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We (still) need more women in tech

Here are three ways to help women benefit from the tech revolution.

Feb 29, 2020, 10:32 am*

Internet Culture

The workforce of every single major tech company in the United States is still overwhelmingly male. Tech employs more than 6.7 million people in the U.S. Why aren’t more of them women?

Today is International Women’s Day. In honor of the occasion, let’s imagine the day when women fill half of all tech roles. To get there, there are three levels where work needs to be done to ensure that women benefit from the tech revolution: Education, hiring and retention.

But first, the statistics.

Women in tech

Among employees of “tech startups and unicorns,” women make up a mere 33.5 percent. In the tech industry as a whole, the number drops to 30 percent. At large companies like Google and Facebook, women hold only 17 and 15 percent of tech roles.

Why aren’t women benefitting equally from the tech industry’s growth?

Education

Like many complex problems, this one has roots in education. Women obtain 24 percent of all science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. Of these, only around 20 percent obtain computer science and engineering degrees, which represent four-fifths of all STEM jobs.

Universities can move the needle on this issue. Some universities, such as Harvey Mudd and Olin College of Engineering, have directed resources towards gender balance. They boast nearly equal numbers of men and women in their STEM programs. These schools use a combination of tailored curriculum, women-focused events, mentorship opportunities and targeting applicant outreach to recruit female high school students with an interest in STEM.

Hiring

Among women who pursue tech careers paths after college, we encounter an even more subtle and hard-to-tackle problem. Why do tech companies who announce a desire to bring on women often fail to hire them?

The argument that there are simply not enough women in the pipeline is flawed. 

The argument that there are simply not enough women in the pipeline is flawed.

At a recent Women in Solar Energy (WiSE) event in New York City, one attendee asked the question: How can I find more female talent for my company?

The answer from around the room: The talent is there. Companies need to look harder.

There is good reason to do so. Statistics now exist that prove hiring women into senior and technical roles yields dividends.

Every tech hiring manager and strategist should be familiar with these findings:

  • Companies with women in leadership roles have been found to outperform companies without gender-diverse leadership

  • Tech companies with at least one woman on the founding team have been found to outperform companies with male founders–by 63 percent

  • Women are the lead adopters of technology in Western countries–using the internet and mobile on average more than men. Consumer tech should be designed and marketed with this in mind

To reap these benefits, companies need to make an initial investment in targeted recruiting. Without a considered approach to recruitment, tech companies may find themselves receiving applications only from their immediate networks and familiar talent pipelines.

In the venture capital and startup world, networking is currency and close-knit teams are the norm. Smaller companies may be especially vulnerable to “similarity bias” and “unconscious bias”–biases that lead male-dominated teams to favor other men for hiring and promotions.

To combat ‘similarity bias,’ companies large and small need to prioritize women in recruiting for tech roles and recruit more aggressively. 

To combat “similarity bias,” companies large and small need to prioritize women in recruiting for tech roles and recruit more aggressively.

Some strategies: Reach out to university “women in STEM” groups and hold targeted events. Identify talented women in your network and take them out to lunch. Sponsor a prize for students in tech. Getcreative. Make sure your recruiting team is diverse. The options are endless.

Retention

Hiring is only the first step in creating a balanced workplace. Companies should invest in HR resources that will ensure that they hire and retain qualified women. This may include networking events for women in tech, mentoring, and personal/professional development opportunities.

Companies can also make sure to offer flexible working hours – particularly helpful for women who have family responsibilities. Family/paternity leave is an excellent policy, one that frees up female partners who need to return to work.

It’s also important to show a path for advancement. Hiring into senior roles, not just entry-level, shows commitment to equity at all levels. Gender balance at the level of “product development and business strategy” is motivating for women at all stages of career advancement.

Long-term benefits

Gender balance is a long game–one that pays.

Companies that lead on gender are setting themselves up for success. Whoever breaks out of the pack first will attract the best talent. A “space race” analogy isn’t out of place–there are tremendous opportunities here for the best companies to reach the 50/50 ratio. The only question is when.

Chloe Holden is an Associate Account Executive at Antenna Group, a strategic communications firm for growth-stage companies in cleantech, high technology, and life sciences. She specializes in the intersection of efficiency and interconnected systems. With a background in journalism, she has lived and worked in East Africa, London, and the United States. 

Photo via brewbooks/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Mar 8, 2016, 4:48 pm