For all the strides made by women in technology, they still lag their male counterparts when it comes to executive leadership roles. How can organizations support women in senior-level roles? Two powerful women explain why diversity is important in the workplace and share advice on overcoming diversity challenges for organizations, women, and men.

The conversation includes these topics:

Suja Chandrasekaran is Senior Executive Vice President, Chief Information and Digital Officer of CommonSpirit Health, which had 2021 revenue of $33.3 billion and 150,000 employees. Previously, she served as chief of information and digital technology at Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Walmart Inc., and Nestlé S.A. Suja received a master’s degree in business systems from Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, and a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Madras, Chennai, India.

Diana McKenzie is a Board member of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, MetLife, and other organizations. From February 2016 until April 2019, she served as Chief Information Officer of Workday, Inc., a cloud-based financial and human capital management software company. From 2004 through February 2016, she held roles of increasing responsibility at Amgen Inc., a biotechnology company, most recently serving as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer. Ms. McKenzie served for 17 years at Eli Lilly and Company, a pharmaceutical company, in various leadership roles, focused on drug development, reducing time to market and improving technology and security standards.

Transcript

Diana McKenzie: How does anybody step into a role, after they've been told they were promoted because they were a woman, and then deliver (for the first 90 days of their job) wondering where the target is on their back?

Suja Chandrasekaran: Women cannot do it by ourselves. We need women and men to work together to create an equitable work environment for everybody.

Michael Krigsman: That's Suja Chandrasekaran and Diana McKenzie explaining gender diversity. They formed an organization called T200 to address this issue.

Suja Chandrasekaran: T200 was formed from acknowledging women in tech is in record low numbers. Certainly, there are systemic barriers created by headwinds, and sometimes even tailwinds turn into headwinds.

About Suja Chandrasekaran

Michael Krigsman: Suja Chandra, welcome to CXOTalk. Please, tell us about your work.

Suja Chandrasekaran: I lead digital and tech as Chief Digital and Information Officer at CommonSpirit Health. We are a provider health system. We operate in 21+ states and serve our communities across the care continuum.

My background prior to this has been, I've been a technologist business leader at retail and consumer-focused industries. Marquee names that I've been a part of include Walmart. I was Global Chief Technology Officer at Walmart.

I led various leadership roles and led transformation at Nestle and, prior to CommonSpirit, I was at Kimberly-Clark. I also sit on the board of American Eagle Outfitters, Loom Global (which is a digital supply chain platform company), and Agendia, Inc. (where we focused on precision oncology with a specific emphasis around breast cancer).

Women's health is a passion for me. I also spend time mentoring and developing others, and we'll talk about that in the upcoming moments.

About Diana McKenzie

Michael Krigsman: Diana, let me introduce you and welcome you back to CXOTalk. Tell us about your work.

Diana McKenzie: I get the opportunity to serve on the boards of some very exciting companies, and I'm doing a senior advisory role with a private equity company called Brighton Park Capital. I also engage quite frequently with promising healthcare tech startups as an advisor and an investor.

That builds on 30 years of experience in life sciences, primarily in technology roles. I spent the last nine years of my career in chief information officer roles both at Amgen and at Workday.

Right now, probably the most exciting thing about my life is that I get more time to focus on paying it forward. I spend a lot of my time mentoring and advocating for women in technology and for people who live with brain health conditions.

On the importance of gender diversity in the workplace

Michael Krigsman: You're both such accomplished business leaders. Suja, you started—and I believe Diana was involved from the beginning—an organization called T200 that is dedicated to supporting women in senior-level business and technology roles. Tell us about T200.

Suja Chandrasekaran: Around the 2015-2016 timeframe, the women in tech numbers were regressing since the '90s when I started my career. At that time, there were about 28% of overall people in tech were women.

At that time, it was regressing below those numbers. I may be off by a few points. The numbers were still poor, still, about 37% of techs started to have only one woman director, 58% of women were concerned about the venture capital funding gap, and only 15% of CICOs (chief information cyber officers) are women.

With this awareness and also, in general, there was a need for women and women to be helped to reach those next-level roles. Even just being and creating an environment of comradery where we can help each other, we lift each other, we provide transparency.

Transparency is a prerequisite to equity. Transparency is a prerequisite to being able to present opportunity. There is a way you navigate career paths, and there is a way to teach people to do that.

And so, we started incubating this idea. What started as just a moment of inspiration got into then vetting the idea. What could this look like? Not letting perfect be the enemy of progress. Just speaking with other women, like-minded women that are passionate as me, and then starting a group.

In the early days, it was just literally three, four, five of us got together. It was a WhatsApp chat group, so we included women into that WhatsApp chat group, and we connected on various topics:

  • Hey, what's going on?
  • What are you doing here?
  • There is this problem, cyber security issue.
  • How are you addressing that, this talent situation?
  • I need to prepare and present to my board.
  • How are you approaching this particular topic? What questions to anticipate.
  • How can we lift others?

We grew, and we set this community up based on invitation only. We do have a certain criteria that we're very curious about, and then it grew. Five became ten. I literally remember those first few days.

With a last name like mine, it does take a little bit more influence and convincing of who this is, what's your agenda. Then we found those women who are equally passionate in giving to others as well as receiving. We are now about 200, 200+, I would say, and we matriculated from a WhatsApp chat group to a Slack platform.

Certainly, the topics range in a multitude of possibilities. Helping each other is certainly paramount. We launched Lift, which is about lifting other women, the next generation of women who are at the C-level minus one, which Diana was very much part of that initiative in mentoring and developing women.

We set ourselves goals. We're very goal-driven, mission-driven, principles-driven, purpose-driven, and goals-driven. Just like we bring the whole self of what we do at work, we bring it to T200.

Entirely voluntary, so it's a 501(c)(3). Diana and I worked very closely together to get it registered as a not-for-profit. We have a formal board, and we both sit on the board along with a few other women.

We are thriving. We are helping each other, which in itself is a great story, what we got together, and lifting up the next generation is an even greater story.

What are the challenges of gender equality and workplace diversity for executive women?

Michael Krigsman: Diana, let me pose this to you. What is the fundamental challenge when it comes to women in senior leadership roles?

Diana McKenzie: These women, having access to role models, advocates, and mentors. If they don't have these, then it's increasingly challenging for them to have the transparency that Suja referenced earlier to understand what opportunities exist in the environment.

It's challenging for them because they don't necessarily know and/or appreciate the importance of building those external networks and ensuring that while they're heads-down doing what they're trying to do inside their company, they also understand what the broader context is for what they could be bringing to the company to drive the business of the company. These unequal growth opportunities, you learn about those opportunities by engaging with networks.

There's a misperception that women have that they must have all the skills before they apply for a job, and it's not a perception that's shared by many men. And so, the opportunity to have someone who would advocate, sponsor for them, and take the risk.

I'll give you a specific example. When I was a senior manager at Eli Lilly & Company, there was a new director of architecture and strategy position had been formed. I had a very powerful (in my mind) mentor, advocate, who advocated for me to step into that role before I might have been ready.

I would say the same thing was the case for me when I stepped into the CIO role at Amgen. Bob Bradway recognized that I might not be ready but advocated for me to take that role. I will forever be grateful to those advocates for helping me take that next step.

