3Qs: Breaking the high-tech glass ceiling

Studies show that more women have begun leading technology start-ups or landing top-level positions within existing companies than ever before. According to an article published this week in USA Today, the number of female tech founders has doubled in the past three years. We asked Kimberly Eddleston, an associate professor of entrepreneurship and innovation in the College of Business Administration, to examine how women have been able to break into the field and what still has to be done for women to succeed in the so-called high-tech boys’ club.

Women control approximately 70 percent of online purchases. How might their consumer influence have led to an increase in the number of women starting tech companies?

A major motivating factor for someone to launch a business is the identification of an unmet need: The founder sees some gap in the marketplace — something they want that just does not exist. Therefore, with women controlling more of online purchases, it is only natural that in their capacity as consumers that they will identify unmet needs. Further, because women tend to use different criteria in making purchase decisions than men, it is not surprising that they will see gaps in the technology sector that male-led companies simply don’t address.

Groups such as Women Who Code, Astia and Girls in Tech are backing companies led by women. Do women tend to look out for each other in the business world? Should they feel a responsibility to do so?

Unfortunately, the ability of women to use networks to get ahead is significantly behind that of men. My own research, as well as that of others, has shown this. What’s more, the “queen bee syndrome” still rears its ugly head. Basically, this characterizes women in leadership roles who enjoy being one of the few women, and many times the only female, in the male-dominated executive suite. Women like these also feel that the next generation of women needs to prove themselves like they did, so they offer little assistance or mentorship.

On the bright side, however, we are seeing more and more women who reject this mentality and are forming organizations to help women succeed or reaching out to the next generation as mentors. These successful women do feel a responsibility to “send the elevator back down” to the next generation of aspiring female leaders. But, we still have far to go. And it is unfortunate that progress has not been made more quickly. A local organization that I am particularly fond of, and I have conducted research with, is the Center for Women and Enterprise. The women running this organization have done an amazing job at helping aspiring women entrepreneurs to succeed and they have been very effective at creating a network of women leaders who help one another grow their businesses.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, is one of several women currently in a top role at a major company. Should women like her be considered pioneers? Could their influence help women break through the “glass ceiling?”

Of course she is a pioneer. Further, the fact that she has a family while being COO of Facebook shows women that they don’t need to sacrifice one to have the other — they can do it all. Research has repeatedly shown that women in the executive suite are less likely to be married or have children than their counterparts.

In regard to the “glass ceiling,” we have been waiting for it to shatter for decades now. While things are certainly getting better, particularly with more and more women entering fields that have been traditionally male-dominated, we have far to go. But each time a woman breaks through the glass ceiling, it offers hope and inspiration for the next generation.