Sen. Mark Warner and Female Tech Execs Brainstorm Innovation for the Gig Economy and Beyond

We see articles daily about the myriad ways technology is disrupting the business world. From Uber and Airbnb to the Internet of Things and more, it all adds up to what Gartner calls Digital Business Transformation.

This change is exciting, but I believe to stay relevant for tomorrow we all need to update and rethink not only our business models, but also many other elements that shape our lives and our companies. A perfect example: How can we challenge the status quo and leverage women leaders to accelerate innovation and social consciousness in this new digital world we’re building?

Big changes driven by the “gig economy”

I am not alone in this perspective and recently had the privilege to co-host a roundtable on the topic with Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Shelly Kapoor Collins, CEO and Founder of Tech Hill Advisors. According to Senator Warner, it is critical that we reinvent our policies to better align with a rapidly changing workforce. CNN Money recently reported that, enabled by new business models, 31% of workers consider themselves “free agents.” Many of these individuals are deliberately opting for freelance jobs over more traditional forms of employment. And it’s not just the young who have signed up. The survey found that 36% of baby boomers identified as free agents compared to just 26% of millennials.

Sen Warner New Relic

From left to right around table: Coco Brown, former COO, Taos; Shelly Kapoor Collins, CEO and Founder, Tech Hill Advisors; U.S. Senator Mark Warner; Kristin Sharpe, Sen. Warner’s Deputy Chief of Staff; Yvonne Wassenaar, CIO, New Relic; and Christine Vonderach, CIO, Blackhawk Network.

Senator Warner’s concern about this “gig economy” is that when economic hard times hit there will be no safety net to support this portion of the workforce. So he’s starting a dialogue around rethinking the traditional social contract to be more relevant in this new work environment. And in response to attracting more women and minorities to technology, Senator Warner asserted, “It’s not only the morally right thing to do, but the right business thing to do. It’s the right business decision to make sure everybody is empowered.” 

A new role for women leaders?

With these profound changes to both business models and workforce demographics, I believe there has never been a greater need to increase the number of women in technology leadership positions. Based on my experience, women leaders often have a strong focus on innovation, collaboration, and teamwork that aligns well with what is needed to succeed today. I also see women leaders as strong stewards of social consciousness. Specific policies aside, I believe women leaders have the potential to be the perfect partners to help Senator Warner drive the discussion around needed changes in our current social contract. These perspectives resonated around the room at the roundtable, sparking a hearty discussion.

What is the biggest barrier to getting women into tech leadership roles today? Based on our discussion, my conclusion is that there is no silver bullet but a few key themes to consider:

  • Unconscious biases
  • Lack of role models
  • The need to attract more girls and young women to technology earlier in their lives

Not surprisingly, many of the women in the room are already working to address these issues through programs they run, organizations they support, and how they lead in their own lives at work and at home.

Everyone in the room had stories of personal struggles we have had to overcome and shared their deep desire to create a better world for their children. It is this personal connection and purpose that I believe we can now capture to drive accelerated change.

Putting women on the board

As we wrapped up the discussion, Senator Warner invited the group to bring him potential policy changes. One area discussed was how to increase the number of women on public boards. According to a July Bloomberg report, men hold more than 80% of all S&P 500 board seats, and growth in female representation has slowed. This despite published research from Harvard Business Review and Catalyst linking more women on boards to higher collective intelligence of the team and better financial results.

So why are there so few women on public boards? The group didn’t believe it was due to lack of supply, but was split on whether policy changes is the right answer.

Several European countries have implemented board mandates. However, in the U.K. they are taking a different approach. The 30% Club is a group of CEOs and chairmen that is trying to persuade investors to take board-gender composition into account versus policy mandate. Since the club’s founding in 2010, the proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards has risen from 12.5% to more than 25%. In June 2014, the club cheered the end of all-male boards among the FTSE 100.

Inspired by the passion in the room, my outlook has never been more positive. From my perspective, technology is opening the door and almost demanding that we get more women into leadership roles to ensure we are creating the future world we want for our businesses, our communities, and our children. Given the leadership and commitment present at the roundtable, I believe that while we have much work to do, we’re on the road to developing and implementing new approaches to deal with the fast-evolving changes driven by the Digital Business Transformation and the gig economy.

Finally, a huge thank you to my co-hosts Shelly Kapoor Collins and Senator Mark Warner for driving this conversation and helping us take action. And thanks to all the amazing women who joined us at New Relic for this discussion:

Yvonne is recognized as a thought leader in how to maintain business relevance in a rapidly changing world. Her personal passions are the advancement of women in leadership/STEM along with driving forward the concept of “shared value” with corporations. As New Relic’s Chief Information Officer, Yvonne divides her focus between the company’s growth strategy and development of the supporting unified technology and data platform. Yvonne is also New Relic’s executive sponsor for their nonprofit program and diversity efforts. View posts by .

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