7 ways to close tech’s corrosive gender gap
Here’s something we should all be talking about: Women, who make up half of the U.S. population, remain severely under-represented in technology, and they continue to flee the industry at alarming rates. In fact, women make up just about 25% of technology workers, and the quit rate for women in high tech jobs is 41%, or more than twice that of men.
Although some cynics argue that women don’t want to work in tech, that’s a typical stereotype that can obscure the path to viable solutions. In truth, women can be excluded from tech by a variety of forces, but the evidence shows that women thrive in tech under the right conditions, bringing talent and innovation to resource-starved IT teams.
So what exactly are the right conditions for women? The same conditions under which anyone would thrive: encouragement; hands-on tech discovery in school; the presence of role models in leadership positions; mentorship; executive sponsorship; fair pay; workplace inclusion; and the flexibility to parent while employed.
The great news is that substantially increasing women’s involvement in technology is not a zero-sum game. The technology skills gap is well-documented, and there are more than enough job openings in technology to go around.
Here are seven key steps we can take to close the gender gap in technology:
- Start girls early. Competence is not a function of gender but rather of belief, passion, and effort. Starting in kindergarten, we should intentionally provide girls with concrete opportunities to discover their natural wonder around technology.
- Recruit in new places. A standard tactic for recruitment involves seeking graduates from a traditional set of colleges and universities with as much prestige as your workplace can demand. This can be a dated practice that won’t necessarily fill all the open tech opportunities. Companies should cast a wider recruiting net and update their hiring approaches and criteria. For example, a college degree shouldn’t always be a requirement; military service or another salient career experience can be an excellent substitute. One household-name tech company is looking even further into nontraditional sources, turning formerly incarcerated women (and men) into full-time paid software engineers.
- ‘Returnships.’ One rich vein of talent lies in women who hope to return to suspended technology careers—or start new ones—having left the workforce for reasons related to childcare, unsupportive working environments, or the pandemic. Often, these would-be returners don’t know where to start their re-entry. Although there’s no clearly marked path for this, a growing number of tech companies (about 1 in 5, according to Deloitte’s DEI in Tech survey) are pursuing talent through “returnship” programs that offer pay, a skills refresh, and an inside track on getting rehired.
- Retention through inclusion. Recruiting is only half the battle; retaining women requires effort in inclusion. Inclusion is much more than diversity, which merely refers to the breadth of representation in your workforce. Inclusion is embedded (or not) in company culture, where every employee should feel valued, respected, and able to contribute. Data backs this up. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies and programs affect job-selection decisions for more than half of candidates, according to recent research. The good news is that 96% of CEOs consider DEI to be a strategic priority, with 90% calling “talent recruitment, development, advancement and retention” as their top priority, according to a June 2020 Fortune/Deloitte study. Unfortunately, most women do not feel fully included: 3 in 4 women in technology jobs told the Pew Research Center in 2017 that they experienced gender discrimination at work, and our survey of our clients last year indicated gender bias is still a significant concern.
- Equitable compensation. Only 7 in 10 tech companies self-reported achieving pay equity in 2020, according to new data from AnitaB.org. In an analysis of 17 companies, parity was claimed at the intern and executive levels, yet men earned between 2% and 7% more than women in the entry, mid-management and senior management levels that account for most jobs in those organizations.
- Work-life integration. With caregiving responsibilities often falling primarily on women, companies should embrace remote work, flexible schedules, shared schedules, phase-in schedules (starting part-time and transitioning to full-time), and contract work to keep employees with caregiving duties on board, or at least connected. The pandemic has forced employers to realize that integrating work and life is possible, and traditional approaches to work can be outdated.
- Formal support. Role models, sponsors, mentors, and peer support can make a big difference in retaining talent. In fact, 3 in 4 women who stayed in tech careers had role models, compared with 56% of those who left, according to a Capital One Women in Technology survey. Women who stayed and succeeded were twice as likely to credit peer groups of other women for their success.
Although perfect parity in IT will likely continue to be a challenge, these approaches can help to improve your numbers, and thereby your business performance. Many women are passionate about technology and quite good at it when they’re recruited, hired, included, and paid. Technology needs talent of all kinds more than ever, and it can be easy to find.
Kristi Lamar is managing director and U.S. Women in Technology Leader at Deloitte Consulting LLP.
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