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A joint report from Accenture and Girls Who Code found a massive perception gap between leaders in the tech industry — including C-suite executives and senior human resource officers — and its female-identifying employees. While 77% of leaders think their workplace empowers women, only 54% of these women agree. And while 45% of leaders claim it’s easy for women to thrive in tech-related jobs, only 21% of women overall (and 8% of women of color) feel the same way.

These findings from the report “Resetting Tech Culture” are based on online surveys completed by three distinct groups within the United States in 2019: 1,990 tech employees (1,502 of whom identify as women), 500 senior human resources leaders, and 2,700 college students. The researchers then analyzed workplace culture by applying a linear regression model to the survey results, which quantified the impact of different cultural factors on women’s advancement.

According to the report, the disparity is all about culture and opportunity: uncomfortable classroom settings in college, or even high school, combined with less-than-ideal company work environments, lead over 50% of young women in technology roles to drop out of the industry by the age of 35.

Senior human resources leaders are largely responsible for workplace culture. They’re changemakers who determine who is hired, how they work, and what they work on. But according to the survey results, they largely overestimate how safe and welcoming their workplaces are while underestimating how difficult it is for women to build their careers in technology.

This perception gap is key because leadership undervalues inclusion in the workplace and remains focused on hiring women when there’s an existing attrition problem. The report indicates that leaders tend to center their efforts on hiring rather than retaining women. An emphasis on hiring makes it less likely for women to advance in their career within a company; the company then misses out on reduced bias, a more equitable workplace, and an overall improved culture. The report asserts that the corporate world cannot improve at the rate it needs to without the contributions of women.

This report identifies five actionable cultural practices that can curb this trend: strengthening parental leave policies, selecting diverse leaders for senior teams, developing women-specific mentorship programs, rewarding employees for creativity, and scheduling networking events that are open to all team members. It expects that these changes could help ensure up to 3 million early-in-career women will work in technology roles by 2030. That’s almost twice as many as there are right now, according to the report.

Accenture and Girls Who Code say this reset would help to “drive much-needed change: [the] analysis suggests that if every company scored high on measures of an inclusive culture — specifically, if they were on par with those in the top 20% of [the] study — the annual attrition rate of women in tech could drop by up to 70%.”

Although the number of women working in technology as a whole has increased, the proportional gender imbalance in technology today is actually greater than it was 35 years ago. This disequilibrium hurts not only women’s earnings and advancement but also the goals of technology companies, because inclusivity and innovation are closely intertwined.

And if technology is the future, these next few years present a golden opportunity to make it work for everyone. Accenture and Girls Who Code believe that this begins with resolving the critical disconnect between tech leaders and their employees through empathy and women-focused policies.

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