Ideas Made to Matter
In boardrooms and in STEM, women talk about where they see more representation
Sangeeta Lala, MBA ’15, has worked as a senior development manager and co-founder, and she is currently vice president of global account management at global electronics contract manufacturer Flex. As she’s moved up the corporate ladder, she’s noticed more women making the same climb.
“There was a time when I was possibly the only female in a global meeting of a dozen or more participants,” Lala said. “I see the female voices multiply with passing years. Much of this progress has happened methodically due to structured initiatives like hiring practices, pay and benefits structuring, retention and rehiring programs, and customized development and training.”
In 2020 Ideas Made to Matter launched The Bias Cut, a women’s leadership series profiling the career paths and creative problem-solving of MIT Sloan alumnae. These leaders also share their observations on the progress they’ve seen in the workplace. Below, they offer insights into scaling that momentum throughout their industries.
In the boardroom and at the front of the room
“As a keynote speaker for more than 10 years, I’ve been excited to see more minority and female keynote speakers entering the industry. While there has been significant progress made as a result of the #MeToo movement and other social justice advancements, there’s still a long way to go and more efforts to make. Similar to the way S&P 500 companies now have at least one woman on their boards, I’ve seen a number of organizations make conscious efforts to book a diversity of speakers for their events and leadership conferences.” — Erica Dhawan, MBA ’12, expert in collaboration, communication, and teamwork; author of Digital Body Language
“I do see a difference in the boardrooms. Thanks to many of the institutional investment companies and the state of California, most boardrooms now have at least two female board members, and institutional investors' interest in environmental, social, and governance is driving more discussion around diversity metrics and even aligning them to performance goals.” — Julie Johnson, SM ’90, vice president and general manager, mobile computing business unit, Zebra Technologies
“There’s certainly more of a focus on gender balance and diversity across the board than there used to be. And that means female CEOs have the opportunity to sit on panels or speak at events where they might normally just have been among the audience. A major reason for this is because female CEOs offer unique perspectives on leadership and hiring diverse talent, and they help show the path for other women in the audience to becoming a CEO as well. The more representation of female leaders across all industries, the more we can encourage women earlier in their careers to see examples that fuel their own choices and career paths.” — Heidi Zak, MBA ’07, co-founder and CEO of ThirdLove
“There has been progress in female representation, but we are not where we need to be. Women only represent 28% of the STEM workforce. I believe having visible female role models in the space is key. Women need to see other women in the roles that they aspire to. It is also important that we have female leaders in the space who take the time to connect with individuals who are interested in a career in STEM.” — Dannielle (Sita) Appelhans, MBA ’11, COO at Rubius Therapeutics
“I have seen the tech industry take huge strides over the past five years. Large companies in particular seem very committed to hiring and promoting based on aptitude and track record, regardless of demographics. I think the wheels are already in motion, but in business, you can’t have control if you don’t have capital. Having more women in positions closer to capital — as investors, founders, and executives — will do the most in accelerating the tech industry’s evolution.” — Andrea Friedenson, MBA ’09, founder and CEO of Project Armor
“There are a growing number of entrepreneurs, investors, and operators who have put women’s health on the map. The acceleration of digital health innovation combined with prominent female voices has made the past several years ripe for this disruption. I see this momentum continuing through various health care, women’s health, and female-focused programs and networks that I’m a part of (Luminary, The 10th House, etc.). These organizations have been very vocal and proactive in supporting women across various roles and industries.” — Alessandra Henderson, MBA ’16, co-founder and CEO of digital health platform Elektra Health