Corporate boards: Women twice as likely to have professional tech experience as men

While men still outnumber women on corporate boards of directors, in almost every industry female directors had more tech experience than their male counterparts, according to a recent study by Accenture.

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There may not be many women on corporate boards of directors, but those who are tend to be tech-savvy. According to a recent Accenture study, female members of corporate boards are nearly twice as likely as their male counterparts to have professional technology experience, despite the fact that men outnumber women in the tech field.

The study examined the boards of more than 500 Forbes Global 2000 companies in 39 countries across Europe, Asia, North America, South America and Australia. Overall, 16% of female directors had professional technology experience, compared to 9% of male directors.

In general, tech expertise on corporate boards is lacking: Only 10% of all board members had any professional technology experience.

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"As technology disrupts virtually every industry, companies need to think more broadly about the type of skills and experience needed for their boards, including getting more technology acumen into the boardroom. At the same time, they need to stay focused on gender diversity, since organizations with diversity at the board level perform better," said Roxanne Taylor, Accenture's chief marketing and communications officer, in a press release. "Women directors with technology experience bring diversity and valuable insight--a clear recipe for strategic advantage."

In 2015, women held 18% of the 9,875 executive seats in the Fortune 1000 companies, according to a recent report from the 2020 Women on Boards campaign, which aims to increase the percentage of women on US company boards to 20% or greater by the year 2020.

While small in number, organizations with a female CEO or board chair had significantly more gender diverse boards than organizations with male leadership, the report found. Of Fortune 1000 companies with a female in charge in 2015, about 87% had already met or surpassed the goal of having 20% or more women on the board, compared to 42% of all such companies.

Industry differences

Representation of female directors with tech experience differed between countries. In seven out of the 10 most-represented countries studied--which included the US, Japan, Germany, China, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia--female board members had more professional technology experience than males. Canada, China, and Spain were the only nations where men's experience outweighed women's.

The US had the highest percentage of tech-savvy female directors, at 26%, compared to 17% of males with professional tech experience.

Female board members also had more tech experience in 13 of the 15 industries studied, with the two exceptions being banking and insurance.

The technology industry itself had nearly double the number of tech-savvy female board members than most other fields, at 51%.

"Especially in the US, companies are still moving at a snail's pace to place women on boards," said Marissa Levin, CEO of executive coaching company Successful Culture. "A board member with strong technical expertise is a critical resource for any executive team to ensure that the organization's technology strategy is sound. It's not enough to rely only on the company's internal technology experts."

Boards are continuously evolving, and are meant to move the organization forward, Levin said. That being the case, she said boards should be assessed every 12 to 18 months for effectiveness. And board members should be assigned designated areas with specific performance guidelines, Levin said. "The most effective board members know what is expected of them," she added.

Tech evolution

The report's use of the term "professional technology experience" may be misleading, said Anne Krook, owner and principal of the consulting firm Practical Workplace Advice and author of the book "Now What Do I Say?": Practical Workplace Advice for Younger Women.

A woman with professional tech experience may not have actually worked in the tech industry, Krook said. Until recently, tech work in many industries, such as retail, was not considered an important part of the company. "It's one thing if a woman's tech background is from Apple, it's another if it's from Albertsons [supermarket]," Krook said. "One is likely to be perceived as a career advantage, and one as career marginalization."

Women held 25% of professional computing occupations in 2015, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

"Women are more willing to move laterally within a company than men are," Krook said. "Particularly in non-tech companies, that often means taking on the tech role. It's often difficult and involves bad internal customer experiences."

Levels of technology experience on a board sometimes depend on the age of its members, Krook said. "The older a board member is, the less likely technology experience and ownership will be seen as an unalloyed positive," she added. "For somebody in their fifties looking to populate a board, tech experience should be virtually a requirement."

Deep tech knowledge will likely become a more important part of board member selection in the future, Krook said. "Going forward, boards are going to need to make tough decisions about where to put resources, and tech is at the forefront," she said.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Female members of corporate boards are nearly twice as likely as their male counterparts to have professional technology experience, according to a recent study from Accenture.
  2. In 2015, women held 18% of the 9,875 executive seats in the Fortune 1000 companies, according to the 2020 Women on Boards campaign.
  3. Only 10% of all board members had any professional technology experience. Experts say boards should work to include more people with such expertise, as every industry moves into the digital realm.

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