Contributing in a male-dominated setting and being heard is something that we hear a lot about women, and it impacts their confidence if they don't feel like they're being heard. In reality, it may not have anything to do with whether they are being heard or not being heard, but the fact that they lack the context because the men that are in the room have a different context to the networks they participate in that the women don't. I'll continue to come back to the networking point as well.

I would say the last thing that is a challenge just overall is 74% of young women express a desire for a STEM career, yet the reinforcement of that career opportunity fades such that by the time they get to a university, they don't choose those careers. Or even if they apply to university, the admission requirements are so difficult that they're unable to bridge the gap.

I think there are a number of factors that play into this that we as a community of leaders (both men and women) can help to address to grow the number of women in these senior leadership roles.

Michael Krigsman: Is this a bias issue? Is it an access to information issue? What's going on? What are the dynamics at play here?

Suja Chandrasekaran: Even if let's say there are some skills to be built, where do you focus? We all grow up in different elements of the ladder. We play different roles. What skills to focus on? What leadership competencies to develop? Also, how do you communicate those stories, and how do you communicate it in a way that resonates?

This is hiring a chief technology officer, hiring a chief digital officer. It's not easy for the CEO (and sometimes the boards). It is a role that spans the entire spectrum of the company. Transformations are difficult. Change is always difficult. And so, it's an equally challenging role for the C-suite and the board.

For us to be able to teach and help women to make those connections, not just the network but you're in the conversation, and how do you connect with a person you're speaking to in a way that you can tell what you have done and show the credibility of what you bring to the table, that is one thing we do fairly frequently. It's that perspective of lifting up, looking at your story of what you've accomplished, everything you've done, and then presenting it in a way that's relevant to that conversation.

The other angle I would say is it's a double whammy when there are not enough of somebody in a particular role. Let's say there aren't enough women. Even today, there's 18% of C-level tech leaders, digital leaders – call it whatever – only 18% are women.

When you don't have enough, and then the pyramid is sort of consistent. I would say your lead tech in the cloud, you wouldn't see a woman in a cloud data center for miles.

When you don't see enough, you can't believe in it. That goes not just for the women who are aspiring. It also goes to people that are hiring. So, there is an element of turning around and telling these stories in forums like this and in other forums, so there is the believability so that when you look at a particular role, you can also envision a woman in that role.

This is a true story, and it happened. There was a group of people that went to an event. There was one woman, a token woman, in that group. Nobody believed she was an engineer. They thought she was there to take notes. She started, this woman, somewhere in the nation – I forget where – this hashtag #imawomanengineer.

It goes with an example. It goes both ways. One is if there aren't enough role models, what can women aspire to? But it also is enough of, if you don't see, there isn't the believability. We create that overall experience.

Of course, the advocacy. Advocacy for each other, women lifting women, presenting them with the opportunities, those are all very much necessary in order to address the access topic.

Diana McKenzie: When Suja and I met for the first time in (I think it was) 2019, Suja had been on this journey with the T200 community to build T200. I had moved to the Bay Area in 2016 to take the role at Workday.

Shortly after moving to that area, I had the opportunity to start meeting some of the other technology leaders in the Bay Area. I was surprised to find that quite a few of these leaders were women.

I was surprised because even when I was at Amgen and I would make trips to the Bay Area to attend the VC community gatherings for chief technology officers and information officers, or some of the larger software vendors' annual customer meetings, I literally was 1 of 2 women in a sea of 40 men.

There wasn't any desire for that bias to exist. it just did because there was no network of women going to these events. Therefore, the men went and the women didn't.

That's what caused us to start the Silicon Valley Women's CIO Network. A couple of us said, "This is just silly," because there's so much that we can learn and also contribute in these events that will take us all back to our companies and make us better, make our teams better, make our companies better.

When Suja and I met, we actually bridged those two groups. We still have the Silicon Valley Women's CIO Network with a very special set of relationships between now over 40 women, but many of these women are also part of T200.

That's one story about bias.

I think the second one, if we take it up to 100,000 feet, there really is scarcely a company or an organization anywhere in the world that isn't undergoing some sort of transformation to become a more digital company. Every company, so it's not just technology companies anymore; it's every company.

That pivot is creating incredible demand for these specialized roles that Suja referenced earlier: technology, product, data, cyber security, human-centered design. On the boards on which I sit and the companies that I advise, one of the biggest challenges is hiring, filling all of their open jobs with the talent they need.

If we continue to limit the supply to a subset of the population that's out there and capable of contributing, not only will these companies not be able to compete and hit their goals, but it could be an existential threat for their ability to survive and exist in this world that's becoming increasingly digital.

You think about then the social impact of companies in the healthcare and the financial services sector and the fact that they're adopting artificial intelligence and machine learning models over these large data sets. But we know that these data sets are inherently flawed because of the biases that are introduced because care delivery in the healthcare setting or the services that are delivered to populations have historically not included everyone from a diverse demographic.

When we think about who better to solve those problems, ensure that the technology solutions that are being built in these companies are representative of the customer and stakeholder population, it's just super important from a social impact perspective that we solve this problem not just from how do we make everybody feel good that we have good, diverse representation in the company.

How can parents support their children and promote equality and diversity?

Michael Krigsman: We have a very interesting question from Twitter. This is from Arsalan Khan, who is a regular listener and asks such great questions. Thank you for that, Arsalan. He says this: "What do you think is the role of societal patriarchy that can affect women in technology and engineering?" He's wanting to know really about the broader social roots, the underlying context that enables this situation to exist and perpetuate.

Suja Chandrasekaran: It's certainly what we do in our homes with our children, boys and girls. What we do with them plays a huge role.

If you look at the history and a track record of any successful man or woman, they would always say they would go a parent, a mother or father, a teacher, a mentor that they met in their younger age. That plays a huge role.

My mother, for example, said you can be whatever you want. You put your mind to it. You find what you're good at. You find what you enjoy. Then you be the best at that.

She never stopped me, even though I was raised in India, which is generally a lot more patriarchal than other societies. I went to engineering school, I went to tech school, and I came through that path.

But I was quite surprised sometimes when I come to the U.S. This is a true story. A friend of ours, her daughter, she went to school in SoCal. The high school that she went to, her high school counselor discouraged her from doing a tech curriculum.

Her high school teacher – I'm talking ten years back. I'm not talking medieval ages. Ten years back, a teenage girl at that point was discouraged from doing that, and she picked her second-best interest, which was Japanese. Language is always a great thing. It opens up new frontiers. All that is great, but her real passion was tech.

She ended up coming back into tech afterward, but she lost some wonderful years during the time when she could be spending time learning. That kid is now an amazing software programmer. She works for one of the large studios here in California. She's coding animation. She's sitting with software engineers, so she calls me and talks to me and gets counseled from me.

Yes, absolutely, everybody plays a role. There is a fair amount of discouragement.

Both in my prior jobs as well as even in general, I reach out to high school students. It is important to catch the girls in their sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade. Those are very formative years. Show them the role models.

This is common knowledge. When the television series X-Files came about, there were a lot of girls and women who became detectives. How many role models do we have that are software engineers coding code in movies? Where are we seeing that women are stepping up and solving complex cybersecurity problems? Let's see that in society. Let's see that everywhere.

Let's talk about that to girls and boys. I'm not about neglecting our boy children, our male children, but it certainly is necessary that we encourage our women, our female children, to focus and encourage them.

