Although it’s obvious to most of us that the tech industry would benefit widely from closing the gender gap, we don’t always know how to foster an environment for women’s involvement and leadership. As companies face a tech talent shortage, recruiting and retaining female candidates adds an extra challenge to the talent acquisition process.
That’s why today’s post seeks to answer the question: How can companies place more women, not only in tech but in tech leadership roles?
We’ll first get an idea of the current, unfortunate state of women in tech by looking at some of the latest stats. Next, we’ll touch on why women’s leadership is good for business. And lastly, but most importantly, we’ll examine 9 ways that companies can get more women into tech positions and senior leadership positions, as well as how to keep them there.
The Current Unfortunate State of Women and Women’s Leadership in Tech
As of 2019, women represented less than half (47%) of the total labor force in the United States.
According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, despite the high demand for STEM jobs, only 25% of IT positions are filled by women. Shockingly, this means there are fewer women in tech in the U.S. now than there were in the 1980s.
And the situation is even more alarming for women from underrepresented populations. Of the 25% of women working in tech, 5% are Asian, 3% Black, and 1% Hispanic.
A Pew Research Center study revealed that 50% of women report experiencing gender discrimination at work, compared to only 19% of men who report experiencing gender discrimination.
Lack of Growth
78% of women in tech also feel they have to work harder than their male colleagues to prove their worth. Women feel less enthusiastic than men about promotion prospects because of a lack of support and lack of mentorship and exclusion from after-work networking. One study found that “20.4% of women over the age of 35 in the tech sector remain in junior-level positions, in contrast to just 5.9% of men over the age of 35. In fact, women are more likely than men to hold junior-level positions in the tech industry, regardless of their age.” The good news is the percentage of women in senior leadership positions increased from 21% to 24% between 2018 and 2019. But for executive leadership positions, some studies put women in as little as 10% compared to a 23% average across all industries.
Women’s Employment in a COVID Context
As if the situation weren’t unfortunate enough, the global pandemic continues to drive a wedge in the gender gap. COVID-19 pushed millions of people out of the workforce, the majority of which are women. As of February 2021, unemployment for women was 1.9% higher than the pre-pandemic level.
Economic scenarios modeled by Oxford Economics and McKinsey project that women’s employment might not recover to pre-pandemic levels until the year 2024—two years after the estimated recovery for men.
The Benefits of Women in Leadership Roles
Now that we’ve read about the current regrettable state of the situation, let’s talk about why it’s imperative to fix it.
In 2021, it’s obvious (to most of us) why female representation and gender equality is the right path, ethically and morally.
But let’s take the moral and ethical reasons as a given, and address the business incentives—the bottom line. As if companies needed more motivation to get more women into senior positions and executive leadership, the fact is that gender diversity is just plain good for business.
Higher Profit Margins
Diversity leads to innovation and diverse teams experience more success.
According to Gartner, in 2019, the top 25% of companies with gender-diverse C-Level teams were 25% more likely to rank above-average profitability.
Harvard Business Review found that when a minimum of 30% of an organization’s senior supervisors and executives are women, it leads to a 15% increase in profit.
Higher Retention and Employee Satisfaction
Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that organizations in which 50% or more senior leadership positions are held by women are more likely to retain their female employees. Women reported feeling that the company is more trustworthy and also indicated more job satisfaction.
Not to mention, gender diversity provides a notable advantage for talent acquisition as people want to work where they see themselves being represented.
Advocacy for Equality
HBR also found that more women in senior leadership positions meant more advocacy for equal pay for women.
Openness to Innovation and Fewer Costly Risks
Women’s leadership offers new perspectives and shifts the thinking of the C-suite. Harvard Business Review’s study found that women-led companies become more open to embracing change while reducing the risks often associated with innovation.
The study suggests that this could happen because women who have walked the business tightrope to get into senior positions have had to learn to create proposals that stand out while more carefully weighing the risks than their male counterparts, as any mistakes would stand out in a company where they represent a minority.
How to Get More Women into Leadership Roles and Keep Them There: 9 Ways
Having more women employees attracts more women to apply but lasting change starts with top-down cultural change. Because change starts from the top, placing women in senior positions is imperative to closing the gender gap at all levels.
How can companies, especially fast-growing tech companies, foster women’s leadership? And more importantly, how can they retain them for them to continue to pave the way for the women that follow?
- Tackle Recruitment Issues at the Entry-Level
CTOs and CIOs are typically found one of two ways: they’re promoted internally from tech positions or they are external hires. When hiring externally, companies often look for candidates with background experience as a CTO, CIO, or a senior IT position at other companies. The issue, of course, is that there is already a tech talent shortage across the board, and when it comes to women, even more so.
For there to be more women at the senior level, eligible for promotion, the first step is to help women get on track for senior roles. And to get women on track for senior roles, we must make sure there are enough women hired for entry-level positions. Therefore, even though this post focuses on women’s leadership in tech, we must first address entry-level positions.
But How Do You Get More Women into Entry-Level and Mid-Level Tech Jobs?
