A CEO explains which roles are still stubbornly male and in desperate need of more female hires. 

By Penny Herscher (President & CEO, FirstRain)

Our world is changing very fast, and the role of women is changing fast with it — and, mostly, for the positive. We have more women in power, more women in the workforce, more women in control of their lives but there still aren’t representative numbers of women at the top of companies.

And yet, we now know that diverse teams make better decisions. We know women make 85% of consumer buying decisions, and so, if you sell anything to them, you probably want women in your decision structure. As a CEO, if you’re making strategy decisions, and hiring decisions, you want a diverse set of opinions around you to advise you. It’s time to pro-actively bring women into your workforce.

So why would any company build an all-male leadership team now, or an all male board, or a board that is mostly male with one token female? The most often-cited reason is that there are no qualified candidates — what baloney! When Twitter filed for its IPO with no women on the board (despite the dominance of women on social media) the reason given was: “The issue isn’t the intention, the issue is just the paucity of candidates.”

It’s just not the truth (as the NYT kindly pointed out to Twitter at the time). There are women available to hire, but you have to be determined to build a diverse leadership team to make it happen because the easier path (less work) is to hire people just like you: men. You have to be willing to do the extra work, find the diverse candidates, and open up your job spec to change your company for the future — and for the better. It’s just good business.

Here are three roles where you can change the numbers:

Board of Directors

Mostly male still. Women hold only 16.9% of board seats, 10%of boards have no women on them and those numbers are barely changing. If, as many boards do, you set your search criteria narrowly… for example, must have been a CEO (that cuts most women out), must have prior board experience (that cuts most women out), must be retired (the women in the workforce are newer and so less likely to be retired) then, presto! all you see are male candidates.

The solution here is to open your search up to operating executives who are not CEOs. They are in related industries in powerful operating positions like CIO, GM or CFO and probably have no prior board experience. But everyone starts somewhere, and there are excellent training programs you can go to to learn how to be a public company director.

Software Engineers

Mostly male still. And with hiring practices like the “Bromance Chamber” at DropBox not surprisingly! Twenty percent of CS majors are girls, and the best technology companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel et al) both compete to hire them and invest in programs like the Anita Borg Institute to learn how to both recruit them, and retain them. But the best companies also reach outside the rigid spec of pure computer science.

Again the solution is to be open to a wider set of candidates, without compromising quality. Open up to girls (and boys) with math majors, or double majors in math and computer science — those who wouldn’t make it through the narrow filter of typical CS hiring processes, but who are likely smarter, harder working, and need just a small amount of training to be fully effective for your company. Facebook even runs a summer intern program for students without technical degrees, knowing they can train them and wanting the very best brains for their engineering teams.

Sales People

Mostly (white) male still. A lingering bastion of the smart, golf-playing male in a crisp white shirt. When challenged on the limited number of female candidates being presented, most recruiters will whine and complain about the limited pool.

The solution: Deliberately ask your recruiter to do the extra work to find the diverse candidates. At my company our sales recruiter did, and we found excellent female candidates immediately. It’s been my experience that women sell just as well as men, so why not get a mixed team in place so you see the selling challenges from more than one perspective?

In all these cases, you are not trying to hire women. I’d never compromise the quality of the hire for race or gender. Many women would (quite rightly) be offended if they thought they were only being hired because of their gender. What you are doing is insisting on a diverse candidate pool and a level playing field for those candidates. And, in my experience, that leads to stronger candidates, to gender balanced teams and, as a result, to better decisions.

At my own company, FirstRain, where I am CEO, our board is 50% women. My senior leadership team is half men, half women. That’s no accident. If you are determined to see diverse candidates you will — and have absolutely no compromise on quality — quite the reverse!

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post. Image credit: dr. coop via Flickr.  

Penny_Herscher_Photo_April_2011_croppedAbout the guest blogger: Penny Herscher is President and CEO of FirstRain. Follow her on Twitter @pennyherscher