Yeah, it is going to be hard. Okay, so heck yeah. We can solve it. We can address it. It is going to be a lot of work, but we can do it.

Surrounding them with those kinds of environments so that they can thrive. Yes, absolutely. Families, societal, school environments, mentors, friends, everybody plays a crucial role.

Michael Krigsman: Diana, picking up off of this, we have another question from Twitter. This is from Wayne Anderson who says, "Companies like Microsoft who do care intensely about overcoming bias are having trouble getting candidates in many roles. What are we not doing? Do we need to invest in STEM and user groups? But it's very hard to hire people."

I'll just comment that this is true for both men and women, in general. But still, there is this perception that, hey, we want to hire a woman but we're not getting enough qualified candidates. What about that?

Diana McKenzie: I think the perception is reality. I actually happen to have a son who manages a technical recruiting group in tech as well, and we talk a lot about this.

I think if we go back to how Suja answered the former question, there is no question a pipeline challenge for us. In 1985, 37% of the computing degrees were women. Today, it's 18%, so that number has declined.

One of the opportunities for us is to focus on that, quite frankly, zero to K to 12 continuum to ensure that we're doing everything in our power, both men and women, focused on women and racial-ethnic diversity as well, in that pipeline to attract these young people to technology careers.

I do think a big challenge that we faced through those years when the dot-com era was big, when there was sort of a hacking mentality, a gaming mentality that came to engineering roles is it was difficult for women, young women, to find a place there.

But in reality, I think we all know, Microsoft knows, that technology is a means to an end. In essence, what we're really trying to do is solve business problems, and we're trying to do it creatively.

Being a technologist gives you the tools to solve business problems in very creative and artistic ways. I think if we can tell the story different to young women as they're coming through these earlier years of their schooling, to engage them, it makes a big difference.

I also think that where we are now, there's an opportunity to demonstrate (as you've suggested) as a company, that there's a real commitment to creating a diverse workforce. In doing so, the ability to attract and retain the talent that you want to have represented in your workforce increases.

But in addition to that, there may be some other steps that can be taken. The first of those would be to ensure that all of the men inside the company—when we're talking about a gender-specific issue—have a commitment to mentor and advocate for a balanced slate of talent inside the company: men, women, racially diverse, et cetera.

In addition to that, making sure that there's flexibility in how the networks are pulled together. How do teams gather outside of work? How do they gather inside of work? In this new space of flex working, how do you make sure everybody has an opportunity to participate when we're working around work-life balance priorities?

Then lastly, many companies are suspending the expectation or the requirement to hire someone with a degree. There are a number of technology positions that people can apply for and contribute inside a company and start to work on their degree while they're there.

There also is the opportunity to reskill employees that are already there who have an interest and an aptitude for technology.

There are multiple ways to get there, notwithstanding the fact that our pool right now is not as great as it needs to be and that needs to be a priority for the nation.

How can organizations overcome the challenges of diversity in the workplace?

Michael Krigsman: Suja, Diana was just describing the intention to create a balanced and diverse workforce. Beyond the intention, what should organizations be doing in order to make this happen and address these issues?

Suja Chandrasekaran: I'll start with a couple of stories. One is women do drop out of universities even after starting a tech path.

A colleague of mine, her daughter started in a BS engineering, computer science. She did the freshman year. She did the sophomore year. Then she gave up.

It was too hard. She was not part of the groups that were working together for better grades. She didn't feel good. Her grades were slipping, so she dropped off.

A pipeline problem has to be relentless, consistent, catching women where they are not starting in the line or they are dropping off the pipeline. We have to create a very consistent mechanism in creating and watch out for those.

I will also tell, in general, there is a drive for talent and this happened in my own family. One of my family members, a young kid, she came home for Thanksgiving. She said she's been working 60-hour weeks for the last 2 years straight.

She was taking her first weekend off, and then her boss called and said, "You have to work. Get back to work."

The kid was sitting there crying, and I went and spoke to her and find out, "Why are you crying?"

She said, "I hadn't taken a day off, and I was working 60 hours every day the last 2 years through COVID, and then the first time I was going to take a day off during Thanksgiving and I can't because I have to get back to work."

I said, "It'll be fine." I calmed her down. She got her work done, and then she went. And then she looked for a job for a couple of weeks.

She quit the previous job, which is with one of the blue-chip large companies. I don't want to name them. She went and now she's coding autonomous vehicles with another company. A top-notch software engineer.

This is happening around everybody. This is not just a woman thing. We have to watch out.

When I probed a little bit deeper with her what happened, "Why do you have to work so hard? Nobody should be doing that, and aren't your teammates working? What exactly is happening?" she said there have been open accounts and they haven't filled it for two years. This is one of the richest, multi-trillion valuation company.

This is a tough situation. We need to help everybody lift up.

What have we done practically? I believe in setting very clear goals.

At CommonSpirit Health, we had to hire quite a few people. We've hired 500+ people in the last couple of years.

We gave ourselves a goal that we should meet a goal of 30% of women and people of diversity. It was both. It was not just women. It was women and people of diversity, 30%.

It's interesting. When you set these goals, there are different perspectives. All perspectives are valid, but it's interesting to reread those patterns.

There was a group that said, "Are we stupid? How are we going to get the goals? There are not 30% women to get the goals. There aren't 30% women that are going to be available."

Then the other group said, "Why 30%? It should be 50%. Did you look around the society? 50% of us are women."

I knew I wasn't going to win that game, but I said, "You know what? We need to set 30%. We'll see where we get."

It was not easy, but I give great credit to my organization. We achieved a 40% of our new hires were women and people of diverse backgrounds – 40%. When we did that, now we have amped up our goal. It is at least 40%, and the subsequent hiring needs to be even farther than that.

Now, I'm in healthcare, and health tech is in an interesting situation. There is a general challenge for women in tech, and healthcare even more of a tougher environment because of the hours, and especially in COVID in the frontline of the battle, so we have to work two times as hard to make this happen.

There was a comment that's floating around, which I thought would be good to share with you all. "Diversity just doesn't happen because you talk about numbers. When the leader practices diversity, inclusion and belong follows instinctively."

The whole continuum of the long game, the whole continuum of being included, the whole continuum of access. You hire in the 10, 15 years back, it's very easy to find one person, one woman in a group, very easy to find one person of color in a group because there was a tokenization of checking the box and counting a number. But certainly today, the focus is around diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging, and access.

That continuum is what is needed, not just to bring in people, but also to keep them there because, without that access, they are not going to thrive. Without that sense of belonging gives the clarity.

I lived this. I go into a room and I'm the only woman in the room or only person of color. It creates a mental dissonance. You have to gather yourself a little bit more to be fully present in that event. You practice it, and you get better at it. But people who are just pushed into those environments, we have to help them.

The environment needs to be accepting and belonging. Then accept the diversity of perspectives that they bring. It's not about just bringing someone because it's nice to have that box checked, but when they say something different.

Women tend to be a lot more nurturing and caring. Women tend to be a lot more focused on people. I put people first. When women do that, then focus on that. Hear that.

Definitely, there is a meaning and a larger purpose to it than just the morality of it. Morality is important—not any less—but there is a clear economic value because ultimately it's in the diversity of those perspectives that the right decisions come about.

