How to Be a Male Ally for Women in Technology

Earlier this summer, I caught up with Nora Denzel over breakfast at Mayfield Bakery in Palo Alto. Nora is a tech executive with a distinguished career as General Manager, SVP Engineering, CEO, and Board Member. And Nora has also been a great mentor for me over the years.

Nora has always been a big proponent of women in tech, and she has helped my team over the years. We talked about the progress over the past few years, and in particular how men (like me) can — and must — be allies, advocates, and sponsors for women in technology. For all you men out there, here’s my three-step playbook for how you can help the women technologists in your organizations.

And if you’ve read my blog post from a year ago, there’s new news in this post. We’ve made even more progress with women technologists and leaders. So read on, my friend.

Understand Your State and Set Goals

For me, this journey began back in March 2013, when I was a VP of Engineering at Intuit leading a 420-person Engineering team. After an all hands in March 2013, I had invited my Directors to join me for the Q&A session. One brave engineer, Denise McInerney, had the courage to ask her manager, Siddharth Ram, why there were no women on my staff. Siddharth and I invited Denise to present at my staff meeting, and Denise led us through an eye-opening presentation on the state of women in technology, which included alarming data on women dropping out mid-career.

After conducting a detailed gender analysis on my organization, I realized that “Houston, we have a problem.” I saw the following trends in my team:

  • There were no women in the following roles: architect, group manager (who leads other managers), or Director.
  • Women comprised 24% of the overall team, but women represented less than 10% of the leadership and staff engineer roles.
  • Women were 3x less likely to be ready for promotion than their male counterparts.

After many skip-level meetings, discussions at my staff, we decided to focus on developing a talent pipeline of women ready for senior leadership roles: Director, group managers, architect, and principal engineer. I asked each Director to mentor at least 2 women managers and each Architect or Principal Engineer to mentor at least 2 women staff engineers.

Over the past three years, we’ve demonstrated a lot of progress, and the future is bright. Several women have helped lead the change within my organization, and they have been great partners during this journey, and they have become very accomplished technology leaders along the way.

  • Denise McInerney is now an Architect, and she leads the data analytics strategy for our broader Small Business team, which has over 1000 engineers.
  • Late last year, Manasa Murthy became the Engineering Director for the Online Payroll front-end team.
  • Apparna Ramadoss relocated from Bangalore to Mountain View and now leads the QuickBooks Online front-end Engineering team.
  • Shruti Kulkarni leads the SaaS billing platform within QuickBooks Online, which helps us bill over 1.2M paying customers. Shruti is an alum from my team, and she is now part of our Platform team.
  • Anandhi Krishnaswamy is the Director of Quality Engineering for the QuickBooks team based in Bangalore, which generates over $1.6B in annual revenue and over 3.5M active customers. Anandhi is also an alum, but we still work closely together.
  • Loy Searle is the Director of Globalization for Small Business, and she leads a team that enables us to deliver QuickBooks in 12 languages to 100 countries. Loy recently joined my staff, and she’s already become an integral member of the leadership team.

And the future looks bright. We have many women in the leadership team, and the pipeline for group manager roles and Director roles is promising. For the first time in years, the pipeline for leaders ready for promotions in the coming year is nearly gender-balanced.

Sponsor High-Performing Women

There have been many great articles on the difference between mentorship and sponsorship. Mentorship is meeting regularly, being available for questions, and providing coaching and feedback. Mentorship is essential, but it is only the first step. Sponsorship facilitates career advancement by: creating visibility for outcomes and providing opportunities to take on broader roles beyond current charters. Here are some simple ways to sponsor women leaders in your team:

  • Identify mentors for high-performing women, and ensure that mentors meet regularly with their mentees. Many of the men on my staff have been great mentors and sponsors for women technologists: Guy Taylor, Madhav Nair, Dave Pickering, and Siddharth Ram, to name a few. Each of them has invested in meeting monthly with women leaders, including the ones named previously.
  • Invite women leaders to participate in your staff meetings and your strategy sessions. This serves two purposes. These women can observe how their leaders operate, and they will understand what is expected at the next level. By having these women present their work, you are creating a natural mechanism for talent reviews and visibility to leaders within your organization.
  • Send a woman leader as your delegate to a meeting when you can’t attend.
  • Invite women leaders to your staff dinners and informal get-togethers. By creating an informal environment where they can participate in the banter, you are developing more informal and casual connections and making yourself and your leadership team more approachable.
  • Identify stretch responsibilities. Shruti and Apparna, who are based in Bangalore, have led innovation programs in Bangalore along with their counterparts in Mountain View.
  • Hold a monthly skip-level lunch with the women leaders in your team. Manimala leads this forum, where my male peers and I are regular attendees. Manimala has recruited external and internal speakers, hosted panel discussions, and has also encouraged women leaders to present their own “journey lines.” In this forum, women leaders network with their peers and interact regularly with their senior leaders.

All of these steps will help develop confidence in the women you are sponsoring and will create visibility into their leadership capabilities and outcomes.

It’s a Marathon that Takes a Village

Developing the women technologists in your team requires patience and perseverance. Two years ago, my staff defined very specific goals around developing a talent pipeline of senior women leaders, architects, and principal engineers. Each member of my staff played an active role in mentoring and sponsoring women leaders.

By setting specific goals around mentorship and sponsorship, we saw immediate results after the first year. Before this focus, women were 3x less likely to be ready for promotion than their male counterparts. After one year, we had erased this gap, and men and women showed equal readiness for promotion.

And we’ve seen many benefits from the process:

  • Overall employee engagement — for men and women — has improved year-over-year to 82. And engagement scores are even higher (84+) in teams where leaders like Dave, Guy, and Madhav have been active male allies for women leaders.
  • Retention rates for women are very high in my team. Over the past two years, only one woman manager (of a population of 20+) has resigned. I still see that as my failure; but, who knows, she might return.
  • Across Intuit, we have made great progress. Women now hold 29% of all technology roles, up from 24% just a few years ago.

Focusing on advancing women engineers has generated no backlash from the men in my team. We have demonstrated that there is plenty of opportunity for women and men, and we are creating equal opportunities for advancement. This is a message I’ve repeated in all hands and reinforced with data on promotions. But we’re not done. Soon, we will analyze data from the last fiscal year and identify opportunities for improvement.

I hope this blog post has caused you to reflect on your own team and what you can do to join our small — but mighty — group of male allies!

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