the Kaufman Foundation which studies such matters, between 1997 and 2002 U.S. women-owned firms grew in number by 19.8 percent, compared with a 10.3 percent growth rate firms overall.
During the same period, however, women-owned firms recorded lower survival numbers, as well as lower numbers for size, growth, earnings and profits. The data suggest that women-owned firms are smaller and less growth-oriented than men-owned firms.
What’s behind these disappointing numbers?
First, let me answer why I’m writing about gender and the workplace. I started looking at the topic in connection with a new book I’m doing. It’s hard to find women’s names that resonate in the business community like those of Peter Drucker, Gary Hamel, Tom Peters, Michael, Porter, Jim Collins, John Kotter, and Warren Bennis and so on and so on.
Then, a Fast Company article appeared in my email today on “The Most Influential Women in Technology.” The number of influential women in tech is shockingly small. Women as a founder or co-founder account for less than 10 percent of all tech startups.
I’ve read that women have greater challenges getting credit, that they still must learn to play by rules laid down by men, that they have to face social stigmas associated with women who abandon family for career, and other reasons why fewer women make it really big in the business world.
Alicia Robb, Kauffman Foundation senior research fellow said, "The interesting thing about women entrepreneurs is that many of them may be purposely starting businesses as a lifestyle choice. The number of women-owned businesses growing faster may reflect that women are going into business as a viable way to move out of the traditional employment market and gain flexibility. It's hard to know if those kinds of businesses are where they want to be or if they would like to grow faster."
In other words it is not fair to women (or men, for that matter) to compare them on equal terms. Women often start businesses for different reasons than men do. And probably by virtue of lower testosterone levels they generally pursue business less competitively.
Do we see women who are as competitive as any man? Of course – but not as often because women are indeed different. Their brains work differently and they have characteristic values that weigh in heavier in their decisions than they do in men’s decisions. For example, research shows that women tend to be more collaboratively-minded than men are. Men are more likely to make a go of it on their own.
One thing I’m seeing is that while women’s influence in tech may be what some would call appallingly low, women’s influence on the business ethos in general is growing and men’s is ebbing. Perhaps from the standpoint of what’s good for society, maybe women’s influence on corporate behavior is more important than on corporate growth. I’ll get into more detail in my next post on this topic because it affects every aspect of business from employee relations and product design to marketing and customer servicing.