Give them the space to speak. Give your voice a place. Those are some of the tips I would offer, Michael.

What is the impact of working from home on a woman's career path?

Michael Krigsman: We have another question coming in from Twitter. You can see I prioritize the questions that come in from the audience. They're always great questions.

This is from Emma McDonald who's picking up on something you both discussed a little bit earlier. She's saying, "Can you comment on the impact to a woman's career progression related to working from home over these last two years that you guys have discussed and it's been in the press recently?"

Diana McKenzie: Suja, I'll pick up, and then you can build.

The most recent statistic is that the quit rate, if you will, for women in tech roles in 2021 was 53%, which just continues to build on this conversation we've been having.

Because they were at home, their children (if they had children) were also at home, and they were trying to manage the work and the school schedules. And in many cases, mom and dad were both at home, or mother and their partner were at home, trying to manage the children. It was a challenge for everyone, but it demonstrated itself in terms of statistics more for the women.

I think the benefit now, as we emerge from the pandemic and we're seeing companies embrace more flexible working conditions, is we have an opportunity to go someplace that we weren't necessarily able to go before from a flexibility standpoint. There are women who are able to get up in the morning, take their kids to school, work, go pick their kids up from school, and then get back on at night. Having that additional flexibility in their calendar addresses some of the challenges that caused a number of them to back away.

I think, to your point, the question about inclusion is a question not only for women but it's also a question for anybody that is going to spend the vast majority of their time working from home when there are people in the office and the two have to interact with each other. There is this element of intentionality that Suja was referencing earlier that flows through this entire conversation all the way back to the paternalistic question that we got. That is, if the success of your company and your ability to compete is dependent upon the quality of the talent you have in your workplace, and your goal is to engage that talent, retain that talent, develop that talent, then as a leadership team, you have to do everything in your power to make sure you're creating an environment that engages and promotes inclusiveness.

It's a very different way of operating than many, many companies operated prior to the pandemic. I think there are a lot of companies that are still figuring it out but, ultimately, it comes down to the role the manager plays in ensuring that they're creating an inclusive environment for their team regardless of whether they're working from home, they're working from inside the office, and/or they represent gender or racial diversity.

What should companies do to improve gender balance?

Michael Krigsman: I think, ultimately, we have to ask the question, what should companies be doing?

Suja Chandrasekaran: Three things, and it's definitely at the organizations but it's also the individuals. Here is what I mean by that.

I don't believe the playbooks of the work from home, the hybrid work environment, the playbooks have not been shaped and clear yet. They're not clear yet. I think it is evolving, and we are going to be learning over the next several months and years.

Tools and technologies are better but they need to mature and emerge in a much further way, and we are all part of shaping that industry also. Action for managers: creating that environment, creating that rich environment.

Examples: chat groups. Watercooler conversations have completely stopped, so create those informal chat groups. Create informal environments so people can come and thrive. Create an equitable work environment. Create opportunities to work asynchronously.

What it takes in your specific company situation so that everybody can be included and, in particular, the women can take advantage of it.

To Diana's point, women have been lopsidedly impacted because typically they have been the caregivers for the young age as well as the senior caregiving is also with the women. Give them that space. Create the environment. That is for the organizations and the environment to prepare and produce.

Now, as an individual, we also have a role to play. To the person who brought up the question, I love her for asking that question because she's reflecting on it, she's thinking about it.

Two things happened. One is, through the work from home, the introverts started thriving because a lot of it is on chat and that is an element of not being able to speak up, but I am okay to think about my sentence and put it on chat. Whereas in a meeting, an extrovert or people who generally tend to speak, they take over the conversations. So, people could leverage and take advantage of some of the modalities that introverts and women tend to be a little bit more on the introverted side, especially women in tech, so they can start taking advantage of those.

But thinking through influence techniques, every individual needs to do that. How I influence, how I engage with my peers, how I engage with my leaders, how I engage with my organization, what do I need to do?

Engaging with the networks was much easier when you just went on a conference and you grabbed coffee with someone. You had a meal with someone. You just waved to someone. You gave them a casual hug on the way between conference sessions. Those are all gone.

When you're doing that on Zoom, it is even more intentionality to create that similar networking environment. To some people, it actually can be an advantage because if you see social media, the introverts started getting engaged a lot on social media, in general, ten years back.

Intentionally thinking through individual's influence mechanisms, all things considered, where we are, is also up to the individual as well. I'm sure there's a lot of coaching and teaching that can be done.

I will finish what I said, Michael. I don't think the playbooks are written yet. We're all learning. Personally, I worry a lot about my organization and am I doing enough. I think we have to think about it and talk about it and create that more.

How should women respond to gender bias?

Michael Krigsman: What should women do when they observe bias in the workplace?

Diana McKenzie: I'm going to share a story about when this happened with me and how I handled it. I think the first thing any woman needs to do is take a step back and seek to understand what just happened.

It doesn't mean that it wasn't intentional bias, but trying to understand, first, sort of allows the perspective to then say, "As I approach the person that generated the bias (or said the sexually harassing remark), were they aware of how that landed on me? Were they aware that that wasn't acceptable? Ultimately, can we get to closure on that so that I can see if it's going to happen again?"

Then if it doesn't happen again, we sort of circle back to the conversation we've been having. "Hey, this environment may not be an environment that truly values diversity, equity, inclusion, and there are so many environments out there that are emphasizing this right now. Maybe the right place for me to be is in one of those environments."

What I'll say is when I was very first promoted to director – and I referenced that earlier – our CIO at the time was getting a lot of pressure from the executive management at the company that he didn't have enough women on his leadership team.

I was told by the HR executive director that I was given the promotion because I was a woman and that all of my peers (male), some of them had some concerns about my promotion and they had been given 90 days to schedule time with me to tell me what their concern was.

How does anybody step into a role, after they've been told they were promoted because they were a woman, and then deliver (for the first 90 days of their job) wondering where the target is on their back?

I had that conversation with the HR director, and I said I am not waiting 90 days. Within the next week, I scheduled one-on-ones with every single one of my new peers and had a conversation with them asking for open, candid feedback about what their concerns were about my ability to perform in this role.

Ultimately, there's no question there were feedback and observations for me in terms of how I participated, influenced, et cetera. But ultimately, I ended up being exceedingly successful in the role, and some of these individuals that I worked with at the time, I continue to stay very connected to in my network.

I think, at the outset, allowing a bad situation to take things in a more negative direction without trying to address it head-on, you're missing the opportunity to potentially educate and improve the environment for other women.

Michael Krigsman: Suja, we're just about out of time, so very quickly, what can men do?

Suja Chandrasekaran: Every woman will tell you there were men along the way that helped to lift them. The allyship, the kinship, the understanding of the circumstances, the willingness to reach and lift them.

Many men come to us and say, "Hey. My mom was a big player in my life. I have my daughter. I worry about my two daughters. I want them to have role models."

Give them confidence. Women generally tend to be low in confidence. There's a beautiful book called Confidence Code. Give them confidence. Be their cheerleaders. Don't call them emotional. Watch out for the biases that Diana talked about. You can be their sponsor, advocate.

Women cannot do it by ourselves. We need women and men to work together to create an equitable work environment for everybody.

