How Ineffective Leadership Impacts Women in Tech (And Strategies for Change)

June 6, 2024 | What's Hot | 7 min read

The tech industry has made notable strides towards inclusivity and diversity, with women achieving significant milestones in technical and leadership roles. However, the pace of change remains uneven, primarily due to the varying quality of leadership within the sector. 

Effective leadership is characterized by the ability to inspire, innovate, and inclusively support employee growth, while ineffective and toxic leadership often fails to address the specific needs and challenges faced by women in tech. 

According to our 2024 Women in Tech Report, a substantial number of women are considering leaving their current employers due to leadership-related issues. 

What does this mean? There’s an urgent need for a leadership approach that prioritizes communication, emotional intelligence, and active listening to facilitate a more inclusive and supportive workplace.

Ineffective Leadership = Increased Employee Turnover

Ineffective leadership within the tech sector not only undermines the potential of women in technology but also poses significant risks to the industry’s innovation and business landscape, especially in a competitive landscape that continues to evolve and change at a rapid pace.

The tech industry continues to struggle with leadership practices that fail to retain and empower women. Survey findings from our Women in Tech Report reveal that 37% of women in tech are considering switching job roles, and 31% are contemplating changing employers within the next year – given the challenges present in the work environment, these statistics are highly concerning, but sadly, not surprising. 

Unlike last year’s report, in which the main motivations for seeking new opportunities were better compensation (41%), a lack of equity in opportunities (36%), and ineffective leadership (25%), this year’s findings reveal that the primary issue is with department or company management.

This concern is closely followed by a lack of training, growth, and development opportunities (39%), and the desire for increased compensation (26%).

For women in tech, there is an undeniable trend where the quality of leadership and professional growth is overtaking financial incentives and compensation as a driver for women thinking about making a career change.   

Competitive salaries remain important, but women’s working environments and the opportunities afforded for professional advancement and development play a significant role in job satisfaction and career decision-making.

This trend emphasizes the need for companies to reassess their approaches to leadership, inclusion, belonging, and professional development to attract and retain top talent.

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Barriers for women pursuing tech careers

When exploring the challenges women in tech face when pursuing tech careers, ineffective leadership and management emerged as a top concern for 46% of women in tech. A lack of equity in pay (38%) and opportunities (35%) are also significant issues.

With this, it’s imperative for companies to acknowledge and address the impact of ineffective leadership on women in tech:

  • Career Progression Barriers: Ineffective leadership significantly limits career advancement opportunities for women in tech, and especially women of color. Common hurdles include a lack of mentorship, biased performance evaluations, and inadequate support for career development. These barriers not only impede women’s professional growth but also contribute to the broader issue of underrepresentation in tech leadership roles.
  • Gender Bias and Stereotyping: Leadership that does not actively combat gender biases and stereotypes perpetuates a workplace culture that marginalizes women. This manifests in women being undervalued and/or overlooked for promotions or critical projects, despite their expertise and capabilities making them highly competitive candidates for career-enhancing opportunities.
  • Work Environment and Culture: Creating an inclusive work environment is critical for retention and job satisfaction. Leadership that fails to prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging often promotes and perpetuates a culture in which women’s job satisfaction is negatively affected.

Identifying Toxic Leadership Must Be a Priority

Identifying toxic leadership in your organization is not always easy or straightforward; its traits can often be subtle, insidious, and deeply ingrained in organizational culture. However, recognizing it and rooting it out must be a strategic imperative.

Toxic leadership can manifest in many ways – managers and leaders who lack empathy and emotional intelligence, promote an environment of distrust, reward unhealthy competition and undermining, or even more overt signs such as bullying and intimidation are all examples of toxic leadership that exert a toll on workplace contentment, and more often than not, mental health.

Leadership practices that genuinely support and advance women’s careers in technology benefit everyone, not just women. The presence of toxic leadership styles that often go unnoticed or unaddressed exacerbate the leadership gap, making it alarmingly clear why systemic change is necessary.

The Ripple Effect

Ineffective leadership impacts not only women in technology but also carries significant repercussions for companies and the broader industry. 

  • Innovation and Productivity: Leadership quality is a critical determinant of team morale, creativity, and productivity. When leadership practices are inclusive, diverse perspectives pave the way for innovative solutions and improved team performance and morale. Conversely, leadership that fails to harness diversity may stifle creativity and hinder overall productivity.
  • Retention and Turnover Rates: Many women are actively looking for a new job in search of better leadership and more inclusive work cultures. This not only depletes an organization of its valuable human resources but also incurs significant costs related to recruitment, training, and lost productivity.
  • Company Reputation and Brand Image: The effects of leadership practices extend beyond internal operations to influence a company’s external reputation. Experiences of inequity and poor management can quickly become public, potentially damaging the company's branding and reputation, thereby making those companies less attractive to prospective employees. A reputation for fostering an inclusive and supportive work environment, on the other hand, can enhance a company's standing in the industry, attracting top talent and customer loyalty alike.
  • Financial Performance: According to McKinsey research, companies with greater representation are more likely to outperform their less diverse counterparts. This advantage manifests through diverse leadership teams that are better equipped to understand and serve a multifaceted customer base, which may lead to greater market share and financial returns. In fact, a study from Calvert, a unit of Morgan Stanley Investment Management, found that more diversity on corporate boards at large companies in the U.S. resulted in higher stock prices over time when compared with companies with less diverse boards.

The implications of ineffective leadership are far-reaching, impacting not just individual careers but shaping the future of the tech industry. Addressing these challenges requires a concerted effort to transform leadership practices at every level of the organization.

Strategies for Turning Toxic Leadership Into Top-Notch Leadership

Organizations must face toxic leadership head-on. Let’s look at a few actionable strategies that can uplift women in tech: 

  • Leadership Training and Development: Investing in leadership training that focuses on emotional intelligence, active listening, and inclusivity can help create an environment where women in tech can thrive.

It should come as no surprise that even within the realm of technology, the top three skills or qualities reported “most important for tech leaders in the workplace” are team               communication, emotional intelligence, and active listening – with technical skills and project management closely behind.

See Skillsoft’s Leadership & Business solutions.

  • Policy and Cultural Shifts: Women who participated in the survey said the main way organizations could support them is by guaranteeing equitable pay. Implementing organizational changes, such as transparent promotion criteria and equal pay policies, is crucial in fostering a culture that embraces and promotes the career advancement of women.
  • Executive Sponsorship and Mentorship: Mentoring programs, networking opportunities, and sponsorship are critical elements for empowering women, helping to overcome challenges and barriers posed by ineffective leadership.

When asked about actions organizations could take to encourage more women to pursue tech related careers, providing more coaching, mentoring, and career counseling                       opportunities (37%), along with offering professional development and training opportunities (36%), were top of mind.

Organizations across the board must adopt and implement strategies that not only promote but also sustain leadership qualities that can drive innovation and growth. After all, effective leadership is not just beneficial for women, it's crucial for the sustainability and success of the tech industry. 

To learn more about the current state of women in tech, what’s important to them, and what they need from their employers to thrive, access our full report here