It's no secret that gender disparity is an issue in the technology industry. The field has become a gateway to high-paying jobs and an opportunity to make a change in the software-driven future. However, a higher number of men than women are staying on. This gap exists due to many factors - families at home, working hours at the office, “geek workplace” culture and, sometimes unconscious, gender bias. The participation of women in their workplaces is not only a social issue, but a business issue that affects women, companies and entire economies.
It’s easy to feel the industry has turned a corner with many of its gender equality policies and initiatives. However, a disparity still exists. Consider the number of women who enter the IT industry, compared to the number of women who make it to the top – the C-suite. At entry levels, the percentage of women entering the tech workforce is close to 30 percent. This number drastically shrinks when it comes to leadership roles.
On a personal note, I often find myself as the only woman at the executive table. Women hold just 5 percent of CEO jobs according to the S&P 500 list, and 56 percent of women leave their jobs at the peak of their career - which is double the quitting rate of men per the National Center for Women and Information Technology’s report. A recent Reuters study also stated that 30 percent of tech executives had no women in leadership positions. Without senior women role models and sponsors, the drop-out rates from entry and middle layers will not improve.
Most executives agree that gender diversity in the workforce is not just a moral imperative – it’s also good for business. Research has shown that organizations with a higher percentage of women in leadership roles are likely to outperform the average. There are a few reasons for this. For one, multiple studies show that women are better at assessing risks than men, and making decisions accordingly – this is incredibly important given the unpredictable global business environment. Second, it’s been shown that diversity of thought brought about by mixed gender leadership teams make for stronger decision making.
Real change must start from the top. It’s vital for senior leaders – both men and women – to maintain a clear stand on gender equality. And at an enterprise level, establishing policies and procedures to ensure equality and diversity play a huge role. Here are some steps we can take to address gender disparity and encourage more women into leadership roles:
Women don’t experience obvious forms of sexism as much as they did a decade ago. Instead, they face an easily masked undercurrent of bigotry - it comes in more subtle forms today. First, recognize these issues in the organization. It’s critical to understand that women and men come to work with different needs and expectations. Provide a forum for women to share their needs, in addition to other women-centric programs and resources. Bring together women from varied professional backgrounds to share their personal and professional experiences, challenges and winning moments. The objective is to enable and empower women to succeed.
Introduce policies to facilitate a more supportive environment for women and retain them as they move into leadership roles – such as flexible working hours, maternity benefits and work-at-home options. However, it shouldn’t end with the company handbook. Organizations must ensure these policies get embedded into their cultures as well. It’s normal to see raised eyebrows when a woman leaves her desk early. That’s a flaw in the organization, not an individual employee. It can be easily solved with conversations by management and sensitizing your employees to gender issues.
Opportunities become fewer as women grow within an organization. Technology organizations often address their gender ratio gaps in leadership by first hiring women leaders in support functions – Human Resources, Marketing, Legal and Quality. While such initiatives are important, true change will not happen until women leaders are in line functions such as Engineering, Sales and Client Services. It is only then that the vicious cycle of ‘hiring in your own image’ can be broken and more opportunities for growth can be created for women.
At every level in the enterprise, examine the gender ratio and the percentage of women you’ve hired and retained. This will provide a better indication of your organization’s status, and help you analyze where growth is being obstructed – as well as discover areas where work needs to be done to make the workplace more female-friendly.
The need for talent is only increasing as more industries are technology-driven. Enterprises cannot meet the rising demands of our digital economy if we don’t unlock the potential of our female talent. It’s time to take another look at gender issues in the enterprise and create more opportunities for growth.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)