Michael Krigsman: Unfortunately, we're out of time. A huge thank you to Suja Chandra and to Diana McKenzie. Thank you both so much for taking time to be here today. I really am grateful to you.

Diana McKenzie: Michael, thank you. It was a pleasure.

Suja Chandrasekaran: Thank you, Michael.

Diana McKenzie: Suja, always a pleasure.

Suja Chandrasekaran: Thank you, Diana.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching. Before you go, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. Hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so we can send you our newsletter. Tell a friend. Check out CXOTalk.com. We have amazing shows coming up. You really should subscribe to the newsletter. We'll see you next time. Have a great day, everybody. Bye-bye.

Diana McKenzie: How does anybody step into a role, after they've been told they were promoted because they were a woman, and then deliver (for the first 90 days of their job) wondering where the target is on their back?

Suja Chandrasekaran: Women cannot do it by ourselves. We need women and men to work together to create an equitable work environment for everybody.

Michael Krigsman: That's Suja Chandrasekaran and Diana McKenzie explaining gender diversity. They formed an organization called T200 to address this issue.

Suja Chandrasekaran: T200 was formed from acknowledging women in tech is in record low numbers. Certainly, there are systemic barriers created by headwinds, and sometimes even tailwinds turn into headwinds.

About Suja Chandrasekaran

Michael Krigsman: Suja Chandra, welcome to CXOTalk. Please, tell us about your work.

Suja Chandrasekaran: I lead digital and tech as Chief Digital and Information Officer at CommonSpirit Health. We are a provider health system. We operate in 21+ states and serve our communities across the care continuum.

My background prior to this has been, I've been a technologist business leader at retail and consumer-focused industries. Marquee names that I've been a part of include Walmart. I was Global Chief Technology Officer at Walmart.

I led various leadership roles and led transformation at Nestle and, prior to CommonSpirit, I was at Kimberly-Clark. I also sit on the board of American Eagle Outfitters, Loom Global (which is a digital supply chain platform company), and Agendia, Inc. (where we focused on precision oncology with a specific emphasis around breast cancer).

Women's health is a passion for me. I also spend time mentoring and developing others, and we'll talk about that in the upcoming moments.

About Diana McKenzie

Michael Krigsman: Diana, let me introduce you and welcome you back to CXOTalk. Tell us about your work.

Diana McKenzie: I get the opportunity to serve on the boards of some very exciting companies, and I'm doing a senior advisory role with a private equity company called Brighton Park Capital. I also engage quite frequently with promising healthcare tech startups as an advisor and an investor.

That builds on 30 years of experience in life sciences, primarily in technology roles. I spent the last nine years of my career in chief information officer roles both at Amgen and at Workday.

Right now, probably the most exciting thing about my life is that I get more time to focus on paying it forward. I spend a lot of my time mentoring and advocating for women in technology and for people who live with brain health conditions.

On the importance of gender diversity in the workplace

Michael Krigsman: You're both such accomplished business leaders. Suja, you started—and I believe Diana was involved from the beginning—an organization called T200 that is dedicated to supporting women in senior-level business and technology roles. Tell us about T200.

Suja Chandrasekaran: Around the 2015-2016 timeframe, the women in tech numbers were regressing since the '90s when I started my career. At that time, there were about 28% of overall people in tech were women.

At that time, it was regressing below those numbers. I may be off by a few points. The numbers were still poor, still, about 37% of techs started to have only one woman director, 58% of women were concerned about the venture capital funding gap, and only 15% of CICOs (chief information cyber officers) are women.

With this awareness and also, in general, there was a need for women and women to be helped to reach those next-level roles. Even just being and creating an environment of comradery where we can help each other, we lift each other, we provide transparency.

Transparency is a prerequisite to equity. Transparency is a prerequisite to being able to present opportunity. There is a way you navigate career paths, and there is a way to teach people to do that.

And so, we started incubating this idea. What started as just a moment of inspiration got into then vetting the idea. What could this look like? Not letting perfect be the enemy of progress. Just speaking with other women, like-minded women that are passionate as me, and then starting a group.

In the early days, it was just literally three, four, five of us got together. It was a WhatsApp chat group, so we included women into that WhatsApp chat group, and we connected on various topics:

  • Hey, what's going on?
  • What are you doing here?
  • There is this problem, cyber security issue.
  • How are you addressing that, this talent situation?
  • I need to prepare and present to my board.
  • How are you approaching this particular topic? What questions to anticipate.
  • How can we lift others?

We grew, and we set this community up based on invitation only. We do have a certain criteria that we're very curious about, and then it grew. Five became ten. I literally remember those first few days.

With a last name like mine, it does take a little bit more influence and convincing of who this is, what's your agenda. Then we found those women who are equally passionate in giving to others as well as receiving. We are now about 200, 200+, I would say, and we matriculated from a WhatsApp chat group to a Slack platform.

Certainly, the topics range in a multitude of possibilities. Helping each other is certainly paramount. We launched Lift, which is about lifting other women, the next generation of women who are at the C-level minus one, which Diana was very much part of that initiative in mentoring and developing women.

We set ourselves goals. We're very goal-driven, mission-driven, principles-driven, purpose-driven, and goals-driven. Just like we bring the whole self of what we do at work, we bring it to T200.

Entirely voluntary, so it's a 501(c)(3). Diana and I worked very closely together to get it registered as a not-for-profit. We have a formal board, and we both sit on the board along with a few other women.

We are thriving. We are helping each other, which in itself is a great story, what we got together, and lifting up the next generation is an even greater story.

What are the challenges of gender equality and workplace diversity for executive women?

Michael Krigsman: Diana, let me pose this to you. What is the fundamental challenge when it comes to women in senior leadership roles?

Diana McKenzie: These women, having access to role models, advocates, and mentors. If they don't have these, then it's increasingly challenging for them to have the transparency that Suja referenced earlier to understand what opportunities exist in the environment.

It's challenging for them because they don't necessarily know and/or appreciate the importance of building those external networks and ensuring that while they're heads-down doing what they're trying to do inside their company, they also understand what the broader context is for what they could be bringing to the company to drive the business of the company. These unequal growth opportunities, you learn about those opportunities by engaging with networks.

There's a misperception that women have that they must have all the skills before they apply for a job, and it's not a perception that's shared by many men. And so, the opportunity to have someone who would advocate, sponsor for them, and take the risk.

I'll give you a specific example. When I was a senior manager at Eli Lilly & Company, there was a new director of architecture and strategy position had been formed. I had a very powerful (in my mind) mentor, advocate, who advocated for me to step into that role before I might have been ready.

I would say the same thing was the case for me when I stepped into the CIO role at Amgen. Bob Bradway recognized that I might not be ready but advocated for me to take that role. I will forever be grateful to those advocates for helping me take that next step.

Contributing in a male-dominated setting and being heard is something that we hear a lot about women, and it impacts their confidence if they don't feel like they're being heard. In reality, it may not have anything to do with whether they are being heard or not being heard, but the fact that they lack the context because the men that are in the room have a different context to the networks they participate in that the women don't. I'll continue to come back to the networking point as well.

I would say the last thing that is a challenge just overall is 74% of young women express a desire for a STEM career, yet the reinforcement of that career opportunity fades such that by the time they get to a university, they don't choose those careers. Or even if they apply to university, the admission requirements are so difficult that they're unable to bridge the gap.

