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'Women Empowered' Highlights Role of Women in IT Innovation

One organization taking the initiative to improve gender representation in its industry is Cognizant Technology Solutions — whose employee-led Women Empowered initiative attracts and retains female associates through active recruitment, talent development, communication and networking.

This post is part of a series written by MBA and MPA candidates in Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course, examining the role of marketing in advancing sustainability across all sectors.

Do companies have a responsibility to improve and embrace equal gender representation in their industries? One organization answering this question with a resounding “Yes!” is Cognizant Technology Solutions, a Fortune 500 company that provides information technology, business consulting and outsourcing services to clients around the globe. One of the ways Cognizant is taking responsibility is through Women Empowered — an employee-led association launched to attract and retain female associates through active recruitment, talent development, communication and networking, as well as the events the group puts on to bring Cognizant’s clients along on this mission.

According to Kathryn Nash, Cognizant’s Senior Manager of Educational Affairs, the company’s leadership woke up to its responsibilities around gender representation a few years ago, when they realized that while Cognizant was outperforming its peers on the bottom line, it was behind in terms of diversity and unprepared to compete in that space. For a company whose brand emphasizes innovation and “next-generation solutions”, this troubling realization required immediate action. The result was Women Empowered, the first of several affinity groups described in Cognizant’s 2012 Sustainability Report as having the goal of promoting diversity within the company and furthering the personal and professional development of group members.

The group’s reach goes beyond the company’s internal network: Women Empowered also facilitates a series of Cognizant Community events aimed at female clients interested in improving gender equality in IT leadership. Nash was instrumental in putting on the premiere event, “Future of Work: The Next Generation,” which took place in Dallas in April 2012 and focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for young women. Since then, Cognizant Women Empowered has hosted several other events, including “The Female Effect: How Women Leaders Deliver Competitive Advantage and Top Every Company’s Most Wanted List” and “Innovation & The Female Effect: Exploring How Female Innovators are Making a Profound Difference in Our World, Communities, Lives and Work.” Speakers have included Jennifer Van Buskirk, president of Aio Wireless; Mary Davis Holt, partner at Flynn Health Holt Leadership; and Tricia Berry, director of the Women in Engineering Program at the University of Texas at Austin.

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I had the pleasure of attending Women Empowered’s March event, “Women & Social Media: How Women Leverage Social Media to Engage, Collaborate and Drive Business Innovation” held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, along with about 70 female executives from Cognizant client companies around the country. Cognizant CFO Karen McLoughlin welcomed us by speaking about the need for more women in STEM and pointing out that increasing workplace diversity can double a company’s productivity.

A highlight of the event was keynote speaker Johanna Blakley, PhD, Managing Director and Director of Research at the Norman Lear Center, who spoke about how women are — and are not — using social media to promote themselves professionally. A real-time poll taken of the women in the audience showed that “only 22% said that online social networking had ever helped them get a job or a promotion, even though a whopping 83% said they had helped others in their online networks do the same." Blakley drew a connection between these results and the fact that only “four percent of senior management positions in technical and R&D departments” in Silicon Valley belong to women to illustrate that, despite her findings that women are driving the social media revolution and companies are effectively using social media to increase the diversity of their workforces, there is still much progress to be made.

As Dr. Kelley McElhaney asserted recently here on Sustainable Brands, the numbers are in on the correlation between women in corporate leadership and increased share price and ROE, especially when it comes to environmental, social and governance factors. While the hard results of Cognizant’s efforts to empower women are yet to be seen — changes in hiring and promotion practices internally and at client companies, increased ROI, clear contribution to a rising number of young women in STEM fields — the company should be applauded for setting an example for its peers by demonstrating the indispensability of women to its goal of continued innovation.