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Simply put, we need more women in technology. Because when women succeed, everybody wins.
But there are still many institutional barriers all around the world. One of the biggest is the way workplaces are currently structured. Many women don’t want to get to the top and stay there when the price means sacrificing their health, their well-being, their relationships and their happiness. Women in highly stressful jobs have a nearly 40 percent increased risk of heart disease compared with their less-stressed colleagues, and a 60 percent greater risk for type 2 diabetes (a link that does not exist for men, by the way). And that’s a problem with a workplace culture that equates burnout and macho notions of sleep deprivation with dedication. It’s a culture that was largely put into place by men, but the costs are borne by everybody.
The good news is that we are already witnessing a global shift toward leadership values and abilities traditionally considered feminine, especially collaboration and empathy. The more these qualities infiltrate boardrooms everywhere, the better off we’ll all be, women and men alike.
In addition to tapping into their creativity and ingenuity to realize all the possibilities technology presents, women are uniquely equipped to find solutions to some of the biggest challenges posed by technology. As we face a hyper-connected, always-on existence, women can lead the way in understanding that there is a real upside to downtime. Researchers from Harvard and the University of Virginia did an experiment in which they gave people a choice to be alone in a room, without anything — devices, books, papers, phones — or get an electric shock. Over two-thirds of men chose an electric shock. I’m very happy to say that only 25 percent of women chose the shock.
Because that capacity to go deep — to be alone with ourselves — is so essential to our creativity, it’s becoming a much more valuable skill, worth far more than a productivity app, a cleared-out in-box, or a rigidly efficient schedule. As science writer Eric Barker, who studies how human behavior affects creativity, wrote, “Those who can sit in a chair, undistracted for hours, mastering subjects and creating things will rule the world — while the rest of us frantically and futilely try to keep up with texts, tweets, and other incessant interruptions.”
Modern workplaces were designed by men, and although there are great changes happening — for example, 35 percent of American companies offer some sort of stress-reduction program — most of them are fuelled by stress and burnout.
So companies do urgently need to address the structural impediments that make having children and a successful career so much harder — impediments that inordinately affect women. For far too many people — women especially — there is too little support in place to help integrate career and family, which is crucial if we are truly going to redefine success for everyone. Flexible time, affordable quality daycare, family leave policies, telecommuting, project-based work, and a company culture that does not expect employees to be wired and responsive 24/7 need to become the norm if we are to make our workplaces truly sustainable and bring more women in the world of technology.