I think there are a number of factors that play into this that we as a community of leaders (both men and women) can help to address to grow the number of women in these senior leadership roles.

Michael Krigsman: Is this a bias issue? Is it an access to information issue? What's going on? What are the dynamics at play here?

Suja Chandrasekaran: Even if let's say there are some skills to be built, where do you focus? We all grow up in different elements of the ladder. We play different roles. What skills to focus on? What leadership competencies to develop? Also, how do you communicate those stories, and how do you communicate it in a way that resonates?

This is hiring a chief technology officer, hiring a chief digital officer. It's not easy for the CEO (and sometimes the boards). It is a role that spans the entire spectrum of the company. Transformations are difficult. Change is always difficult. And so, it's an equally challenging role for the C-suite and the board.

For us to be able to teach and help women to make those connections, not just the network but you're in the conversation, and how do you connect with a person you're speaking to in a way that you can tell what you have done and show the credibility of what you bring to the table, that is one thing we do fairly frequently. It's that perspective of lifting up, looking at your story of what you've accomplished, everything you've done, and then presenting it in a way that's relevant to that conversation.

The other angle I would say is it's a double whammy when there are not enough of somebody in a particular role. Let's say there aren't enough women. Even today, there's 18% of C-level tech leaders, digital leaders – call it whatever – only 18% are women.

When you don't have enough, and then the pyramid is sort of consistent. I would say your lead tech in the cloud, you wouldn't see a woman in a cloud data center for miles.

When you don't see enough, you can't believe in it. That goes not just for the women who are aspiring. It also goes to people that are hiring. So, there is an element of turning around and telling these stories in forums like this and in other forums, so there is the believability so that when you look at a particular role, you can also envision a woman in that role.

This is a true story, and it happened. There was a group of people that went to an event. There was one woman, a token woman, in that group. Nobody believed she was an engineer. They thought she was there to take notes. She started, this woman, somewhere in the nation – I forget where – this hashtag #imawomanengineer.

It goes with an example. It goes both ways. One is if there aren't enough role models, what can women aspire to? But it also is enough of, if you don't see, there isn't the believability. We create that overall experience.

Of course, the advocacy. Advocacy for each other, women lifting women, presenting them with the opportunities, those are all very much necessary in order to address the access topic.

Diana McKenzie: When Suja and I met for the first time in (I think it was) 2019, Suja had been on this journey with the T200 community to build T200. I had moved to the Bay Area in 2016 to take the role at Workday.

Shortly after moving to that area, I had the opportunity to start meeting some of the other technology leaders in the Bay Area. I was surprised to find that quite a few of these leaders were women.

I was surprised because even when I was at Amgen and I would make trips to the Bay Area to attend the VC community gatherings for chief technology officers and information officers, or some of the larger software vendors' annual customer meetings, I literally was 1 of 2 women in a sea of 40 men.

There wasn't any desire for that bias to exist. it just did because there was no network of women going to these events. Therefore, the men went and the women didn't.

That's what caused us to start the Silicon Valley Women's CIO Network. A couple of us said, "This is just silly," because there's so much that we can learn and also contribute in these events that will take us all back to our companies and make us better, make our teams better, make our companies better.

When Suja and I met, we actually bridged those two groups. We still have the Silicon Valley Women's CIO Network with a very special set of relationships between now over 40 women, but many of these women are also part of T200.

That's one story about bias.

I think the second one, if we take it up to 100,000 feet, there really is scarcely a company or an organization anywhere in the world that isn't undergoing some sort of transformation to become a more digital company. Every company, so it's not just technology companies anymore; it's every company.

That pivot is creating incredible demand for these specialized roles that Suja referenced earlier: technology, product, data, cyber security, human-centered design. On the boards on which I sit and the companies that I advise, one of the biggest challenges is hiring, filling all of their open jobs with the talent they need.

If we continue to limit the supply to a subset of the population that's out there and capable of contributing, not only will these companies not be able to compete and hit their goals, but it could be an existential threat for their ability to survive and exist in this world that's becoming increasingly digital.

You think about then the social impact of companies in the healthcare and the financial services sector and the fact that they're adopting artificial intelligence and machine learning models over these large data sets. But we know that these data sets are inherently flawed because of the biases that are introduced because care delivery in the healthcare setting or the services that are delivered to populations have historically not included everyone from a diverse demographic.

When we think about who better to solve those problems, ensure that the technology solutions that are being built in these companies are representative of the customer and stakeholder population, it's just super important from a social impact perspective that we solve this problem not just from how do we make everybody feel good that we have good, diverse representation in the company.

How can parents support their children and promote equality and diversity?

Michael Krigsman: We have a very interesting question from Twitter. This is from Arsalan Khan, who is a regular listener and asks such great questions. Thank you for that, Arsalan. He says this: "What do you think is the role of societal patriarchy that can affect women in technology and engineering?" He's wanting to know really about the broader social roots, the underlying context that enables this situation to exist and perpetuate.

Suja Chandrasekaran: It's certainly what we do in our homes with our children, boys and girls. What we do with them plays a huge role.

If you look at the history and a track record of any successful man or woman, they would always say they would go a parent, a mother or father, a teacher, a mentor that they met in their younger age. That plays a huge role.

My mother, for example, said you can be whatever you want. You put your mind to it. You find what you're good at. You find what you enjoy. Then you be the best at that.

She never stopped me, even though I was raised in India, which is generally a lot more patriarchal than other societies. I went to engineering school, I went to tech school, and I came through that path.

But I was quite surprised sometimes when I come to the U.S. This is a true story. A friend of ours, her daughter, she went to school in SoCal. The high school that she went to, her high school counselor discouraged her from doing a tech curriculum.

Her high school teacher – I'm talking ten years back. I'm not talking medieval ages. Ten years back, a teenage girl at that point was discouraged from doing that, and she picked her second-best interest, which was Japanese. Language is always a great thing. It opens up new frontiers. All that is great, but her real passion was tech.

She ended up coming back into tech afterward, but she lost some wonderful years during the time when she could be spending time learning. That kid is now an amazing software programmer. She works for one of the large studios here in California. She's coding animation. She's sitting with software engineers, so she calls me and talks to me and gets counseled from me.

Yes, absolutely, everybody plays a role. There is a fair amount of discouragement.

Both in my prior jobs as well as even in general, I reach out to high school students. It is important to catch the girls in their sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade. Those are very formative years. Show them the role models.

This is common knowledge. When the television series X-Files came about, there were a lot of girls and women who became detectives. How many role models do we have that are software engineers coding code in movies? Where are we seeing that women are stepping up and solving complex cybersecurity problems? Let's see that in society. Let's see that everywhere.

Let's talk about that to girls and boys. I'm not about neglecting our boy children, our male children, but it certainly is necessary that we encourage our women, our female children, to focus and encourage them.

Yeah, it is going to be hard. Okay, so heck yeah. We can solve it. We can address it. It is going to be a lot of work, but we can do it.

Surrounding them with those kinds of environments so that they can thrive. Yes, absolutely. Families, societal, school environments, mentors, friends, everybody plays a crucial role.

Michael Krigsman: Diana, picking up off of this, we have another question from Twitter. This is from Wayne Anderson who says, "Companies like Microsoft who do care intensely about overcoming bias are having trouble getting candidates in many roles. What are we not doing? Do we need to invest in STEM and user groups? But it's very hard to hire people."

