Dear Tech Companies: We’re helping more women of color enter tech. What are you doing to retain them?
Each story in our Dear Tech Companies series focuses on issues in the tech space and provides strategies and solutions to companies looking to invest in meaning solutions that will drive impactful industry change and make the industry more accessible to Black, Latina, and Native women.
There’s something troubling happening in our industry: 50% of young women who go into tech drop out by age 35, compared to approximately 20% across other sectors. With the pandemic, these numbers are getting even worse. And overwhelmingly, they’re leaving because they feel that tech is non-inclusive. So while many organizations — including Reboot Representation — have been working to remove the barriers that keep many out of tech, the tech industry clearly must do more to receive, include, and retain them once they’re in.
This is especially important for women of color because they make up such a small percentage in the tech sector: Black, Latina, and Native American women comprise less than 5% of all tech employees. Of this already small number, only 8% of women of color in tech feel that it is “easy” to thrive and only 38% of HR leaders at tech companies consider building a more inclusive culture as an effective way to retain and advance women of color. Without tech companies leading the way toward more welcoming work environments for Black, Latina, and Native American women, their diversity and inclusion initiatives will be more reactionary than systemic.
If companies are serious about increasing representation in corporate spaces for the long run, they need to prioritize systemic change. There must be continued, active work to engage Black, Latina, and Native American women and provide relevant, beneficial support. Here are four actionable steps tech leaders can take to create a more welcoming, supportive environment for these women in tech:
- Provide tangible feedback. Research shows that women in general receive less specific feedback than men, which means women aren’t receiving guidance either on what they’re doing well or on specific actions to improve. Given the events of 2020, managers may also now be more uncomfortable providing critical feedback across racial lines for fear of how it will be perceived, despite the fact that this feedback is critical to women’s professional growth. For example, reviewers frequently focus on women’s communication styles — often described in vague, negative terms — rather than focusing on their business outcomes. Vague feedback is also correlated with lower performance reviews, meaning that the lack of actionable feedback can directly hold women back in their careers. This combination can also lead to lower job satisfaction, as women feel that the work environment isn’t inclusive. With insufficient helpful feedback to help them progress to leadership roles, it’s no wonder women are leaving the tech sector.
Feedback is a gift, and ensuring that all feedback is constructive and actionable can help provide women with the support they need to advance in the sector. While this may seem like a small-scale change, only once women of color understand how they can grow and feel that their work has value will they want to stay in tech.
- Disaggregate your data. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again because it bears repeating — companies must disaggregate critical HR data and employee satisfaction data by race, gender, and title to understand the patterns and biases that emerge from it. Only then will you be able to build effective strategies to address your organization’s unique needs and representation gaps. Want to take it one step further? Collect and disaggregate data on your organization’s partners and suppliers to ensure that you’re holding everyone accountable.
- Meet Black, Latina, and Native American women where they are. The constant flow of women leaving the tech workforce has been exacerbated by the inequities laid bare by this pandemic and the subsequent “shecession.” Especially as the lines between work and home have been blurred, companies need to prioritize employees’ mental health and fund programs that address Black, Latina, and Native American women’s holistic needs. While wraparound services may not seem related to the job, research shows that employee wellbeing improves teamwork, productivity, and company returns. Supporting your employees means supporting women to be mothers, daughters, partners, and friends, in addition to prioritizing their business success. We’re humans, not machines, and organizations and programs should accordingly treat their employees and grantees with respect.
- Invest in your company’s employee resource groups (ERGS), especially those for Black, Latina, and Native American women. It’s exhausting for women of color to have to compartmentalize who we are at work, and these groups can offer critical support and a safe space that women of color may not receive elsewhere at work. ERGs are also critical to building an organization’s culture, which can help women of color feel like they belong and can meaningfully contribute to the workplace. Employers should consider how they compensate ERG leaders, provide access to company leadership, and provide a C-suite sponsor who can advocate for the ERGs’ work. As a founding member of Mastercard’s Leveraging Employees of African Descent Business Resource Group, I understand firsthand the impact an ERG can have in helping you feel like you belong, expanding your network, and contributing to the organization’s bottom line.
One thing is obvious — the status quo won’t cut it any more. Companies need to implement different ideas in order to get different results. It’s time to get creative about creating systemic change and increasing representation for women in tech. As companies re-evaluate their commitments to racial equity, they need to ensure they are fostering environments where Black, Latina, and Native American women want to work and where they can thrive. Let’s listen and respond to what women of color need to create impactful, positive change for the long-term that will help them be their best selves, both at work and in life.