Women in Tech – Looking Beyond Bias and Barriers
⇨ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) leadership mandates are no longer mere buzzwords but are valuable directives that foster inclusive workplace cultures and provide businesses with competitive edge.
⇨ Promoting workplace equity is crucial to fostering diversity and inclusion and involves actively working toward eliminating disparities and biases.
⇨ Organizations need to ensure visibility for others by holding their recruiting teams and themselves responsible for promoting a diverse and inclusive culture.
Gender equality in the workplace remains a work in progress. While the tech industry has been a key driver of change, women remain underrepresented in the industry. Global statistics reveal that men continue to occupy the C-suite at a disproportionate rate in tech, and despite improvements at the Board level, the tech industry still lacks women in senior leadership roles. Data also reveals that women make up less than a third of the world’s workforce in technology-related fields, while people from other disadvantaged groups also remain largely under-represented in the technology industry.
In the corporate landscape, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) leadership mandates are no longer mere buzzwords. These valuable directives foster inclusive workplace cultures and provide businesses with a competitive edge and positive outcomes like higher stockholder value, improved employee performance, and increased retention rates. The question remains, what are companies doing to improve diversity, drive retention, and build inclusive cultures that support equity for all employees?
Stepping in the Right Direction
Traditionally, women in IT leadership roles have hesitated to acknowledge and discuss the challenges of gender and racial bias. Significant progress has been made in addressing the topic of women in the tech industry, evident from the increased attention and discourse it has garnered.
Today, there is a more candid dialogue about such issues. This positive development underscores the importance of continued discourse on this topic. However, despite such positive developments, the metrics on gender diversity in tech offer room for improvement. A significant amount of effort is required at both the community and personal levels. Grace Brosnon, CTO for the City of Tacoma, Washington, stated, “We need to empower women to achieve potential through community, networking, knowledge sharing, and leadership development.”
The wider tech community is now paying attention to these metrics and openly discussing these issues, which shows a positive stride. It also highlights the continued need to address gender diversity in tech and strive for meaningful change. “Today, there is a noticeable shift with women executives openly discussing and sharing their challenges. Women are now more willing to be part of women in tech communities and acknowledge their role as female leaders,” says Maryfran Johnson, Host, CIO Leadership Live and CEO & Founder of Maryfran Johnson Media LLC.
Building and Promoting ERGs and Equity
Today, there is a growing recognition of the importance of sponsoring and supporting initiatives such as Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for gender diversity, which facilitate mentoring and networking. ERGs are crucial for companies aiming to attract younger workers, such as Generation Z and millennials, who prioritize gender diversity, sustainability, and other social issues when considering employers.
Promoting workplace equity is crucial to fostering diversity and inclusion and involves actively working toward eliminating disparities and biases. The initiative requires intentional efforts by addressing systemic barriers, providing equitable access to resources and opportunities, and ensuring that under-represented groups are empowered to thrive and succeed in the tech industry.
“As part of our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, we have developed an equity index to assess various measures that we apply to all our funding and projects. This allows us to prioritize investment in areas with lower equity scores, ensuring that we are addressing areas with the greatest need first. From an IT perspective, I have also started measuring our efforts to elevate equity, whether it is a small one percent improvement or a larger 10 percent progress. Any positive movement is considered a win,” says Brosnon.
This complex challenge cannot be solved by any single solution or individual effort. It requires continuous work toward advancing solutions and achieving equity and is a lifelong commitment. The statistics show progress: the number of CIO positions held by women increased from 7% in 2007 to 19% in 2023. Yet, creating an inclusive culture requires leaders to actively challenge their personal beliefs and organizational biases daily.
“This involves cascading DEI efforts and empowering and democratizing them throughout the organization so that every small ecosystem within a corporation can make a positive impact. However, it is not an easy task and comes with its own set of challenges. But it’s a necessary and ongoing effort towards building a more inclusive tech industry,” says Kristen Lamoreaux, President and CEO, Lamoreaux Search.
Allyship: Key to Gender Balance
To promote equity in the tech industry, involving men as allies in supporting and uplifting women is crucial. Organizations can cultivate a more inclusive and in- novative environment by embracing diverse perspectives. It is imperative to foster collaboration and support from individuals of all genders to enact positive change and advance equity in the tech industry.
“If women are looking to affect gender change in the workplace and they only speak to women about it, they are effective 36% of the time. But when they engage with men in their workplace about gender diversity, they are effective 97% of the time. We need to engage with men, non-binary (people) as well, to say how do we do this,” states Lamoreaux.
Addressing the Leaky Pipeline of Female Talent
It is important to focus on retaining and building a diverse workforce within the organization, not just recruiting. Retention issues have emerged as a significant challenge in recent years, highlighting the importance of recruiting diverse talent and ensuring their long-term engagement. Diversity programs cannot follow a one-size-fits-all approach.
“It is about identifying individuals who can serve as change agents, bringing fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to existing processes. Retaining such change agents is key. Studies have shown that companies with diverse leadership and boards perform better, which underscores the significance of culture, mindsets, and attitudes in creating an inclusive environment,” says Johnson.
Companies also need to shift their focus toward hiring for cultural contribution, where they seek candidates who can bring unique perspectives and experiences to the company culture. As Lamoreaux says, “You cannot hire for culture fit anymore; it is important to hire for culture add in order to drive change. An organization’s core values and beliefs help create a culture of engagement and cohesion among employees, even if they may have different backgrounds or ways of approaching things. It is important to acknowledge that organizations may have good intentions, but there is always room for continued learning and growth.”
Adopting a Wider Approach
As issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion gain more attention and understanding, organizations must stay updated and ensure that their programs reflect the latest knowledge and best practices. This gives rise to the importance of continually evolving DEI programs.
“Many people already understand the value of diversity in the workplace, so the onus lies on improving existing programs. It is essential to acknowledge that most C-suite executives are white men, and while many of them may already support diversity initiatives, it is important to move beyond just tokenistic efforts such as having a chief diversity officer. Instead, we need to raise awareness and take concrete steps to bring in diverse talent and promote women’s leadership within the company.
“Talent is the key to success, and we must actively seek out and support diverse talent. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving diversity and inclusion, so we must keep adding and evolving programs and continue to have open conversations about it. Change takes effort and commitment, but it is necessary for progress,” says Johnson.
But while leadership plays a crucial role in setting the tone, it is the boots on the ground that make the difference. Organizations need to ensure visibility forothers by holding their recruiting teams and themselves responsible for promoting a diverse and inclusive culture. They can do this by actively reviewing their organizations’ onboarding, hiring, performance review, and promotion processes to identify and eliminate biases. Formal mentorship programs are another way in which organizations can address gender-specific challenges, build confidence and skills, create networking opportunities, and improve reten- tion rates.
It is important to have a wider approach toward promoting diversity in the workplace, going beyond just focusing on women in tech. This entails transforming the company culture, societal norms, and mindset. To foster greater diversity for women and underserved minorities in the tech industry, three essential steps are crucial:
- Expanding efforts beyond mentorship to include sponsorship and allyship in recruitment practices
- Addressing unconscious bias and providing ample support, mentorship, and sponsorship opportunities
- Revamping outdated hiring practices that hinder women and underserved minorities from reaching leadership positions in the C-suite.
- These measures are crucial in ensuring equal opportunities for all individuals to excel in the tech industry.
The article is curated from the webinar on DEI Lessons for Leaders: How Women in Tech are Impacting Change and Transformation.