Revise Job Descriptions
One simple answer may be to revise job descriptions to prefer characteristics like adaptability and creativity over long lists of detailed technical requirements. Instead of asking for a degree in computer science (largely male-dominated), open the search to degrees in mathematics, physical sciences, business, or social sciences.
If you’re preparing your talent to grow in your company, you’re going to want executives that have broad experience in business, leadership, and people skills. Individuals with creative backgrounds bring valuable creative skills that lead to innovation.
“Many tech companies, especially the tech giants, have begun to offer on-the-job training, certification courses, apprenticeship programs, and partnerships with online learning platforms. They are training/preparing internal candidates from non-technology teams in data analytics, cloud computing, and IT support.”
When Working with Third-Party IT Service Providers, Prioritize Diversity
When utilizing remote IT teams as a way to supplement staff or to carry out an end-to-end project, companies can prioritize gender diversity as part of the selection process.
When vetting white-label tech service providers, ask them about their commitment to women in tech and women’s leadership in tech.
As consumers of IT outsourcing services, tech companies can help set the global standard for diversity by incorporating it as part of your expectations as a client. Ethical talent sourcing means working with teams that share your values.
Stop Putting Women with a Technical Background into Non-Technical Roles
The bias, whether conscious or unconscious, women face in the tech industry is also seen in the roles women are given.
According to ISE ICT Solutions & Education, one study demonstrated that women, despite having technical backgrounds, are more likely to be hired or promoted into “execution” roles, which are typically non-technical. Men, however, are more likely to be given more technical “creator” roles.
The study concludes, “the top position for women in tech is Project Manager, whereas the top position for men in tech is Software Engineer. This bias is based on the stereotype that women are not good in technical roles.”
- Embrace Leadership Candidates with Nonlinear Career Paths
A great strategy for everyone, men included, to build leadership skills is to take a nonlinear career path: sales, marketing, business development, product management, etc.
Hiring managers must recognize that IT leadership isn’t necessarily all about excelling in a technical role; it requires competence in all aspects of the business. Diverse professional experience can prove to be vital to success in senior and executive roles in which the leader can fall back on the expertise of their team to work out the fine technical details.
- Get in the Habit of Asking, “Is There a Woman We Can Add to This Selection Process?”
IT Leaders and CIOs on panels and selection committees should get in the habit of recognizing when their selection pool lacks diversity. If you recognize that only men are being considered for a committee, a panel, a promotion, or a new position—why not get in the habit of asking, “Is there a woman we can add to the selection process?”
Putting this into practice doesn’t mean that you have to select the woman. It means getting in the habit of considering women and recognizing selection bias.
- Confront Discrimination in Hiring Managers
It’s uncomfortable but it’s necessary to pay attention to your managers because “statistically there’s a chance that organizations have men that are sexist“.
According to a 2020 report by the United Nations, 91% of men and 86% of women demonstrate a minimum of one clear gender bias, whether conscious or unconscious. So, yes, your female managers may also be unknowingly practicing gender discrimination.
Your HR department surely has processes in place to overcome this kind of discrimination, but if you have managers that haven’t proactively worked to advance their female colleagues’ careers, that’s a red flag worth exploring.
- Help Women Leaders Resist the Urge to Go Back to School
Women in tech, especially those on a leadership track, often demonstrate a tendency to try to prove their technical skills by returning to school for additional technical training.
Companies can help their female collaborators thrive as leaders by helping them resist the tendency to prove their technical skills. Companies can do this by celebrating the technical skills they already possess and highlighting the strategic thinking and business vision that leaders are hired for.
Companies can encourage their women leaders to prepare for success by continuing to develop leadership skills, grow their emotional intelligence, build trust, and form strong business partnerships.
- Rally Support from Male Colleagues
Women leaders offer the male-dominated C-suite boardroom fresh ideas for innovation. However, ironically, it’s normal for the same peers that hired innovative leaders, hoping for change, to get nervous when they see things start changing. Senior executives may claim the new female exec is pushing too much, too fast.
Visible support from male allies can help senior women move their diverse perspectives and alternative ideas forward:
- Encourage male allies to attend events that promote gender equality and women in tech
- Prepare men to hold each other accountable and confront their male peers when they witness microaggressions such as calling women in the workplace “emotional” or interrupting them
- Ensure that compensation for men and women is equitable
- Motivate Women to Negotiate
Women also tend to think that the work will speak for itself and that hard work will be rewarded with new responsibilities and promotions. This leads to women avoiding actively speaking up and asking for more.
Managers can ask their female employees how they envision their careers developing and what they’re interested in. Managers can help them to set goals, develop plans, and schedule regular conversations about their growth.
When women employees seem eligible for training and/or promotion but don’t put themselves out there for it, ask why.
With only 25% of IT positions filled by women, and a mere 10% of tech executive leadership positions filled by women, companies must make a more conscious effort to get more women into entry-level tech jobs that can grow into senior positions. Not only because women deserve the ‘women aren’t technical’ stigma to be broken but also because diversity leads to innovation and growth.
Fortunately, there are many things that companies dedicated to the cause can do to tackle recruitment issues and create an encouraging environment where women can grow into leaders and usher in the next generation of women in tech.
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