The Technology Gender Gap – A Leadership Glitch that Tech Can’t Solve Alone

Summary: The Executive Master in Science and Technology Leadership (EMSTL) program cultivates 21st-century industry leadership prepared to embrace difference and reverse entrenched gender imbalances in the technology sector. EMSTL builds this capacity by leveraging knowledge gained implementing Brown’s ambitious Diversity and Inclusion Plan; work that has contributed to an EMSTL community where women are 50% of the program leadership, 40% of the faculty, and 33% of the first cohort.

We invite women and men to join us in our quest to bridge technology’s gender gap to build stronger, smarter, faster and more resilient companies. To achieve this goal, we’ve designed EMSTL to help professionals:

  • Build diverse and inclusive teams.
  • Think across a spectrum of disciplines to solve today’s multidimensional challenges
  • Cultivate an authentic and values-driven leadership style

The Brown University Executive Master in Science and Technology Leadership (EMSTL) program is laser-focused on cultivating industry leaders prepared to end the gender employment imbalances that plague the technology sector. Today, women hold only 25% of computer jobs and 11% of executive positions in Silicon Valley. What will it take to increase these numbers? Unprecedented zeal and commitment. We know this because of our ongoing hard work to implement Brown’s rigorous Diversity and Inclusion Plan. This plan was born out of long and hard social struggles, and Brown’s liberal arts ethos to question the status quo, overcome boundaries, and create a more just and peaceful world.

Because we see this diversity and inclusion mission extending beyond our own organizational footprint, we infuse these learnings into the bedrock of our executive master’s programming to cultivate 21st-century industry leaders. Beyond it being the right thing to do, diversity makes plain old business sense. Mounting evidence over the last decade links improved business performance outcomes to diversity. As a result, according to Oliver Staley in a recent Quartz article, “Corporate America’s monochromatic executive teams are no longer just an embarrassment for progressive CEOs; they are a business liability.”

Through consistent and intentional efforts, EMSTL aims to dissolve these barriers through our transformative leadership pedagogy that includes awareness-raising coaching and curriculum to increase students’ understanding of the value of diversity and aptitude to achieve it. The EMSTL 16-month program empowers professionals to advance gender diversity in technology by enhancing their ability to:

Build diverse and inclusive networks: To escape demographic and subject matter echo chambers, professionals must broaden their networks. We go beyond traditional outreach efforts to make sure we’re getting the best students and faculty. These efforts result in our significantly higher than industry-standard gender ratios at the student and faculty level:

  • Program leadership: 50% women
  • Faculty: 40% women
  • First professional cohort: 33% women.

By deliberately recruiting gender diverse cohorts, we seek to give professionals the opportunity to build a broader network and grow within it.

Beyond creating a gender diverse program community, we also train leaders to cultivate inclusive teams that draw out the best ideas from all participants. In courses such as Persuasive Communication and the 16-month Professional Development component of the program that includes individual and group coaching sessions, professionals:

  • Practice being mentored or mentoring someone that doesn’t reflect their profile;
  • Optimize their communications skills by becoming attuned to who their audience is and what they need;
  • Learn to address the power imbalances that can result in diverse groups to create room for multiple perspectives to be heard, valued and deliberated;
  • Learn to listen and see past their own assumptions and help us see past ours.

This programming is designed to empower professionals to develop an expectation for the powerful insights gleaned from the difficult conversations that come from breaking through biases and assumptions.

Broaden capacity to think deeply across disciplines for real-world impact: Leveraging Brown’s excellence in liberal arts, EMSTL’s curriculum goes beyond traditional technology and MBA categories. By deliberately cultivating interests beyond a specific subject matter, professionals improve their capacity to lead teams not just with deep skills but with broad skills to chip away at technology’s homogeneity and cultivate an adaptive workforce primed for a disruptive era.

Courses such as Psychological Perspectives on Strategic Reasoning and Behavior, Entrepreneurial Leadership in Innovative Firms, Unlocking Value Globally and Economic and Perspectives on Strategic Decision-Making might seem unconventional in a tech business leadership program. In fact, they are critical to an industry sector that has placed a premium on niche technical skills and now finds itself lacking in an appreciation for, and the knowledge base to hire and promote categories of professionals, including women, that often have a more varied disciplinary background.

The cost of this narrowing extends beyond gender imbalances in hiring and salaries. It breeds problem-solving deficiencies for thinking outside the box. As the Invisible Gorilla Test teaches us, if we’re all just counting how many times people in the white shirts are passing the ball, no-one will see the gorilla walking through the room.

Expanding our intellectual scope trains our brains to challenge our comfort levels, to ask more probing questions, and to broaden our intellects to think more deeply across disciplines. By expanding our boundaries, we gain confidence in taking risks – a necessary first step toward tackling entrenched biases that hold back new ideas and perspectives critical to succeed in today’s digital, global and complex markets.

Chart an ethical course: At the heart of liberal arts is the courageous act to step out of your own being and see the world from someone else’s shoes. Empathy is ultimately what enables us to transcend differences, come together and demand change. In the EMSTL course, Effective Leadership: Theory and Practice, students build individual leadership identities to empower them to act on their empathic awareness, reconcile their personal and organizational ethics, and lead responsibly despite pressures to the contrary. By infusing our Executive Master’s programs with Brown’s excellence in liberal arts, we forge leadership with both the self-confidence and empathic capacity to make the tough decisions that bend toward the arch of progress.

In addition to engineering a transformational leadership pedagogy, we promote our thought leadership on the need for gender diversity and celebrate the women in the Brown community for their achievements in their fields. To name a few:

Brown offers a powerful curriculum for forging 21st-century leadership. In line with this mission, we are committed to cultivating critical, deliberative and interdisciplinary thinking in today’s business leaders because, number one, it’s the right thing to do, and number two, it opens the door to new ways of seeing the world, achieving breakthrough ideas, and simultaneously advancing industry and society forward.


By Jo Lee, Director of Content Marketing at the School for Professional Studies

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