While efforts are being made to tackle the gender disparity in tech, it’s time we recognized as a sector that we need to do more than just get women through the door. We need to empower them to climb the ranks. Nabila Salem, President of cloud talent creation firm Revolent, discusses how to address the “missing middle” of female employees in tech.
As the demand for tech talent has increased, organizations have become more aware of the growing skills gap in tech, and have been working harder than ever to close it. Yet, with new roles being created every day, women still occupy fewer than 20% of tech roles, and have for over a decade.
It’s positive to see companies working to address the skills gap, but in truth, closing the skills gap and rebalancing the current gender discrepancies in our sector is about more than just getting women into tech roles. We have to retain them and help them to progress, too.
The sad fact is that tech has a huge pipeline problem at the moment, when it comes to women. Regardless of what we do, very few women seem to enter the tech sector and even fewer remain and progress into more senior roles.
Research by Accenture has shown that almost half of women in tech roles leave the industry for good by the time they reach 35. Shocking, isn’t it? Especially when you remember that, in other sectors, this amount of women leaving their industry sits at a much lower 20%.
But when we’re not investing properly in the retention or acquisition of women, not providing proper frameworks and support for working parents, and are notorious for our male-dominated culture, can you really blame women for leaving their tech roles? I certainly can’t.
So the question remains; as individual organizations and as a sector, what can we do to stop the fantastic female talent we have from leaving tech altogether?
Understand that not all people enter the workforce in the same way
Quite obviously, many tech professionals come from a STEM background. The very nature of these subjects feeds well into the work that the sector does. But we have to remember that the female experience of STEM subjects can often be vastly different to the experiences of their male counterparts. Indeed, for many women, disengagement with STEM subjects can begin very early on in life.
As such, we need to recognize the value of alternate routes into tech, especially when we have such a dearth of trained professionals. Understanding that women are more likely to enter tech through cross-training, later on in life, or even unintendedly due to a tech-adjacent role in another organization or sector, will do wonders for your mindset as a tech employer.
Just because somebody has entered tech through a path that is less traditional – or linear – does not mean it should hold them back as they strive to progress in their career.
Retaining the old-school mentality of what a tech professional looks like and where they should come from is keeping valuable female talent out of our pipelines. Our sector is maturing, so our outlook on the different routes into tech should too.
Think about your succession planning
We also need to look at providing proper career development for tech employees. After all, if we want to support women to stay in tech, we need to offer clear pathways, goals, and support structures to help them progress.
This is especially true for women who return to the tech workforce after a leave of absence, such as maternity leave. Unfortunately, at the moment, women who re-enter the workforce are far less likely to know where they stand within their organization, or what opportunities are available for them to develop their career with.
To combat this, more companies need to have proper career planning initiatives in place. Not only will this help remove the burden of playing “career catch up” on returning women, but it will also help these valuable employees achieve their full potential.
Utilize mentoring, wherever you can
Mentoring and sponsorship can be a hugely powerful tool for helping empower women in your workforce. If someone has a sponsor to back them up, they are more likely to have the confidence to go for that promotion, or take a risk on a potentially fantastic opportunity.
This is something we already do at Revolent. Recently, we launched an initiative that connects women working in tech with experienced, senior female figures internally and externally which has had some great feedback already.
Get on board with flexible working – ASAP
We all know that attitudes towards flexible work have shifted massively since 2020, which is fantastic news for anyone who wishes to see tech diversify a little more.
Why? Because flexible working options are proven to be a very effective tool to help women start, develop, or progress in a career in tech. Flexible and remote working policies give women more power to balance home life with their work life, which is especially important when you consider that women are more likely to have unpaid caring and domestic responsibilities than their male counterparts.
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And beyond this, employers need to ensure there is no stigma towards those who choose flexible working. People who utilize flexible working are no less committed than their office-based peers and should be treated as such. Putting clear development plans in place and ensuring flexi workers are just as visible as office-based employees will go a long way towards ensuring nobody gets left behind in the new workforce dynamic.