Silicon Valley companies help solve the world’s most difficult and complex problems. Yet the puzzle of how to make high tech more inclusive and welcoming to diverse talent remains unsolved.
In technology, women are 3.7 percent of R&D Executives, less than 5 percent of Principal Engineers/Fellows, and 9 percent of executive officers. Women hold just 10 percent of board seats and 11 percent of leadership positions. And for women of color, the numbers are even lower. Executives, technology employees, managers, and students are asking us: “tell me what to do to change this.”
We were part of an experiment to shift the conversation. As the research partner of WT2 (Women Transforming Technology), the Clayman Institute recently led a session, Changing the Equation, with women in senior positions in technology and diversity & inclusion professionals.
Senior women agreed that the unwritten rules of work—the implicit or hidden norms that guide employee behavior and power—were most problematic for them. In many cases, the implicit rules override actual merit and performance. And for many successful women, the unwritten rules become even more challenging the higher they climb on the career ladder—as the band of behavior permissible for women becomes narrower, and the unwritten laws of work become more important.
In navigating the unwritten laws of work, participants reported they greatly benefitted from—and personally appreciated—small acts of support and help along the way. We like to call these incremental acts micro-sponsorship.
Micro-sponsorship is focused advice and advocacy in the moment. Micro-sponsorship can block micro-inequities –the ways in which individuals are either singled out or overlooked based on race, gender or other dimensions of difference.
Examples of micro-sponsorship:
When discussing why micro-sponsorship matters, one woman in the group pointed to the research on micro-aggressions. It’s the 10,0000 tiny cuts, or micro-aggressions, women experience daily that lead to their disenchantment and the organization’s loss.
The group was clear that micro-sponsorship does not address the underlying systemic hurdles facing women and diverse employees. However, if all employees across backgrounds find opportunities to act as a sponsor – in the moment – to support the voice of others, micro-shifts could lead to cultural change.Here’s micro-sponsorship from the top.
Maybe starting with moments of sponsorship is just what we need to transform the culture of tech. Anyone in the industry – from CEOs to managers to individual contributors, can model these inclusive behaviors. The next time you hear “tell me what to do to change the culture”, point to micro-sponsorship behaviors.