Blue Switch Consulting
Talent Optimisation Consultant


Commentary and Analysis

Women & the C-Suite


Female Representation in Top Jobs



The world’s top organizations recognize the value of diversity in their workforces. As automation technology is increasingly applied to provide services that have traditionally been offered by personnel, an organization’s human asset contribution is in the area of creativity. And creative potential is directly correlated to diversity, and diversity starts with accessing 100% of the talent pool.

“Embracing workforce diversity and creating an inclusive environment where all colleagues can contribute their full potential yields both a competitive advantage and a business opportunity.”
— Deloitte

"You can't manage what you can't measure." - Peter Drucker

  • How diverse is your organization?

  • What role does diversity play in your long term growth planning?

  • Do you know the proportion of women and minority groups represented in your workforce?



Tech companies like Cisco, Twitter, and Google aim for diverse representation on their boards. However, competition for qualified individuals is fierce considering only about 11% of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies are currently held by women. Tech companies are not the only ones that lack female representation at the top. Advertising and finance are other industries notorious for male-dominated upper echelons.

Increasing the number of women serving on boards is ‘all about bringing on fresh perspectives and a different set of experiences.’
— Chuck Robbins, chief executive, Cisco Systems


The Government of Canada is taking proactive steps toward increasing female representation in high-level roles. Upon taking office in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set an example by appointing Canada’s first ever cabinet consisting of half women and half men. Since then, the Canadian government has proposed a national goal of 30% female representation on boards by 2019.

Canadian provinces are also signalling the importance of increased female representation. In 2014, the Ontario Securities Commission executed a compulsory “comply or explain” amendment that requires businesses to submit annual reports on the gender composition of their boards. In 2015, the federal government announced its intention to implement the same amendment to the Canada Business Corporations act.



At 39, Amy Chang is the youngest—and newest—member of the board of directors at Cisco Systems. Cisco, a Silicon Valley-based international tech conglomerate, is among a growing number of organizations making deliberate moves to recruit women to top positions. Before Chuck Robbins convinced Chang to join the board of directors at Cisco, Chang—a former Google executive—was being hotly pursued by other tech companies. Chang describes receiving “several feelers a month” and turning down “15 to 20 first meetings” before Robbins hit it off with her.


Harvard Business School scholars surveyed over 4,000 participants to identify how women perceive of high-level positions and if perceptions affect a woman’s willingness to take advantage of career advancement opportunities. The study concluded that women are not deterred from seeking top jobs because these roles are perceived as unachievable. Quite the opposite. In fact, female respondents viewed high-level positions as equally attainable as male respondents. Instead, women perceive high-level positions as less attractive; “compared to men, women have a higher number of life goals, place less importance on power-related goals, associate more negative outcomes (e.g., time constraints and tradeoffs) with high-power positions, perceive power as less desirable, and are less likely to take advantage of opportunities for professional advancement.”

The report confirms that an organization cannot rely on assumptions when it comes to creating and applying tactics for increasing the number of women climbing the ladder. Women are not impeded only by implicit biases and institutional discrimination, as conventional wisdom suggests.


Organizations interested in long-term sustained growth are turning to research-based evidence in behavioural psychology and related disciplines to shed light on the challenges they face when it comes to cultivating gender equality and diversity.


Organizations aiming to attract and secure the right female talent must take a systematic approach to increasing the number of women entering and traveling the executive pipeline, and ensure that the roles they offer appeal to their candidates.




 Francesco Gino, Caroline Ashley Wilmuth and Alison Wood Brooks, “Compared to men, women view professional advancement as equally attainable, but less desirable,” PNAS 112, no. 40 (October 6, 2015): 12354-12359. doi:10.1073/pnas.1502567112. 

 Pui-Wing Tam, “Join Our Board: Companies Hotly Pursue New Wave of Women in Tech,” New York Times, December 30, 2016,

 David A. Bell and Shulamite Shen White, “Gender Diversity in Silicon Valley: A Comparison of Silicon Valley Companies and Large Public Companies,” Fenwick & West LLP (2014),


© Dr Kristen Liesch 2017. All rights reserved.