08 March 2018
What started as an observation on how there are so few women in executive level positions, soon turned into a real passion project for Haley Fountain. Her enthusiasm for increasing diversity in the workplace led her to start her own interview series, talking to inspirational business women about how they've got to where they are today.
Haley, you’ve now interviewed over ten different women as part of your ‘Inspiring Business Women’ blog series! How did you come to be so passionate about the topic of diversity and a champion of progressing women in business?
There are lots of factors that got me so interested in this topic. When I graduated from university and started working, I noticed right away that there weren’t many women in C-Level and executive positions in most businesses. As I started diving into this topic, I obviously knew the moral issues associated with a lack of gender diversity in the workplace. What I didn't know was the effect it has beyond ethics – it affects the profitability of companies.
A 2015 study by McKinsey and Company showed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to perform better financially than their peers, and those in the bottom quartile were expected to perform more poorly. The stats for ethnic diversity are even more shocking than that!
Diversity isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the only thing to do if you want your company to grow and thrive. The combination of this information, plus a personal need for more female role models sparked my passion for this topic. I am a writer, and I have a passion for connecting with people. I knew that if I was struggling to find strong female role models, I wasn’t alone. So, I decided to connect with, and share the stories of successful business women so that everyone had access to them.
What have you learnt from your interviews with these different women? Is there anything that’s stood out or any patterns you’ve seen across them all?
I could probably write a book on everything I’ve learned from the women I’ve interviewed! While each woman has a unique perspective, I can identify some trends:
- Mindset matters. Executive-level women don’t see their gender, race, or age as a factor affecting their success.
- Mentors are key. I say ‘mentor’ in the plural because most of the women I interviewed have multiple mentors. At least one of those mentors is often male – I always assumed my mentor had to be a woman, but there’s a ton of value in having a mentor of a different gender!
- Invest in your employees. Companies and leaders that prioritise personal development for their staff have better retention rates. Every woman I’ve interviewed that’s been with a company for 5+ years has mentioned an investment in her personal development – whether that be an official policy from her company, or her direct manager prioritising it. You want your employees to invest in you? Invest in them!
You’re an expert in the Technology industry. What diversity patterns or trends have you seen recently amongst your clients? How does this industry stack up compared to others?
I naturally talk a lot about diversity with my clients, and so many of them have a real interest in creating an inclusive culture and retaining their diverse talent. That excites me! Tech has come a long way, but it has a long way to go. Last year, there were 83 female CIOs on the Fortune 500 list in the US. That’s about 16% – not very impressive, but it has increased from 75 women (15%) in 2016. These numbers aren’t growing fast enough and have declined from 87 women CIOs (17%) in 2015. I think a big factor affecting this is that career tenure for technology professionals tends to be shorter than other professions. Yahoo Finance released a report last year highlighting the companies with the most and least female leadership. The top companies were almost all in the retail industry, while the bottom companies were a mixture of tech, energy, and transportation.
These numbers won’t change overnight, but there’s some small steps we can take to impact them. We must start young – introducing technology to girls as young as elementary-age. I see lots of schools requiring more technology courses for younger students, which is a great step. Also, we need to focus on ethnic diversity just as much as gender diversity. A report in 2016 showed that of the 20% or so women that are in computing careers, less than 5% of them are African-American, Asian or Hispanic. I believe that those companies that take a holistic approach to their diversity initiatives will be the most successful.
What does #PressForProgress mean to you? How will you be celebrating International Women’s Day this year?
I’m particularly excited about this year’s campaign theme, because it’s about action. There’s no point in talking about a problem unless we’re talking about a solution. I’ve witnessed lots of leaders who release a big campaign about diversity in their organisation – with absolutely no follow-through. Progress doesn’t happen with just a memo or a hashtag – it happens when leaders set an initiative, and hold people accountable to it. It happens in changing our daily activities, conversations and our mindset. From my perspective, the last five years have been about gender diversity awareness, and the next five years will be about making some impactful changes. There’s some incredible industry leaders and trailblazers that are working to create organisations that foster an inclusive culture that retains top, diverse talent.
Every day is International Women’s Day for me! Haha! On a serious note, I plan to spend the day celebrating all the inspirational women I’ve crossed paths with – at work and in my personal life. I’m releasing my most recent interview with a woman I personally look up to, and who is a big advocate for diversity in healthcare on International Women’s Day (check out this interview here!)
And finally, what woman inspires you and why?
That’s a tough question! I don’t think I can narrow it down to just one woman, because I’ve been inspired by so many women throughout my life, in so many ways. My first answer is probably like most peoples’ – my mother inspires me the most. She raised me to believe that I was capable of doing anything, and that my gender wasn’t a factor in anything that I accomplish in life.
In terms of public figures, I’m so inspired by women like Sheryl Sandberg who are speaking out, empowering women in their careers and raising awareness about the gender gap. I’m also truly inspired by the women of my generation – us millennials get a lot of heat, but I have so many women in my network who are starting businesses, making great strides in their corporate careers, and being activists for causes they care about.