Women make up half of tech users, and the evidence is that their skills are every bit as good as men’s, yet they account for under 20% of people working in the tech industry, and only 5% of leaders. This isn’t just a problem for talented individuals unable to develop their potential – it’s a problem for business. Research carried out by Morgan Stanley has shown that the tech companies that score highest for gender diversity make over 5% more money per year. The Kauffman Foundation showed that they produce 35% more return on investment. In other words, making room for women makes money – but what kind of work is needed to make it happen?
Understanding the barriers
It isn’t possible to break down barriers until you know where they are. Though there is research in this area that paints a general picture of prejudice and discrimination, finding out what’s wrong within any one organization depends on listening to women. We know that girls don’t have much confidence about studying math and science or pursuing tech careers. We know that many men habitually contribute to damaging women’s confidence by insisting that they are innately less capable (though there is no evidence to support this), and we know that recruiters employ a higher proportion of the men they interview than the women they interview, while employers are more likely to give men promotions. Why is this the case, and what can individual businesses do to change it?
Tackling hidden discrimination
Often, businesses don’t see the scale of the problem because they’re not really looking. Sociologists have observed that once more than 30% of members of a given group belong to a traditionally excluded group, people in the traditionally dominant group will perceive them as dominant. This means that if 30% of your employees are female, you might think that you actually have an even gender split, especially in a large company where you don’t know everyone individually. The easy way to resolve this is to use big data to find out how many of your employees are women, how their wages compare to men’s, and how many of them hold senior positions. A computer can do this anonymously so as to remove any bias, and you can then institute training or change your practices to help achieve a better balance. Make sure that female employees know that they will be taken seriously if they report incidents of discrimination or harassment. Be proactive in making it clear that you welcome feedback so that they won’t worry that things could get worse if they speak up.
Sometimes, small things make a big difference. Vodafone found that just by changing the language that it used when advertising jobs, it could attract a significantly higher percentage of female candidates. Though their abilities are, overall, as good as men’s, different socializations mean that women respond to job adverts in different ways. They’re less likely than men to put themselves forward if they don’t feel that they have every quality that an advert asks for, so if, instead of saying that candidates must have a long list of skills, you list only the most vital ones in this way and then make a separate list of skills that would be useful, they’ll be more likely to apply. They’re also encouraged by adverts that suggest that the job will contribute to making the world a better place.
Though research suggests that women balance multiple responsibilities better than men do, many still struggle in the workplace because, socially, they’re still expected to do the majority of caregiving work at home. In the modern world, and especially in tech, this really shouldn’t be a barrier. If you can offer homeworking as an option all or some of the time, or offer flexible shifts, this can make it much easier for women to fit work around their other responsibilities. It will also make your workforce as a whole happier and more loyal, and in some contexts, it can significantly increase productivity.
Women at the top
It’s hard to believe that one can get to the top in the absence of good role models, which is why it’s important to encourage women’s business networks – for instance, by inviting them to hold events on your premises – and to promote the visibility of female role models. Sue Bhatia is the founder of Rose International, an IT and business services provider that provides innovative end-to-end technology services to government agencies and the private sector in the US and India. She has won numerous accolades, including the US Small Business Administration’s National Entrepreneurial Success Award. Amanda Spann has held senior positions at Blerdology, tiphub, and her namesake foundation, which focuses on helping black entrepreneurs build up their brands. Business Insider has called her one of the 30 Most Important Women In Tech Under 30. And Leah Busque has inspired a generation to change the way that they manage daily work by founding TaskRabbit.
Women can be big players in tech, but to really see them succeed, we need to level the playing field. When we do, everyone wins.