Over dinner, my husband, who works in the Shanghai office of an internationally-known mobile gaming company, tells me that he’s recruiting for a scrum master and interestingly, the female candidates impressed him more than the male candidates.
Scrum is a methodology utilized by many gaming and software development companies to facilitate agile development and to allow small teams to work interdependently and efficiently. The term was named after the rugby term “scrummage,” which means to restart the game after an infringement or some other reason for play to stop.
At a software development studio, a scrum master hosts daily huddles (like in rugby) to review progress and tasks for the day. She asks team members questions to assess their progress and possible obstacles and helps the team agree on what can be achieved on a given day. She is not the project leader and thus not accountable for outcomes but a powerful facilitator and mediator.
That sounds like a cool job.
Now, back to the scrum master candidate, Yuan, who was ultimately hired for the role. She stood out because of her style – energetic, forceful but soft, and she connected well with everyone.
Yuan is an example of how women are taking on roles within IT that play to their natural strengths. Analysis from Gallup’s StrengthFinder assessment found significant gender differences – out of the top 10 strengths commonly found in women, four are people-related, compared to only two in men. This resonated with something my friend Emma, who is Chinese and has been working in IT since 2005, shared. When she worked at RedHat, the biggest Linux developer globally, even though only 1 out of 200 software developers was a woman, about 50% of the software testing department was made up of women.
Joyce, another Chinese friend who spent her entire career in IT, recounted that at the Dell Call Center at Xiamen, China, all of the customer service staff were women. These women, however, were responsible for inside sales – which is essentially remote sales, or what was formerly known as “telesales.” They were well-versed in all of the Dell products, including technical specs, and they were also skilled in consultative sales techniques.
In the 2016 Women in IT report by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), they quoted a 2013 survey that found that “the top five tech occupations for women and men differed significantly, with ‘Project Manager’ as the top position for women and ‘Software Engineer’ as the top position for men” (Kawamoto, 2013).
My technical recruiter friend Jessie, who has spoken to thousands of technical graduates across China, is also seeing a shift. In recent years of graduate recruitment, she saw more women taking on roles that previously were considered as “hard” and less desirable for women due to having to relocate to an underdeveloped city or high level of business travel required. These female engineering graduates also stood out during interviews due to their stronger communication and interpersonal skills – so much so that one entry class of a regional graduate development program was made up of over 75% women!
These trends are very promising, but women’s progress to the top is still a slow one. Sharon Gillenwater of Boardroom Insiders (2016) quoted a Korn/Ferry study that found only 15% of Fortune 100 CIOs were women – a slight drop from 17.4% in 2015. Gillenwater hypothesized that this decrease may be due to some high performing female CIOs having been promoted to other roles within the organization, such as Jamie Miller at GE (to President and CEO of GE Transportation), Kim Hammonds at Deutsche Bank (to COO), and Kim Stevenson at Intel (to COO of the Client and Internet of Things Business and Systems Architecture group). Unfortunately here in China, there are very few women at the helm leading such visible companies.
I don’t know if our scrum master, Yuan, aspires to be a CIO, but recent studies show that many women do – in one study as high as 62% of women surveyed are seeking C-suite or senior management positions in the future (NCWIT – Anderson, Gilmour, & Castro, 2013). Companies who wish to promote more women into technology leadership roles should closely examine their internal processes and corporate culture – are they truly supportive of women or is there implicit bias in our talent management process?
Come to think of it, Yuan would be excellent at leading such a project!
Note: Names have been modified to protect the innocent.
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Janet Mi is a Director of Consulting for Aperian Global has significant talent management field experience across China, the United States, and Asia, with a particular focus on talent acquisition, talent deployment, and leadership development. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and is certified in MBTI, NLP, Situational Leadership II as well as several Lominger Leadership Architecture Suite offerings: Learning Agility, CHOICES, and Interview Architect. She is also a certified coach through IECL in Australia.