Douglas M. Branson’s The Future of Tech is Female: How to Achieve Gender Diversity (NYU Press, July 2018) is a fascinating look at a problem many American industries can’t seem to shake. There’s a dreadful lack of women throughout the ranks, from entry level to senior executive, and frequent lawsuits paint a bleak picture of the climate for women. The book is carefully researched and argued, offering pragmatic solutions for businesses on how to remedy the problem that will make sense from a corporate standpoint.
Branson points out the litany of books and articles for working women that wrongly turn fighting discrimination into a self-help effort. Far too many titles exhort women to accumulate dozens of mentors and turn themselves inside out to appear less or more or different. Instead, Branson turns to organizations themselves, offering sound strategies to better hire, retain, and promote women. After all, businesses are the ones doing the hiring: all the mentors in the world won’t get a woman through closed doors. A woman can’t very well hire herself, and there aren’t enough women in leadership roles to do the heavy lifting.
Apropos of the title, tech, here, is presented as the worst (and most obvious) example of an industry that gives women perpetually short shrift, but Branson provides plenty of evidence that it’s far from the only perpetrator. As a corporate governance expert and law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Branson is well versed in the mechanics and complicated cultures of organizations, and it’s from that perspective that he maps out a whole range of roads to follow.
Among his proposals: pull back from an over-reliance on H1-B visas, which pass over qualified women for men — often from countries where women’s education and career ambitions are even less a priority than in the U.S. He proposes structured search requirements that would require a proportion of women candidates. He also cautions that STEM programs don’t work, for all their good intentions. This book came across my desk about the same time as a flurry of articles celebrating STEM campaigns, and as such, it punched some sobering holes into the gleeful logic exhorting girls, “Don’t just solve the problem, write the code.” Branson argues that no matter how good the education, no matter how inspiring the posters, it’s the same companies as before, with the same sexist, troubled cultures, that are doing the hiring. Without companies changing, little will change.
Branson brings up the glass cliff theory, in which women executives are often hired into organizations at a point when the company faces a complicated, daunting future. He shows how that plays out by looking at a number of women CEOs, such as Marissa Mayer at Yahoo! As he writes (and quotes), “Her task, emblematic of the glass cliff theory, was to resurrect ‘a once great bloated and struggling Internet company.’” Among her many missteps was fumbling Alibaba, which was then, as he describes, “a jewel within Yahoo!, which eventually morphed into a millstone around her neck.”
But while Branson points to the troubled conditions in which many of these women CEOs take the helm, he doesn’t hesitate to show how troubling their leadership was. But as he notes, that in itself is an argument for increasing up the ranks, expanding the pool of women leaders so there are far more choices, and not setting women up to fail the moment they ascend to the C-Suite.
For more about Douglas Branson, visit www.futureoftechisfemale.com.
- Hardcover:336 pages
- Publisher:NYU Press (July 10, 2018)
- Product Dimensions: 3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches