Key takeaways

  • Technology has a democratising effect that creates non-traditional paths to leadership.
  • Diversity in leadership is needed to build a company that promotes inclusive and innovative cultures.
  • A human-centred approach will enable a caring culture that allows employees to thrive and get the most impact out of tech.

Diversity is a goal that many organisations aspire to and are actively working towards improving. After all, it’s been proven that a more inclusive workforce can dramatically increase a company’s growth prospects.1 Yet despite the best intentions of leadership, achieving this goal is a challenging and at times frustrating endeavour.

At the same time, companies are forging ahead with executing on their digital transformation strategies. These two goals can in fact be mutually beneficial: the democratising nature of technology, and the empowerment it provides employees, can create new avenues to improve the prospects for diversity in the workforce all the way to the C-suite.

When employees have access to the same technological tools, and the ability to work openly and socially, equality of opportunity abounds. For example, digital innovations such as “marketplaces” (what we call a “digital lab” at PwC) provided by employers give employees the opportunity to post bots and other types of innovation they’ve developed. Enabling employees to work socially as they comment and help improve their colleagues’ innovations, it is a place where all team members have an equal footing from which to interact, learn, work and experiment in new ways. It also harnesses the essence of digital upskilling that a rapidly changing work environment demands.

In a digital lab, innovations can come from anyone, regardless of their rank within an organisation. This means that a senior manager may be using a tool such as a bot, developed by a junior staffer, and in this way, talent, regardless of gender, race or seniority, can bubble up to the top in a much more dynamic way. This, combined with the movement of democratising workplaces towards being more open and social, creates a synergy with the technology that offers talent more opportunities to be ‘seen’.

All the way
to the top

Technology can also play an essential role in fostering greater diversity and inclusiveness in corporate leadership, especially in the C-suite where women and minorities remain vastly underrepresented. For example, despite making up 48.5% of the global workforce, women still account for only a scant 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs.2

PwC’s recent analysis on female leadership in the apparel industry explores why such systemic imbalances remain. It cites familiar barriers to advancement that transcend industries, namely:

  • unconscious bias
  • lack of CEO championship
  • institutional blind spots
  • succession and pipeline issues
  • challenges balancing family and career
  • lack of active sponsorship by influential mentors

While discussing how best to break down these barriers, the analysis also underscores the role of technology as an equaliser for women in industries traditionally dominated by male CEOs. One only needs to look at the tech startup world for examples of trailblazing measures that are enabling and encouraging diversity. Take the example of female entrepreneurs Katrina Lake of Stitch Fix and Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway.3 4 Both forged digital paths to success in the apparel industry to start their own companies based on tech innovation. They have also set a strong cultural standard from the top: both have taken substantial parental leave while at the helm of their respective companies.

And for all, once parents return from leave, technology can enable flexible working that can help break down the barriers that juggling family and career creates for women in particular. The PwC analysis also points out that creating a culture that enables men to participate equally in child rearing by offering incentives such as paid parental leave for all parents will also go a long way to solving this imbalance.

The benefits
are tangible

Tech can advance inclusion, and it should be a natural starting point not because it’s a business imperative but because diversity and inclusion works. Widely reported outcomes confirm that female leadership is profitable, innovative and socially responsible. According to a study of almost 20,000 companies across 90 countries, when female leadership is lifted by 30%, it leads to an average 15% rise in profitability.5

A study by the University of Arizona found that companies with women in upper level management illustrate an ‘innovation intensity’, meaning they produce an average of 20% more patents than teams with male leaders.6 A proven correlation exists between the inclusion of women on company boards and their performance on social responsibility metrics.7

A culture
of inclusivity

But for technology to be effective at helping build inclusion it requires more than just its existence for the potential to be fully realised. According to PwC’s Consumer Intelligence Series, employees reported that they want to upgrade their tech skills within a human context. In an environment where the pace of change can be unsettling, a culture of caring must prevail for employees to thrive. It is the starting point for employees to feel like they belong and that their contributions matter.

The outcomes of this are encouraging: technology within a human-centered backdrop enables a form of nontraditional, grassroots leadership to bubble up, helping companies advance next-generation innovators and leaders as identified by the merit of their contributions.

It’s a far cry from traditional leadership routes that tended to rely on who you knew, your similarity to leadership, or how long you were at a company. The equality of opportunity afforded by technology upends old habits. For example, a relatively inexperienced team member whose bot has been downloaded thousands of times may find a digital pathway to success that didn’t exist before.

Inclusive technology offers an effective path ahead. Everyone participates, and everyone has the same level of opportunity. Employees feel more valued. As a result, they contribute more, leading to engaged, productive teams. They also become emotionally committed – not just reluctantly compliant – to supporting and even accelerating a company’s digital journey.

For more of PwC’s insights into women in leadership in the apparel industry, download the Unraveling the fabric ceiling report.


Carrie Duarte


Carrie Duarte

Carrie Duarte is a principal and Workforce of the Future Leader at PwC US.

More About Carrie Duarte