serves on four public company boards: Cognizant, Home Depot Supply, SL Green Realty and Schneider Electric. She is also a member on the board of Volvo Cars (private) and the SAP Advisory Board.
Probably the last thing Uber needs right now is to have anyone recount their recent setbacks, but the company’s quick, Icarus-like fall from grace tells us much about how tech companies going through hyper growth can go wrong.
By 2016, the ride-sharing tech firm was a segment leader, present in 570 cities worldwide and with 12,000 employees. Yet just since the beginning of the year, Uber’s company culture, marked by “sharp elbows,” has rapidly become a liability.
The key is to preserve the great parts of the culture that drove their market leadership; relentless focus on results, and now augment the culture for their larger scale: i.e. add an appropriate level of processes and gender rebalance. First there was the video of CEO and founder Travis Kalanick chewing out one of the company’s own drivers. The latest and biggest blowup has been lawsuits alleging a toxic company culture of sexual harassment.
The past few weeks saw attempts to clean up the company’s work environment. As a woman who’s served on many major tech company boards, much of this sounds like old news. Women in technology industries still push against a silicon ceiling when it comes to career advancement and cultural issues.
Research from the Society of Women Engineers found that 20 percent of today’s engineering school graduates are women, yet just 11 percent continue working in the field. Women in IT leadership roles (such as chief information officers or technology VPs) are just nine percent of the total, according to a survey from Harvey Nash/KPMG.
Among Silicon Valley’s boardrooms, the numbers are also bleak. Among the Valley’s 150 largest tech firms, only 15 percent of board members are women (versus 21 percent in the S&P 500). A Korn Ferry study of the top 100 U.S. tech firms saw just three with women as CEO/chairman, and five with a woman as the board’s lead director.
Changing any corporate culture is a challenge, but I’ve found bringing diversity to the tech industry is even trickier. Fast-growth “unicorn” companies can quickly outgrow their founding, venture-based startup corporate governance, and find themselves facing Uber-like crises with too few adults in the boardroom. Yet in my own experience, I’ve seen technology companies nurture diverse, inclusive cultures, starting with a few one-on-one approaches from the boardroom.
While Uber’s woes make the news, they can also serve as a spark for making the support and advancement of women in your company a boardroom mission.
The talents of these women are a strategic asset to companies, and there is a growing body of research proving that firms who nurture and empower their gender diversity gain in revenues and adaptability.
In any company, balance sheet results are always found downstream from company culture. When it comes to reshaping that culture to be welcoming to women, the boardroom is the ideal place to start.
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