Diversity & InclusionHR TechnologyWomen's History Month

Women Leaders Weigh in on Tech Equity 

Women in the tech industry are subjected to overwhelming biases. How can companies eliminate inequity and even the playing field once and for all? 

By Zee Johnson 

Talks of equity for women in the workplace have recently picked up steam. But through all the chatter, how much progress has actually been made, particularly for women in tech?  

A recent report found that women make up about 26% of the tech industry, yet more than half leave the industry by the mid-point of their career, double the rate of men. And the reasons weren’t good—respondents cited weak management support (23%), lack of opportunity (20%), and lack of work-life balance (22%) as the catalysts. 

Since the most gender-diverse companies are 48% more likely to outperform companies that are less diverse, it is crucial for organizations to have DEI at the center of their culture and hiring processes to nurture and develop key talent, regardless of gender. 

Meredith Graham, CPO at Ensono, says the first and most important step to eliminating gender bias is acknowledgment, followed by action. “Organizations must acknowledge the disparities that exist in the tech industry and communicate to female candidates how they are working to create policies and programs that support women in technology,” she says. 

Creating equitable programs and processes is more important now than ever. And Ensono’s annual survey of women in tech found that an overarching challenge for female tech employees has been a lack of opportunity to grow in their careers. “Sixty percent of women in tech roles in the U.S. said they’ve been told by employers that a lack of training or skills is holding them back, yet a majority of global companies don’t offer mentorship programs or paid courses for learning and development,” Graham says. 

She advises organizations to utilize tactics like anonymous employee feedback channels and ongoing education and training that helps identify underlying or forthright toxicity to cultivate an inclusive environment. 

Being Accountable  

Nidhi Alexander, chief marketing officer at Hexaware Technologies, also confirms the importance of accountability as it pertains to rectifying gender discrimination and bias in the workplace. “In order to ensure a positive employee experience for women, we must identify and eliminate any biases – within our employee programs and our team, of course, but also within our own minds,” she says. “Once we address these personal and systemic biases, we can start the deep work of building a truly inclusive work environment.”  

Alexander says that while workplace bias can show up in many ways, it’s shown itself tremendously when it comes to work-life balance. “[A] McKinsey report states that while women make up roughly two-fifths of the global labor force, we suffered more than half of the total job losses caused by the [pandemic] as we took on the brunt of caregiving and household responsibilities. And women [were] disproportionately affected by pandemic-driven spikes in global unemployment and reductions in labor force participation,” she says. 

A lack of workplace support leads to negative outcomes for women, like heightened feelings of exclusion and feeling unaccepted. “I think the key difference is that men don’t have to wonder whether they belong,” Alexander says. “In meetings, if men raise their voices, they are ‘demonstrating leadership,’ whereas a woman saying the same words in the same tone would be viewed as ‘emotional,’ or ‘aggressive.’” 

Debbie Connelly, chief people officer at Hyland, has spent more than two decades with her company and has been part of making the juggle between work and life a bit easier for working moms. “Overwhelmingly, women in tech want a better work-life balance and for working moms, [they want] a family-first culture where they can feel empowered and supported,” she says. “At Hyland, we expanded our healthcare coverage in 2008 to include fertility treatments and we maintain that strengthening families is an important initiative to us.” 

Some of Hyland’s other initiatives that have focused on embracing women’s needs rather than evading them include:  

  • HylandWIN (Women in Networking): a female-led employee resource group to identify and promote the strengths of female employees and ultimately champion their personal and professional successes. This program was inspired by women in tech and other male-dominated industries who felt afraid to speak up about their experiences in the workplace. 
  • Mentoring Circles: sessions that enable company teams to learn from their peers and leaders around the core competency of their choice, deepening their expertise in various skills. 

Connelly says that strengthening support for women employees bolsters their professional and personal development and is critical in establishing positive and comprehensive hiring and recruiting processes. 

Communication is Key 

Graham reaffirms that to make a long-standing change for women in tech and any other industry, one thing remains—communication is the foundation. “My experience has taught me how integral it is for company leaders to not only listen to women about their experiences, but create a culture of communication and advocacy to help reduce the barriers women in tech face every day,” she says. 

This kind of communication, Connelly notes, must include men and people of varying levels to be most effective. “Real change takes men and women to get us to gender equity,” she says. “We all can practice helpful ways to embrace equity, such as recognizing biases, serving in mentor roles and seeking out different perspectives within an organization.” 

Now is the time for companies to be intentional in the way they guide and support women in tech by providing them with opportunities for advancement as they would for men. Alexander agrees to this sentiment, adding that at the end of the day, women just want fairness. “The truth is that women do not wish to be treated differently or in a special manner. They simply want to be respected for their work and acknowledged for their efforts,” she says. “By providing women with the same opportunities as men, we can be confident that they can progress in their careers and fully contribute to creating a high-performance work culture.” 

Tags: Diversity & Inclusion, HR Technology, women's history month

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