Tech experience may help women gain entry to the boardroom

Corporate boards need more directors with technology experience to help guide companies into the future, and women could be the key

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 11:36am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 9:56pm

It’s no secret that boardrooms need more women. Only one in five board members of companies in the S&P 500, a leading stock market index, are women, according to a 2015 study by Catalyst, a non-profit organisation focused on accelerating women’s progress in the workplace.

But new Accenture research points to an opportunity: many women who have succeeded in getting on boards have professional technology experience to help propel them. In fact, female directors are nearly twice as likely as their male counterparts to have professional technology experience.

The purpose of the research – in which Accenture examined women’s representation on the boards of more than 500 Forbes Global 2000 companies in 39 countries across five continents – was to understand the gender composition of corporate boards and the role technology plays in the careers of female board members. The research found that 16 per cent of female directors, compared with 9 per cent of male directors, have professional technology experience.

Of the 10 most-represented countries in the study, only Spain, Canada and China had more male directors than female directors with professional technology experience, which suggests even more opportunities in greater China for women with tech expertise to gain board seats.

There’s no doubt that more and more jobs, up to and including the board level, will require technology skills. Our global technology report found that 86 per cent of the more than 3,100 IT and business executives surveyed anticipate that the pace of technology change will increase rapidly or at an unprecedented rate in their industry over the next three years.

All this makes it clear that companies need to be digitally and technologically savvy to stay ahead. After all, without greater technology knowledge guiding strategy and operations, companies will have trouble anticipating the forces shaping their industries. That’s why it’s so important for directors to have a robust understanding of technology. And as companies seek to achieve gender balance on their boards, professional technology experience can be a key differentiator for women.

Getting on the right side of the digital fluency gap can also change the picture for women, and their countries, in dramatic ways. For instance, a recent Accenture study about women in the workplace and digital fluency – the extent to which people embrace and use digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected and effective – found that at the current rate of digital adoption, developed nations aren’t likely to achieve workplace gender equality until 2065, and developing nations until 2100. But if governments and businesses can double the pace at which women become frequent users of technology, we could reach gender equality in the workplace by 2040 in developed nations and by 2060 in developing nations.

Without greater technology knowledge, companies will have trouble anticipating the forces shaping their industries

In today’s digital world, the need for companies to be technologically savvy should offer extraordinary opportunities for people, regardless of gender, who possess technology and related skills. As the importance of technology in nearly every area and level of business continues to skyrocket, a solid tech background can be an important stepping stone for women looking to get ahead in the corporate world. As corporate boards look to close two gaps – gender and technology – women with professional tech experience will prove to be attractive candidates.

Gianfranco Casati is Accenture’s group chief executive for growth markets, overseeing Asia-Pacific, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Russia and Turkey