Yes, Women Belong in Tech, But How Do You Get Them There?
The great James Brown said [or sang] it best, “this is a man’s world, but it would be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.”
In tech, it is a man’s world. And although we’ve seen an upward trend in women joining the tech industry, the growth is simply still too slow. According to LinkedIn, “a recent study by PWC cited that 83% of women seek careers with businesses who demonstrate strong records of diversity and equality.”
As a woman who has worked in tech for a long time, I’m often asked, “How do we attract more women to tech, and how do we keep them here?”
While the perfect formula doesn’t exist, there are ways tech companies can attract women and create a welcoming place for them to strive and thrive, resulting in company longevity for female employees.
The shortage of women in tech isn’t only on women to fix
To change the gender ratio in tech, it needs to be a company-wide priority, driven by leadership. It’s not a problem only women in leadership can or should own. I vividly recall a very awkward moment at a company-wide meeting where the leadership team was on stage taking questions from employees. A well-respected female employee asked me point blank what I planned to do to address the shortage of women in the company. It was fascinating that the question was asked of me (at the time I was in a marketing role). I stammered out an answer about what I would do, later realizing the question should not have been asked of me, but rather should have been posed to the CEO or head of HR first, despite them being male. It’s a common assumption that the onus is on women to fix the shortage of women. This spawned a great initiative at that company around recruiting women, but the key to its success was that it was driven by the CEO and HR, not the lone female leader.
As a woman in tech, I view my responsibility in changing the ratio to be raising the issue and pushing the teams. I do this by ensuring we are looking for female candidates for open roles, by keeping ourselves honest so women are paid the same for comparable work and by sharing my story as a role model in being open about the challenges women face in this industry.
You can’t be what you can’t see
One very basic principle is when more women see more women in tech leadership roles, it reinforces the idea that it’s a viable career path.
At Umbel, we have a group called the Umbelitas — all the women of Umbel are included in this group. Each month, I invite a powerful female executive from my network to come speak to the women at Umbel, where they share stories and advice. It’s an open forum where our female employees can ask questions candidly and even have the opportunity to leverage these women as mentors of their own.
Seeing real-life women in leadership positions provides confirmation that women do belong in technology.
Create a forum for women to exchange ideas and be vulnerable
Slack, HipChat, Google Chat, whatever system your company is into, make it a point to set up a channel or group that’s exclusive to all ladies at your company. This is the perfect place for women to share articles with each other, ask quick questions or advice and to share stories without trepidation or concern.
Depending on the size of your company, working in separate departments can make it hard to network amongst your female peers as much as you’d like. By creating this type of chat room, it also creates an open, collaborative environment, while encouraging women to expand their network within the company.
Go where the boys go
While it’s important for women to have forums for networking and to connect with other women, it’s not what will get them to the corner office. I often see women heavy-up on conferences and events tailored specifically to women. While that might provide connection and context, to advance in the workplace, women need to be where the true business activity takes place — with women AND men.
Say yes to opportunities to network with male colleagues, ask if you can sit in on meetings to learn and go to industry events because of the topic, not the gender of the audience, to help you rise to the top.
A very powerful female, Hillary Clinton, popularized the phrase, “it takes a village.” In tackling gender imbalance in tech, I believe this wholeheartedly. It takes males and all leaders understanding the value of diversity and making it a priority. Additionally, it takes emerging women leaders acting as role models and sharing the ways they have become successful.
Are there ways you’ve seen companies make an effort towards creating an environment inclusive to women in a male-dominated field? I’d love to hear.