Despite the fact that technology is a fundamental part of our lives, women in tech are still particularly underrepresented. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), only 5% of Asian women, 3% of black women, and 1% of Hispanic women have occupations in tech and computing. Needless to say, there is still a lot of work to be done. Having women in tech is vital for many reasons. To tackle diversity on a large scale, we must work cohesively to close the gap. While equal representation is a positive side effect, diversity is about cultivating change on a structural level where we challenge our beliefs and start representing how our society actually looks. Furthermore, we already know that a diverse company drives revenue growth and that equality is beneficial for business. Have you ever heard the saying, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it?”
Before we can create a future generation of girls who believe they can pursue a career in tech, we must first build companies with a diverse group of people who think, see, and approach things differently. These traits must be exemplified in both teams and leading positions. We need the future generation of girls to see themselves reflected in these companies. As long as there’s an absence of women in tech, how can the future generation see themselves, and believe that working in tech might be for them?
However, before we look into the future, we must understand the core issue and what companies can do today in order to accelerate diversity and inclusion within the tech sector. Shalini Sarena, the founder of WomenInTech has discussed how companies need to step up to attain and retain women in tech:
“They’re not always looking in the right places. It’s important to make sure that the avenues in which you’re attracting talent are in communities that are richly diverse. Retaining diverse talent is also very important – this is all connected to having a workplace culture that is inclusive and has high levels of awareness of the language that is being spoken in the workplace, as well as the activities that are normalized there. For instance, I remember seeing many startups in San Francisco that literally had a “beer o’clock” culture at the office. Some companies would supply kegs in their office and they would promote the fact that they had a ping pong table at the office as a company perk.”
Bringing a broad spectrum of skills to the table and attracting a diverse force of female talent means remaining cognizant of the talent’s realities and changing structures from top to bottom. We can’t have, or more importantly, retain diversity in the workplace and expect our culture to “be the same.”
Enforcing long-lasting change has to arise from our everyday work life by initially recognizing the way women at the table are treated during their average workday. How is the diversity that already exists retained, and where are we lacking? Paulina Modlitba, Senior Consultant (Innovation) and CEO of We Should Be Friends AB has reflected on her own experience breaking into the tech sector:
“They are not prioritizing inclusion enough; at least not as much as other core business objectives. It has taken me almost ten years of hard work and actionable goals to extend my network to finally come to a point where it is fairly easy for me to find women for various gigs and roles. It takes time and dedication and should permeate the entire organization.”
A gender gap needs to be tackled first and foremost from an executive level. From there, action must be invoked to empower women in tech that are already in our workforce and support them to advance and, in turn, reach more senior positions. Having women in influential positions gives young girls a broader idea of what it means to be working in technology.
Hanan Yasmine Naamneh, Talent Acquisition Expert has been working in the tech industry for many years. This is what she has to say about where this gender gap stems from:
“The gender talent gap is a pressing issue within the tech sector. Male counterparts are holding key positions, there is a lack of female representation in leadership, and [there is] no empowerment for women at the workplace because of years of gender stereotyping and policies that actively discriminate against women."
The most common reasons for leaving are career growth, followed closely by poor management as well as the lack of equal opportunities to enter senior leadership roles as males. Again, I think it boils down to focus and priorities. If you focus on attracting and retaining more females in your tech positions, then a good way to succeed is to talk and actually listen to the females that you currently have on board. Why did they start at your company? What makes them stay and also what would cause them to leave? Break the answers into actions so it doesn’t just become knowledge that leads to no change.”
Don’t hold back on outsourcing external resources. Thankfully, there are many initiatives and networks working tirelessly for this, including Sweden’s TechEq and Women in Al, and Geek Girl. How can we embody, challenge, and move forward to cultivate change that lasts? You asked for it! Here are 6 actionable points to close the gender gap:
1. Amplify female voices in the workplace, and make sure that women’s contributions are seen, heard, and appreciated. Create space for them to easily make their voices heard by structuring meetings in a way that highlights minority voices.
2. Don’t attend tech conferences where there’s clearly no diversity. Email the organizers to give them your feedback and encourage others to do the same. The more we call out these issues, the more we will be able to push toward a collective change.
3. Create allyship in the workplace, such as hiring someone with a greater responsibility to uphold a more inclusive and intersectional environment, in which inappropriate behavior is called out, and intersectionality is put on the agenda. Read more about creating allyship to amplify women in tech’s voices here.
4. Support and get involved in initiatives that promote young girls who want to pursue a career in technology. The future may feel far away, but making the investment now will majorly impact tomorrow’s women in tech.
5. Be clear about the pathways in which your female employees can grow in your company. Clear career paths motivate people to feel like there are opportunities to level up and advance in their field.
6. Listening is always a good start. Create a feedback-based workplace where improvements are appreciated and encouraged, particularly from underrepresented groups. This could be in the form of an online survey or one-on-one conversations. Having one-on-ones is even better, as you can directly ask employees how they prefer to deliver feedback.
The main point is to see how we can implement these starting points into our everyday life in a way that’s manageable for our company (doing it all at the same time might hopefully feel tempting but, it’s an ongoing process that takes continuous effort and dedication). The next step is to look into how to integrate these changes as part of your inclusion strategy. No change arises from working towards something we don’t believe in. Hear Hanan Yasmine Naamneh on why the genuine willingness to attract diversity is the only way forward:
“It boils down to the determination of the company, how important diversity truly is, and the willingness to challenge our own beliefs in order to create long-term value for the business. Understanding why your organization isn’t diverse is the key to understanding how you would be able to engage and retain diversity and talent. It’s about having the courage to change and to deliver in action rather than filling the CEO agenda with empty talk. The organization and the Talent Acquisition function need to target diverse candidates and if they focus on finding diversity – it is right in front of them”
Let’s do it right from the start. Take the long road. Do the right thing. We’re under a long progression of change and you get to decide whether you want to be a part of that change or not.