The technology industry has faced a lot of criticism around attracting and retaining female workers.
Women make up just 37 percent of entry-level technology jobs, according to a recent study by McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org. In other industries, women represent nearly half of entry-level jobs. And as women advance in their careers, the less likely they are to stay in science related fields.
Women that do continue in technology roles end up feeling out of place, mostly because of the male-dominated culture that pervades the industry.
“It’s hard not to feel like you’re sort of this oddball,” said Joy Ebertz, staff engineer at Box, a cloud storage company based in Redwood City, California.
“Even if [young women] had some interest in getting into technology, they would hear and see the portrayal of what that culture is like in a tech company and not want to go there,” said Erin Yang, vice president of technology product management at Workday Inc., a financial and human capital management software company based in Pleasanton, California.
What can business leaders do to retain female workers in technology-related fields?
- Look at the data. Workday’s Yang said leaders should first understand the scope of the problem inside their company by looking at their internal demographic data.
- Acknowledge why a diverse workforce is good for the company. For a global company, having a workforce that is representative of the population at large will improve its ability to create products and services that create real value for customers, Yang said.
- Teach non-tech workers to code. The world is becoming more technical. Therefore, leaders should encourage all employees to learn and embrace technical skills, if even on only a basic level. “You don’t have a choice,” said Ari Horie, founder and CEO of Women’s Startup Lab, a think-tank and investment firm in Menlo Park, California.
- Explain the opportunities available in tech. Many women likely aren’t entering the tech world because they may not fully understand the breadth of opportunities available in the field, said Gelena Sachs, director of people at Udemy, an online learning platform based in San Francisco. Nearly 70 percent of women who haven’t considered a career in IT say it’s because they don’t know enough about what the jobs require, according to research by CompTIA, a nonprofit industry trade association.
- Bring in speakers and have “meetups.” Sachs said this will expose current female workers to more technology-related opportunities.
- Emphasize tech in career planning. Leaders should have open conversations with female workers about how their passions, interests and skills would apply to technology roles. “As long as you have the soft skillsets and the hard skillsets, and have the excitement about learning the technical piece of it, I think the sky’s the limit,” Sachs said.
- Update job descriptions. Language matters in job descriptions, and oftentimes they’re written more for men than for women. Also, women are more likely to apply for a job when they meet 100 percent of the requirements, whereas men will apply if they meet 60 percent. “Keep the requirements to what you actually care about so that you’re not eliminating potentially valid candidates,” Ebertz said.
- Have positive role models women can look up to. Positive role models at the top of an organization are integral to retaining female talent in any field, but especially in technology. “That’s the other thing leaders can do is role model and show by example what’s available to women, especially as they’re starting in their careers,” Sachs said.
These role models don’t have to be female, either. Any mentor that can push and encourage workers is valuable. “For women, a lot of the challenge is just the confidence that you have in yourself,” Yang said.
Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy.
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