In a surprise move recently, several technology giants reported their diversity – or lack of – statistics after years of resistance. The numbers very clearly indicate a homogenised workforce within tech and the problems that under-represented groups – women, racial minorities, veterans, people with disabilities, and so on – are facing. A handy graphic by the Wall Street Journal contains the percentage of women in technical and leadership roles in these companies:
Info-graph 1: Percentage of women and men in technical jobs from WSJ’s interactive graphic
Info-graph 2: Percentage of women and men in leadership jobs from WSJ’s interactive graphic
Moving beyond STEM, data from the S&P 500 companies show the numbers are disappointing there as well. Only 23 companies on the list have women CEOs, representing a mere 4.6%. Women occupy 19.2% of the board seats of these companies and 25.1% of executive and senior level management positions. These numbers are very low and are improving at a glacial pace.
Meanwhile, the number of new technical jobs in the US is rising every year, and there’s already a reported shortage of 500,000 skilled workers. Companies in the science and tech domain are hurting from this skills gap and are unable to hire and retain enough skilled employees to support the business.
On one hand there is the skills gap; on the other hand, many women leave their jobs midway because of reasons that have nothing to do with their waning interest in science and tech: lesser pay than their male peers, bias and discrimination in the workplace, being discriminated against when they have children, and so on. Companies must realise that with continuing bias and discrimination, women are facing more hurdles to reaching their peak productivity compared with men. When they leave, companies not only lose valuable employees and skill sets, they also lose all the training and investment they made in their employees.
A logical solution to solve the skills gap is to include and retain the larger population – women and other under-represented groups – as quickly as possible. Companies that hire and retain more women gain two important advantages: first, they have a better shot at solving the skills gap problem. Second, they gain an edge in the job market by creating a more welcoming culture which automatically attracts more skilled labor in the form of women graduating from technical colleges looking for a good company they can work in. In an age where discriminatory workplace practices are deterring many women from considering STEM in college, companies that make diversity in culture a priority can cause a paradigm shift in making their company more appealing to join.
Many studies have shown that companies with diverse workforces have shown to perform better. A diverse culture is more representative of the real world. Potential employees today are looking to join companies where they can develop holistically, and diversity in culture enables that. Companies that make this a priority can gain a competitive edge in their efforts to hire and retain technical workers who are motivated to stay and give the job their best.
Removing hindrances that keep qualified women from rising to the ranks of leadership is another game-changing strategy. Many qualified women today are being passed up for promotions – effectively demotivating women from staying with the company. Promoting more qualified women through the ranks into leadership positions does two things: first, it exposes a promotional pipeline to other women in the company and will increase retention because women can now see a path to the top in the company. Second, it ensures that companies aren’t losing the talent that they invested in, thus closing the skills gap.
The first step is always the hardest. In the case of diversity in the tech industry, the first step was admitting there was a problem. In 2014–2015, as the tech giants mentioned above released their diversity numbers, it looks like we’re taking the first step. After years of either pretending there wasn’t a problem or hoping the system would correct itself, we’re finally in an epoch where companies are admitting they aren’t where they hoped to be with diversity. With concrete data and diversity goals, companies now have a real chance of catapulting us into an era where there would no longer be a need for creating a report on how few women are in science and technology.