When asked to write a blog post about “Women in Technology,” the undertaking seemed somewhat less than uplifting. There have been scores of articles about the lack of women in technology fields and concern over the attrition rates for those who do enter. Therefore, dear reader, I hope you will permit me to use this space to share some information, as well as my thoughts on what we can do about those concerns to encourage more female talent to build a career in technology.
First: Why Women?
Studies show that racially and gender diverse companies are likely to outperform the nondiverse companies in their respective industries. Likewise, companies with diverse executive teams surpass those with fewer female and minority executives. Management consulting firm McKinsey calls this the “diversity dividend.” A Quantopian study of female CEOs in the Fortune 1000 revealed that, over time, female-led companies produce equity returns 226% better than their male counterparts’ companies. And there are tangible benefits to the diversity of thought and stakeholder representation that women bring to the boardroom, which is why 2020 Women on Boards is focused on increasing the number of women on corporate boards to 20 percent by 2020.
Where Are We Today?
This is where the news is not so good. The number of women in technology professions has been declining since 1991, when it hit a peak of 36 percent of the total workforce.
LinkedIn posted a “Trends of Women in Sales” infographic from their user database that showed an alarmingly small percentage of women in technology leadership roles, an excerpt of which is below. While women make up more than half the population and about half the workforce according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are considerably underrepresented in tech. All of this information leads to the conclusion that attracting and retaining women in technology requires effort — but effort that is rewarded with increased success for those companies committed to making it.
Trends of Women in Sales
What Do We Do about It?
To dispel an enormous myth: women are not abandoning well-paying tech careers to raise children, at least not in the droves that many popular articles and books imply. The Center for Talent Innovation* found that only 20 percent of the women who left their technology jobs did so to take time out of the workforce; 49 percent of women continue to use their training but in a different company, while 31 percent took a nontechnology job. But, where care for family is concerned, flexibility is the leading factor to combat the issue of women simply opting out. Though many companies, including CDW, have the capacity for flexible work schedules, individual managers may make this difficult or impossible to use in practice. Workplace flexibility benefits all coworkers, not women alone. Talk to your HR department about ideas to make situations work, or reach out to other departments for creative ideas.
Engagement appears to be the key. Women seek roles where they can express creativity; environments that suppress collaboration and creativity in favor of competition may negatively impact female engagement. Making a conscious effort to create diverse, collaborative working groups will improve the outcomes of those teams. Leaders typically choose these groups in an informal manner, so immediate improvement through attention to the team make-up is possible.
Recruiting is an area where instant progress is possible. Ensure that you are reviewing a diverse slate of candidates and, where practical, use a diverse group of interviewers. Conducting an all-male panel or series of interviews with only male interviewers could unintentionally signal to potential recruits that diversity is not valued in your organization. You can seek out a peer or member of your team to be deliberate about using a diverse group to conduct the interviews.
Mentoring is another place where everyone can make a difference by reaching out to women in the organization and providing them advice and a sounding board for their career development. Informal mentoring doesn’t need to be burdensome on either party and can frequently have as many benefits for the mentor as the mentee. The additional connection to another person in the organization improves retention and workplace satisfaction.
Promoting female talent is another area for improvement. Although the data supports that moving women into leadership roles benefits organizations financially, the pace of change is amazingly slow. Unfortunately, women tend to be shuffled into administrative and execution roles rather than strategic and creative roles. As recently as 2013, the most common job for a woman was still a secretary, the same as in 1950. This is not related to any dearth of female talent within technology. By making progress through increased engagement, focus on diverse recruitment practices, and taking the time to mentor, we will increase the number of females likely to be promoted into leadership positions. While this step truly gains momentum only after we have actively worked on the others, managers can make immediate progress in this area using the same recruiting methods discussed above.
Lastly (for now) — keep the conversation going. While I recognize these are sometimes difficult conversations to have, it is incumbent upon everyone in the IT business to continue to have them. You can raise the consciousness of those around you by simply bringing up the subject of creating more diverse groups and identifying unconscious bias wherever you encounter it.
* Cited by the Center for Talent Innovation: Hewlett, S.A., Buck Luce, C., Servon, L., Sherbin, L., Shiller, P., Sosnovich, E., & Sumberg, K. (2008). The Athena factor: Reversing the brain drain in science, engineering, and technology. New York: Center for Work-life Policy.