How Companies Can Keep Women in Tech

Unsurprisingly, tech is still white and male

Key Takeaways

  • Half of female workers will leave their tech job by age 35, a study finds.
  • The primary reason young women leave technology jobs is because of noninclusive company culture.
  • Companies need to provide better role models and more flexibility, experts say.
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Companies need to do more to keep women in tech jobs as half of the women who go into the field leave by age 35, a recent report finds. 

The main reason young women exit tech is because of noninclusive company culture, according to the report from consulting firm Accenture and the nonprofit Girls Who Code. The loss of women is complicating efforts to diversify an industry that's already primarily white and male. To retain women, companies need to launch broad initiatives that include encouraging parental leave, providing mentors, and funding employee-resource networks, the report found.

"When you get underneath it, the biggest factor for women leaving tech is them asking whether this is a place where I fit," Gloria Samuels, a Senior Managing Director at Accenture, said in a phone interview. "Is this a place to balance my life? Who values me? Is this a place where I can bring my whole self to work?"

Differing Perspectives

Fixing the problems that cause women to depart will be hard if people can’t agree on the cause; there’s a gap between how companies and their employees view the situation with women, the report found. 

Forty-five percent of human resources (HR) respondents said it's "easy for women to thrive in tech." For women, that percentage is 21, and it drops to 8 percent for women of color. Fewer than half of HR leaders (38%) think that building a more inclusive culture is an effective way to retain and advance women.

When you get underneath it, the biggest factor for women leaving tech is them asking whether this is a place where I fit.

Raising children is a key reason women leave technology roles, Samuels said, adding, "It’s not just maternity or paternity leave. It's acknowledging, and especially during COVID right now, how people are trying to balance homeschooling and work responsibilities and two-parent working families."

For working mothers, promoting flexibility within companies is essential, Geraldine Teboul, global SVP of marketing at tech company Signavio, said in an email interview. 

"Organizations need to make sure it’s within company mentality to promote equality, flexibility for women, and that women feel comfortable to speak up," said Teboul.

Despite the progress made in gender equality over decades, women still manage a heavier load than men in balancing work and family, Shelley Gretlein, Vice President of Brand and Communications, Global Marketing at the technology company NI, said in an email interview. 

"They are often the ones who reduce their work hours to do so and often at the expense of their career," said Gretlein. "This contrast has become even more stark during the global pandemic, where women are now tasked with juggling the tremendous burden of virtual school while also charting a new path of working from home."

Matching With Mentors

One reason many women drop out of the tech workforce is because they can’t find role models, observers say. Take D'vorah Graeser, CEO of KISSPatent, who says she founded her first company at the age of 32 because she thought she had no alternative. 

"I couldn’t see a pathway within an organization where no women had made it up the career ladder," she said in an email interview.

Having a mentor can make all the difference in womens’ success in tech. Matching young employees with "women who’ve gone before you and succeeded, women who’ve gone before you and stumbled, and women who haven’t yet earned their first promotion will all provide you with a strong foundation to thrive and perspectives (aka wisdom) to growth," says Gretlein.

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And while pay gaps are narrowing, they’re still a factor in keeping women. Tech roles pay above average at every education level; median earnings are $82k vs. $47k across all roles, according to the Accenture study.

And the gender pay gap is lower in tech roles. Women in computing earn 87% of what men earn vs. 80% across all roles. However, just 45% of all female tech workers trust that they’re paid the same as men; this drops to 32% for those who switched out of tech. 

"Retain women, using an outside firm if you must, by doing an audit of your company culture and pay equity," said Malaika Paquiot, Director of Product at K4Connect, in an email interview. "Listen and act on what you hear. Often, women will tell you exactly what their needs are."

Safe, Diverse Environments

Creating a welcoming environment is just as important as salary equality, observers say.

"Companies also need to set the tone and make absolutely clear that a business dominated by men is bad for business," Jing Sun, co-founder of IoTeX, said in an email interview. "Sexism is not a political issue. Instead, the whole organization must see the promotion of women as fundamental to the company’s success."

Promoting diversity is also part of the solution, Graeser said. "Technology companies need to recruit more women, particularly women of color, and provide clear career paths so that they can see they have a future to thrive. If the people above are white males, then their network is also likely to be white males [who] are prone to hiring within their networks."

Retain women, using an outside firm if you must, by doing an audit of your company culture and pay equity.

Companies should also engage with communities to connect with women, Gretlein said. "Empower and reward women leaders for being in the community, sitting on boards for STEM nonprofits, mentoring young women to manage the adversities they face, and truly adding value to future generations of women in tech."

But all these efforts will be in vain if enough women aren’t in tech jobs in the first place. The proportion of women in technology has declined in the last 30 years. To bridge this gap, companies need to actively recruit women, said Paquiot. 

"Make interviewing women for roles a requirement," she said. "Insist on diverse candidates from recruiting firms. Go to organizations that mentor women to recruit. Don’t just rely on referrals from your mostly male employee base."

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One recent model for affirmative action hiring was a test program at the Eindhoven University of Technology, where job openings were only available to women for the first six months. 

"Only if the roles could not be filled by women in that time, could men apply," Graeser pointed out. "This forced the leaders to search outside their networks and the result, unsurprisingly, was that suddenly they were able to find women who were a great fit for the roles."

The stakes are getting higher every day for women in the tech workforce. The coronavirus pandemic is putting an unequal burden on working mothers. How well companies retain their female employees could be a key factor in the country’s economic recovery.

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