We’ve all heard the dismal news that women are underrepresented in the technology sector. While women represent 59 percent of the workforce, they only represent 26 percent of employees in technology. Over time, there has been a downward trend in the number of women with careers in technology. Even if they start out in technology, they often leave the field. The question is not should we be doing something about this disparity, but rather what can we do, and how? It’s clear that tech companies want to hire more women, but there have been few tangible plans of action put forward on how to catalyze change.
To help fix that, here are six tactics that my company has rolled out (so far, successfully) to keep women on our team:
1. Value performance over politics: A major barrier for women is often company culture. The optimal culture to keep females in technology is one where performance and competencies are valued over social ties and relationships. Evaluate your culture and subcultures. Are you intentionally determining your corporate culture, or are you leaving it to entropy? Culture change starts from the top. Executives should even the playing field for women by encouraging a culture deeply rooted in measurable performance. Establish metrics and KPIs to evaluate the success of the company, down to each employee. Communicate goals clearly, track progress, and hold employees accountable. Create a robust recognition program to celebrate employee success. This will foster an environment where performance, productivity, and creativity prevail over after-hour relationships and social ties.
2. Create a social environment where everyone can participate: Socializing with peers provides for greater employee engagement. To further level the playing field, companies can provide opportunities for employees to socialize where everyone can participate without hindrance from outside obligations. For example, at our company, we host a social hour with refreshments every Friday afternoon. This gives employees a chance to bond with peers that they may not interact with on a daily basis. An inclusive employee engagement strategy that allows time for socializing will build comradery, understanding, and rapport and increase positive communication across the organization.
3. Cut out the stereotypes: Most tech leaders consider themselves supportive of women in the workplace, but sometimes stereotypes and value judgments seep in unconsciously. A common example is when a female colleague leaves work early to pick up her children from school. A colleague may roll his eyes, thinking that women with children don’t work long hours. Meanwhile, she may have been at the office hours before he even hit the snooze button on his alarm clock. Another common example is when a manager softens negative feedback given to a female employee for fear of hurting her feelings. While well intentioned, it may set her back. By not receiving honest feedback, she won’t have an accurate picture of her performance and what to improve to get to the next level.
4. Offer creative perks: Since women are underrepresented in tech companies, competition is fierce for top female talent. Aside from competitive pay and basic benefits, creative perks can really give your organization an edge. You don’t need to go the extent of offering on-site childcare or a full year of paid maternity leave. For smaller companies, these types of programs just aren’t feasible. You can get creative by offering perks like having flex work schedules or an unlimited vacation policy. Flex schedules and unlimited vacation work exceptionally well in performance-based cultures, since there isn’t always a correlation between time spent in the office and productivity. You can also work with local businesses to offer “convenience” perks that are of no cost to your company. For example, we have a dry-cleaning service that picks up and drops off directly to our office. Consider crowdsourcing ideas from your workforce to ensure your perks are relevant and will be appreciated.
5. Establish individual development plans: You can bring in outside consultants for leadership coaching or create an internal mentoring program. Make sure that your female employees have equal access to training and development. A well-thought out development plan demonstrates commitment by the organization to an individual’s growth. Companies should provide females equal opportunities for upward mobility, but they need to be careful not to promote an employee before they are ready. You can do great harm to a budding career with a premature promotion. If the individual doesn’t have the right tools to succeed in a new role, performance will suffer. Individual Development Plans will ensure that you are getting the right tools to the future leaders of your organization.
6. Support and encourage community and industry involvement: Encourage employees to get involved in industry events and organizations by serving on boards, sitting on panels, and participating in round tables. Provide opportunities for them to exhibit thought leadership. This approach provides more opportunities for females to shine externally and create relationships with potential mentors that may not yet exist within your organization. Encourage successful females in your company to mentor others. Consider getting involved in enrichment events that support the initiative to increase women in technology. For example, my company is involved in GirlCode LA, where we put on programming for young women interested in technology careers. Our commitment to these types of events makes employees feel they are in a place that truly cares about gender diversity. We are also helping to increase the future talent pool of women by inspiring more girls to pursue careers in technology.
Because the tech industry has become a huge player in our economy, culture, and way of life, it makes little sense for it to be a homogenous environment. Underutilizing women in the workplace will cause companies to miss out on incredibly talented and insightful employees. As an industry, we need to work together and make a commitment to reverse the trend and bring women back to tech.
Sarah Wetzel is Human Resources Director at engage:BDR.