I'll just comment that this is true for both men and women, in general. But still, there is this perception that, hey, we want to hire a woman but we're not getting enough qualified candidates. What about that?

Diana McKenzie: I think the perception is reality. I actually happen to have a son who manages a technical recruiting group in tech as well, and we talk a lot about this.

I think if we go back to how Suja answered the former question, there is no question a pipeline challenge for us. In 1985, 37% of the computing degrees were women. Today, it's 18%, so that number has declined.

One of the opportunities for us is to focus on that, quite frankly, zero to K to 12 continuum to ensure that we're doing everything in our power, both men and women, focused on women and racial-ethnic diversity as well, in that pipeline to attract these young people to technology careers.

I do think a big challenge that we faced through those years when the dot-com era was big, when there was sort of a hacking mentality, a gaming mentality that came to engineering roles is it was difficult for women, young women, to find a place there.

But in reality, I think we all know, Microsoft knows, that technology is a means to an end. In essence, what we're really trying to do is solve business problems, and we're trying to do it creatively.

Being a technologist gives you the tools to solve business problems in very creative and artistic ways. I think if we can tell the story different to young women as they're coming through these earlier years of their schooling, to engage them, it makes a big difference.

I also think that where we are now, there's an opportunity to demonstrate (as you've suggested) as a company, that there's a real commitment to creating a diverse workforce. In doing so, the ability to attract and retain the talent that you want to have represented in your workforce increases.

But in addition to that, there may be some other steps that can be taken. The first of those would be to ensure that all of the men inside the company—when we're talking about a gender-specific issue—have a commitment to mentor and advocate for a balanced slate of talent inside the company: men, women, racially diverse, et cetera.

In addition to that, making sure that there's flexibility in how the networks are pulled together. How do teams gather outside of work? How do they gather inside of work? In this new space of flex working, how do you make sure everybody has an opportunity to participate when we're working around work-life balance priorities?

Then lastly, many companies are suspending the expectation or the requirement to hire someone with a degree. There are a number of technology positions that people can apply for and contribute inside a company and start to work on their degree while they're there.

There also is the opportunity to reskill employees that are already there who have an interest and an aptitude for technology.

There are multiple ways to get there, notwithstanding the fact that our pool right now is not as great as it needs to be and that needs to be a priority for the nation.

How can organizations overcome the challenges of diversity in the workplace?

Michael Krigsman: Suja, Diana was just describing the intention to create a balanced and diverse workforce. Beyond the intention, what should organizations be doing in order to make this happen and address these issues?

Suja Chandrasekaran: I'll start with a couple of stories. One is women do drop out of universities even after starting a tech path.

A colleague of mine, her daughter started in a BS engineering, computer science. She did the freshman year. She did the sophomore year. Then she gave up.

It was too hard. She was not part of the groups that were working together for better grades. She didn't feel good. Her grades were slipping, so she dropped off.

A pipeline problem has to be relentless, consistent, catching women where they are not starting in the line or they are dropping off the pipeline. We have to create a very consistent mechanism in creating and watch out for those.

I will also tell, in general, there is a drive for talent and this happened in my own family. One of my family members, a young kid, she came home for Thanksgiving. She said she's been working 60-hour weeks for the last 2 years straight.

She was taking her first weekend off, and then her boss called and said, "You have to work. Get back to work."

The kid was sitting there crying, and I went and spoke to her and find out, "Why are you crying?"

She said, "I hadn't taken a day off, and I was working 60 hours every day the last 2 years through COVID, and then the first time I was going to take a day off during Thanksgiving and I can't because I have to get back to work."

I said, "It'll be fine." I calmed her down. She got her work done, and then she went. And then she looked for a job for a couple of weeks.

She quit the previous job, which is with one of the blue-chip large companies. I don't want to name them. She went and now she's coding autonomous vehicles with another company. A top-notch software engineer.

This is happening around everybody. This is not just a woman thing. We have to watch out.

When I probed a little bit deeper with her what happened, "Why do you have to work so hard? Nobody should be doing that, and aren't your teammates working? What exactly is happening?" she said there have been open accounts and they haven't filled it for two years. This is one of the richest, multi-trillion valuation company.

This is a tough situation. We need to help everybody lift up.

What have we done practically? I believe in setting very clear goals.

At CommonSpirit Health, we had to hire quite a few people. We've hired 500+ people in the last couple of years.

We gave ourselves a goal that we should meet a goal of 30% of women and people of diversity. It was both. It was not just women. It was women and people of diversity, 30%.

It's interesting. When you set these goals, there are different perspectives. All perspectives are valid, but it's interesting to reread those patterns.

There was a group that said, "Are we stupid? How are we going to get the goals? There are not 30% women to get the goals. There aren't 30% women that are going to be available."

Then the other group said, "Why 30%? It should be 50%. Did you look around the society? 50% of us are women."

I knew I wasn't going to win that game, but I said, "You know what? We need to set 30%. We'll see where we get."

It was not easy, but I give great credit to my organization. We achieved a 40% of our new hires were women and people of diverse backgrounds – 40%. When we did that, now we have amped up our goal. It is at least 40%, and the subsequent hiring needs to be even farther than that.

Now, I'm in healthcare, and health tech is in an interesting situation. There is a general challenge for women in tech, and healthcare even more of a tougher environment because of the hours, and especially in COVID in the frontline of the battle, so we have to work two times as hard to make this happen.

There was a comment that's floating around, which I thought would be good to share with you all. "Diversity just doesn't happen because you talk about numbers. When the leader practices diversity, inclusion and belong follows instinctively."

The whole continuum of the long game, the whole continuum of being included, the whole continuum of access. You hire in the 10, 15 years back, it's very easy to find one person, one woman in a group, very easy to find one person of color in a group because there was a tokenization of checking the box and counting a number. But certainly today, the focus is around diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging, and access.

That continuum is what is needed, not just to bring in people, but also to keep them there because, without that access, they are not going to thrive. Without that sense of belonging gives the clarity.

I lived this. I go into a room and I'm the only woman in the room or only person of color. It creates a mental dissonance. You have to gather yourself a little bit more to be fully present in that event. You practice it, and you get better at it. But people who are just pushed into those environments, we have to help them.

The environment needs to be accepting and belonging. Then accept the diversity of perspectives that they bring. It's not about just bringing someone because it's nice to have that box checked, but when they say something different.

Women tend to be a lot more nurturing and caring. Women tend to be a lot more focused on people. I put people first. When women do that, then focus on that. Hear that.

Definitely, there is a meaning and a larger purpose to it than just the morality of it. Morality is important—not any less—but there is a clear economic value because ultimately it's in the diversity of those perspectives that the right decisions come about.

Give them the space to speak. Give your voice a place. Those are some of the tips I would offer, Michael.

What is the impact of working from home on a woman's career path?

Michael Krigsman: We have another question coming in from Twitter. You can see I prioritize the questions that come in from the audience. They're always great questions.

This is from Emma McDonald who's picking up on something you both discussed a little bit earlier. She's saying, "Can you comment on the impact to a woman's career progression related to working from home over these last two years that you guys have discussed and it's been in the press recently?"

Diana McKenzie: Suja, I'll pick up, and then you can build.

