This post also appeared on LinkedIn.
International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month notably elevate the platform for celebrating women’s accomplishments. And there are many new accomplishments to celebrate: Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first woman Vice President of the United States. Dr. Swati Mohan landed the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars. Kim Ng was named the general manager of the Miami Marlins, the first woman to hold such a position in Major League Baseball. And Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became the first African and first woman to lead the World Trade Organization.
“Firsts” are potent symbols of advancement towards equality. But often, seconds, thirds, and fourths are just as noteworthy: This year’s “Top Women in Cybersecurity” articles featured little overlap with previous lists. The mere anecdote that more women merit such recognition signals tangible progress.
Highlighting Zscaler’s remarkable women leaders
This month, we celebrate the accomplishments of women leaders driving innovation at Zscaler. They include Cloud Operations Director Diana Vikutan, who oversees the operations of more than 150 Zscaler data centers around the globe; Director of Service Enablement and Operations Jey Govindan, who ensures service excellence for every Zscaler customer; Data Scientist Dianhuan Lin, who crafts the complex Machine-Learning algorithms behind Zscaler threat protection; Finance SVP Melissa Balentine, who keeps the company’s financial operations running smoothly; and many more.
A modest proposal: Build a culture of inclusivity
For all of the progress that women have achieved in the past year, there is still work to be done. Women lead more Fortune 500 companies than ever before, but they still represent only 7.4% of F500 CEOs. The gender wage gap persists, and maddeningly, true wage parity may be a century away.
As corporate leaders, we have a responsibility to address such inequities. Aside from the ethical and moral purpose of such an effort, it’s just good business. Accenture has reinforced what should be accepted, common-sense knowledge: the more equal a corporate culture, the greater the innovation. Report author and Accenture Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer Ellyn Shook promotes strong cultural inclusivity almost as a corporate superpower, calling it “a powerful multiplier of innovation and growth.”
To foster that innovation and growth, corporate leaders can take action now to establish their own cultures of inclusivity.
- Remove barriers to advancement. A McKinsey study found that the recent COVID-19 pandemic impacted women more than men, noting that “Working mothers have always worked a “double shift”—a full day of work, followed by hours spent caring for children and doing household labor. Now the supports that made this possible—including school and childcare—have been upended.” Want women leaders to succeed? Support childcare programs so they don’t face an unfair choice between family and work.
- Set women up for leadership success. Research by Catalyst suggests that “Women are over-represented in support functions like administration, while men tend to be concentrated in operations, profit and loss, and research and development—all viewed as critical experiences for CEO and board-level positions.” Corporate leaders must recognize their own companies’ blind spots. It’s no simple fix, but it can start with aggressive diversity recruiting, establishing mentoring programs for women employees, institutionalizing pay equity, and ensuring that all voices -- especially those that have been traditionally marginalized or diminished -- are heard and amplified.
- Invest in STEM. Growing up, girls must fight to dispel gender stereotypes in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Those obstacles keep many girls from pursuing further education and careers in STEM fields. But there is something we can do about it. Organizations that depend on technology -- and that’s most of them -- must invest in STEM programs for girls to ensure that the next generation of technical talent is even more diverse. (Here at Zscaler, we support Girls Who Code.)
At the Australian Open tennis tournament last month, Alexis Ohanian wore a t-shirt featuring a picture of his spouse, Serena Williams. Next to her image were the words “Greatest Female Athlete.” The description—apt as it was—was all the more accurate because the word “Female” was crossed out. On this International Women’s Day, and throughout this Women’s History Month, we acknowledge the achievements of women like Diana Vikutan, Jey Govindan, Dianhuan Lin, Melissa Balentine, Kamala Harris, Dr. Swati Mohan, Kim Ng, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. And we’ll continue to appreciate them, this month, next month, and every day after that.