This year has been a significant one for women working in tech. The recent protests at Google, the UK’s Payment Transparency Regulations, and an increased awareness of the challenges women face in the workplace as raised by the #metoo movement—all of these things show that, decades after being systematically pushed out of the tech sector, women are eking back footing in the industry.
According to The Women in Tech Survey Report, 54% of women believe there are now more women working in tech than five years ago. Countless charities, initiatives, and user groups are working hard to make tech more inclusive, to get more girls into STEM, and to help women get the recognition and the fair treatment they deserve at every stage of their careers; thanks to their hard work, the cause is marching in the right direction.
But for all the ground we’ve gained in the past year, we’re still not where we’d like to be. In the aforementioned study, female tech professionals cited being taken seriously as the number one challenge in their careers.
For almost two-thirds of women working in tech, simply being recognized and acknowledged as a capable professional in their industry is a trial. Changing hearts and minds is a demanding and arduous task, and faced with such a mammoth amount of discrimination, it’s easy to see why more women aren’t chomping at the bit to get into tech.
Women are still trickling into the tech industry; we have yet to see the surge of female talent necessary not only to improve representation, but to plug the burgeoning skills gaps threatening many corners of the tech sector.
The annual AnitaB.org report tracks female technologists, tallying the number of women are working in the tech space year-on-year. In 2018, the report revealed an increase of just 1.08%; a drop on 2017’s growth of 1.2%.
So why the drop-off? And what can be done to open the door a little wider, to tempt female women into the challenging, rewarding, and exciting world of tech?
Anyone versed on the subject of diversity and inclusion will tell you that the power of visibility cannot be overstated. For women in the tech industry though, visible female leaders are few and far between. Seventy percent of startups in the US have no women on their board of directors, and more than half have no female executives.
The New York Times recently reported that there were fewer women directing top-grossing firms than men named Michael or John. Men named John make up a total of 3.3% of the US population; women represent 50.8%.
This is despite persistent evidence that women in leadership positions outperform men. A study led by Professor Øyvind L. Martinsen, of BI Norwegian Business School, assessed the personality and characteristics of nearly 3,000 managers, and found that women outperformed men in four of the five categories. Deloitte also recently released a report which found that the presence of women in leadership positions correlates with higher financial performance, better team dynamics and higher productivity levels.
Representation is a crucial factor at every level, from the boardroom to new employees taking the first steps in their careers; but having women in the C-Suite is key not only to improving the visibility of women in tech, but also to culture-building and enacting policy change.
Having a female point of view at a decision-maker level will help create an environment in which women can thrive. A homogenous C-Suite may be unfamiliar with the challenges faced by women in tech—though they might appreciate that diversity can help their company, without cognitive diversity at the highest level, could be unsure as to how to create a more inclusive culture in order to attract and retain the best talent.
The lack of female leadership in tech can have a knock-on effect that seeps down through the org charts of tech companies. Behind not being taken seriously, this year’s Women in Tech Survey Report found that 43% of female technologists cited not having a female role model as a major issue for them as professionals.
It’s vital for women in tech to have access to mentors in the workplace; in a male-dominated world that struggles to retain female talent, sharing experiences, receiving guidance and career advice, and just having a sympathetic ear.
Clearly, more women in tech beget more women in tech; improving representation will be ongoing battle, but what can tech companies do in the meantime to help put the number of women entering the field back on an upward trajectory?
Of course, it’s not just about getting more women through the door; retention is just as, if not more, important than onboarding. Particularly in the face of tech’s gaping skills gap in tech means that companies must offer a supportive environment for all professionals or risk losing out on best talent in a highly competitive market. But in the meantime, there are plenty of ways that business decision-makers can help get more women into tech roles in their companies.
Make diversity everyone’s responsibility
Roll out hiring policies that drive you and your talent acquisition team to think outside the box when it comes to sourcing candidates and look into channels that you otherwise may not have considered. You could also set a gender ratio for qualified applicants in your shortlists.
Some of the biggest names in tech have found success by tying their diversity initiatives to palpable, concrete incentives. A few years ago, Intel vowed to work to achieve full representation in their workforce by 2020. By making the referral of underrepresented candidates for vacancies a target for annual bonuses, the company is on track to realize their goal of equal representation ahead of schedule.
Watch your language
How many times have you seen the word ninja in a tech job ad? How about rock star? Or maybe aggressive, outspoken, or driven? All these words are subtly gender-coded, either intentionally or unconsciously, to appeal to male applicants.
Whether you realise it or not, the language you use in job ads or on your careers page give readers an impression of your company, and its culture. Using a lot of typically masculine-sounding words can give female applicants the vibe that your company is male-dominated; somewhere they may not be welcome or be supported. You don’t want to lose good candidates at the first hurdle over something as simple and easy to correct as wording, so be sure to use a gender bias decoder tool before you go live with any ads.
Pay the woman
Be plain about pay from the word go. Not only will embracing pay transparency help ensure your female technologists are compensated fairly, having an open, honest pay policy will show that your company is a responsible and unprejudiced place to work, making it more appealing to female applicants.
Sunny Ackerman is President of Americas at niche technology recruitment firm Nigel Frank International, responsible for overseeing the company’s rapidly-expanding presence across North America. Known for her expertise in the staffing industry and her vital commitment to addressing relevant and important issues revolving around women in the workplace, Sunny is a lifelong advocate for closing the gender gap in the technology field. This year, Sunny was named in the Staffing Industry Global Power 150 List for the third time in four years, recognizing her ground-breaking work in the staffing industry.