The most recent statistic is that the quit rate, if you will, for women in tech roles in 2021 was 53%, which just continues to build on this conversation we've been having.

Because they were at home, their children (if they had children) were also at home, and they were trying to manage the work and the school schedules. And in many cases, mom and dad were both at home, or mother and their partner were at home, trying to manage the children. It was a challenge for everyone, but it demonstrated itself in terms of statistics more for the women.

I think the benefit now, as we emerge from the pandemic and we're seeing companies embrace more flexible working conditions, is we have an opportunity to go someplace that we weren't necessarily able to go before from a flexibility standpoint. There are women who are able to get up in the morning, take their kids to school, work, go pick their kids up from school, and then get back on at night. Having that additional flexibility in their calendar addresses some of the challenges that caused a number of them to back away.

I think, to your point, the question about inclusion is a question not only for women but it's also a question for anybody that is going to spend the vast majority of their time working from home when there are people in the office and the two have to interact with each other. There is this element of intentionality that Suja was referencing earlier that flows through this entire conversation all the way back to the paternalistic question that we got. That is, if the success of your company and your ability to compete is dependent upon the quality of the talent you have in your workplace, and your goal is to engage that talent, retain that talent, develop that talent, then as a leadership team, you have to do everything in your power to make sure you're creating an environment that engages and promotes inclusiveness.

It's a very different way of operating than many, many companies operated prior to the pandemic. I think there are a lot of companies that are still figuring it out but, ultimately, it comes down to the role the manager plays in ensuring that they're creating an inclusive environment for their team regardless of whether they're working from home, they're working from inside the office, and/or they represent gender or racial diversity.

What should companies do to improve gender balance?

Michael Krigsman: I think, ultimately, we have to ask the question, what should companies be doing?

Suja Chandrasekaran: Three things, and it's definitely at the organizations but it's also the individuals. Here is what I mean by that.

I don't believe the playbooks of the work from home, the hybrid work environment, the playbooks have not been shaped and clear yet. They're not clear yet. I think it is evolving, and we are going to be learning over the next several months and years.

Tools and technologies are better but they need to mature and emerge in a much further way, and we are all part of shaping that industry also. Action for managers: creating that environment, creating that rich environment.

Examples: chat groups. Watercooler conversations have completely stopped, so create those informal chat groups. Create informal environments so people can come and thrive. Create an equitable work environment. Create opportunities to work asynchronously.

What it takes in your specific company situation so that everybody can be included and, in particular, the women can take advantage of it.

To Diana's point, women have been lopsidedly impacted because typically they have been the caregivers for the young age as well as the senior caregiving is also with the women. Give them that space. Create the environment. That is for the organizations and the environment to prepare and produce.

Now, as an individual, we also have a role to play. To the person who brought up the question, I love her for asking that question because she's reflecting on it, she's thinking about it.

Two things happened. One is, through the work from home, the introverts started thriving because a lot of it is on chat and that is an element of not being able to speak up, but I am okay to think about my sentence and put it on chat. Whereas in a meeting, an extrovert or people who generally tend to speak, they take over the conversations. So, people could leverage and take advantage of some of the modalities that introverts and women tend to be a little bit more on the introverted side, especially women in tech, so they can start taking advantage of those.

But thinking through influence techniques, every individual needs to do that. How I influence, how I engage with my peers, how I engage with my leaders, how I engage with my organization, what do I need to do?

Engaging with the networks was much easier when you just went on a conference and you grabbed coffee with someone. You had a meal with someone. You just waved to someone. You gave them a casual hug on the way between conference sessions. Those are all gone.

When you're doing that on Zoom, it is even more intentionality to create that similar networking environment. To some people, it actually can be an advantage because if you see social media, the introverts started getting engaged a lot on social media, in general, ten years back.

Intentionally thinking through individual's influence mechanisms, all things considered, where we are, is also up to the individual as well. I'm sure there's a lot of coaching and teaching that can be done.

I will finish what I said, Michael. I don't think the playbooks are written yet. We're all learning. Personally, I worry a lot about my organization and am I doing enough. I think we have to think about it and talk about it and create that more.

How should women respond to gender bias?

Michael Krigsman: What should women do when they observe bias in the workplace?

Diana McKenzie: I'm going to share a story about when this happened with me and how I handled it. I think the first thing any woman needs to do is take a step back and seek to understand what just happened.

It doesn't mean that it wasn't intentional bias, but trying to understand, first, sort of allows the perspective to then say, "As I approach the person that generated the bias (or said the sexually harassing remark), were they aware of how that landed on me? Were they aware that that wasn't acceptable? Ultimately, can we get to closure on that so that I can see if it's going to happen again?"

Then if it doesn't happen again, we sort of circle back to the conversation we've been having. "Hey, this environment may not be an environment that truly values diversity, equity, inclusion, and there are so many environments out there that are emphasizing this right now. Maybe the right place for me to be is in one of those environments."

What I'll say is when I was very first promoted to director – and I referenced that earlier – our CIO at the time was getting a lot of pressure from the executive management at the company that he didn't have enough women on his leadership team.

I was told by the HR executive director that I was given the promotion because I was a woman and that all of my peers (male), some of them had some concerns about my promotion and they had been given 90 days to schedule time with me to tell me what their concern was.

How does anybody step into a role, after they've been told they were promoted because they were a woman, and then deliver (for the first 90 days of their job) wondering where the target is on their back?

I had that conversation with the HR director, and I said I am not waiting 90 days. Within the next week, I scheduled one-on-ones with every single one of my new peers and had a conversation with them asking for open, candid feedback about what their concerns were about my ability to perform in this role.

Ultimately, there's no question there were feedback and observations for me in terms of how I participated, influenced, et cetera. But ultimately, I ended up being exceedingly successful in the role, and some of these individuals that I worked with at the time, I continue to stay very connected to in my network.

I think, at the outset, allowing a bad situation to take things in a more negative direction without trying to address it head-on, you're missing the opportunity to potentially educate and improve the environment for other women.

Michael Krigsman: Suja, we're just about out of time, so very quickly, what can men do?

Suja Chandrasekaran: Every woman will tell you there were men along the way that helped to lift them. The allyship, the kinship, the understanding of the circumstances, the willingness to reach and lift them.

Many men come to us and say, "Hey. My mom was a big player in my life. I have my daughter. I worry about my two daughters. I want them to have role models."

Give them confidence. Women generally tend to be low in confidence. There's a beautiful book called Confidence Code. Give them confidence. Be their cheerleaders. Don't call them emotional. Watch out for the biases that Diana talked about. You can be their sponsor, advocate.

Women cannot do it by ourselves. We need women and men to work together to create an equitable work environment for everybody.

Michael Krigsman: Unfortunately, we're out of time. A huge thank you to Suja Chandra and to Diana McKenzie. Thank you both so much for taking time to be here today. I really am grateful to you.

Diana McKenzie: Michael, thank you. It was a pleasure.

Suja Chandrasekaran: Thank you, Michael.

Diana McKenzie: Suja, always a pleasure.

Suja Chandrasekaran: Thank you, Diana.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching. Before you go, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. Hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so we can send you our newsletter. Tell a friend. Check out CXOTalk.com. We have amazing shows coming up. You really should subscribe to the newsletter. We'll see you next time. Have a great day, everybody. Bye-bye.