Company leaders seem to realize the benefits of hiring more women and the benefits of a diverse workplace. However, organizations in the technology sector continue to struggle with hiring and retaining women, as well as other minorities. This has had serious consequences in recent years.
Ellen Pao, who's suing the Venture Capital firm Kleiner Perkins for discrimination, and Susan Fowler, the whistleblower who revealed Uber's sexist and hostile culture, are two women who had the courage to speak up. Not every biased policy hits the headlines or includes sexually aggressive managers. Sometimes, alienation begins during the interview process. Managers are losing women who want to work for them and who managers want to hire due to poor communication skills that can be improved.
Gender diversity at work requires deep thinking and rethinking of the existing culture and policies. To achieve this, executive leadership can adopt strategies to attract qualified women to the company. Here are some strategies that have worked for other companies.
Flexible Working Options Promote Gender Diversity
According to the Anita Borg Institute, which reports on female-friendly tech companies, flexible work options encourage higher recruitment and retention of women in the workplace. The Institute also identifies areas in need of improvement. In 2017, its annual survey uncovered that a major reason women leave tech jobs in higher numbers than their male counterparts stems from inflexible working days and hours. Flex time was identified as a solution to increase gender diversity. So, offering flex-time policies may help recruit and keep women in your tech organization. What policies such as flex hours, working remotely, and other flexible arrangements could work at your organization? You may be able to turn some positions into part-time or job share situations.
Accenture is a great example of a tech company adopting flex hours. The company announced that it wants a 50/50 split between male and female employees by 2025. In order to get there, it's adopted a strong stance on flexibility. This is showcased during recruiting. Up to 75 percent of Accenture associates take advantage of the flexible work opportunities.
Thanks largely to this flexible arrangement, female employees made up 40 percent of the company's workforce in 2016. The same percentage of new hires and 30 percent of those receiving promotions were also women.
Have Women Help Recruit Women
By including women in brainstorming and steering committees for recruitment, you get the inside scoop on what's likely to work and what turned them off when they were hired. It's also a great way to build the strategies already discussed. Having women as core policy makers avoids inadvertently sexist language that women feel excludes them.
Buffer, a company that manages social media platforms, realized that women constituted less than two percent of its 2015 candidates for developer positions. After consulting with Angie Chang of Hackbright Academy, a school that teaches women to code, Buffer's CTO learned that the word hacker in job descriptions turned off a lot of women or that they didn't identify with the term. Suddenly, Buffer's job descriptions changed from hack to develop and from hacker to developer, avoiding negative connotations and making the company more appealing to women in tech.
Another company, Textio, advises companies to keep recruiting language gender neutral in job descriptions. However, this might be accomplished more quickly by using focus groups of women to review proposed job postings and descriptions for biased or offensive language. Women in Recruitment Org suggests also having women involved in interviews, in writing the job descriptions, and on any related boards.
Does the Interview Process Include Unconscious Biases?
In 2013, Etsy looked at its workforce and gave itself a failing grade for diversity. It needed more female coders. One of the remedies undertaken was a search for unconscious bias in the interview process. Their interview tactics included “whiteboard coding,” which required potential employees to come to a whiteboard and solve complicated coding issues without preparation. Etsy began to question whether this widely accepted tactic included unconscious bias. Even though it's routinely used by large tech companies across the country, could this be a stumbling block for otherwise qualified employees?
Software engineers are hired for their computer programming skills. Asking someone with a high-tech education and background to code on a white board is equivalent to asking a fashion model to walk the runway for a radio program. It just doesn't happen in the real world. It may also be gender biased. Etsy now pairs candidates with current employees to work on real programming tasks. Half of its coders are now women.
Communicate Career Development Opportunities
Going back to the Anita Borg Institute survey, it found that men in tech are more likely to stick with their current employer than women, who feel less optimistic about their career paths. That's not true of all companies.
Atlassian, a software development firm, asked junior-level female employees to provide feedback. Women said they didn't understand what to do to earn promotions to mid-level roles. Deciding to be proactive, Atlassian launched leadership and development programs that cleared up the uncertainty of promotion policies. Furthermore, it began addressing these concerns in recruitment.
It chooses emerging female leaders for a mentorship initiative with senior tech leaders. Later, this evolved into mentorship apprenticeships for African-American, Latina, and indigenous women, thereby increasing the number of women of color represented in leadership roles.
The reaction was positive and immediate. Atlassian’s retention rates for junior-level female employees improved, and these women felt that they worked for a company that supported their career growth. As a result, the success of these women led to stronger recruitment efforts that attracted even more tech women. Dramatically, the company's recruitment of female tech hires increased by 80 percent.
Begin Diversity Networks with Existing Staff
By establishing networking opportunities for employees of similar ethnicity, lifestyle, or gender, companies like Dell have bolstered their diversity.
These efforts make it easier to help underrepresented groups take advantage of mentorship opportunities while participating in events that give back to local communities.
Dell has set a 2020 goal to include 40 percent of its globe-spanning workforce in any of its fourteen resource groups. Offerings include PRIDE, Women in Action, Latino Connection, and Black Networking Alliance, among others. Dell encourages participation in these groups on its diversity sites. It hopes that this encourages minorities to apply for tech positions at the company. Another Dell initiative is its Global Diversity Council, which reaches out to senior leaders, such as Chairman and CEO Michael Dell, for input on the company’s diversity strategy.
In 2017, 23 percent of its workforce participated in at least one employee resource group. For its efforts, Dell has moved to the top of many Employer of Choice rankings. Fairygodboss listed it second on its Best Companies for Women in 2017 list. It also landed number 28 on DiversityInc's Top 50 list - one of a handful of tech firms to make the list.
A Need for Early Support of Girls in Tech
Supporting organizations that address gender disparity and encourage girls to go into tech gives companies an opportunity to prevent gender bias in the future. Young female technologists are now highly sought after by established tech giants, including Pixar, Dell, and BlackRock.
Girls Who Code (GWC) is a nonprofit that teaches young women the skills needed to develop a fluency in computer science. Through this organization, Dell Technologies’ targets 15,000 girls living in underserved communities. BlackRock partners with GWC to develop mentorships for low and mid-level tech employees who need guidance from women already in leadership positions. These partnerships are the lifeblood of corporate cultures that inspire women to take on tech jobs well ahead of when they enter the job pipeline.
What Does the Future Look Like?
Recruitment and hiring are part of the puzzle when it comes to solving and preventing gender bias. Women are crucial to introducing balance and diversity in tech roles. Aligning recruitment and interviewing policies to the need for strong female role models and employees can make the difference between a diverse workforce with unlimited capabilities and a homogeneous workforce that struggles to meet the needs of the organization.
As some of the companies discussed have found, adding women to tech roles and leadership positions helps tech companies align with their customer base and improve the entire organization's ability to solve problems by utilizing diverse viewpoints. This is good for recruitment, retention and, ultimately, the company's bottom line.
If you're looking to increase your diversity, contact ICS. We are a huge supporter of equal employment opportunity and have candidates that are well qualified to meet your needs. No need to be worried about diversity or lack of talent when you have ICS staffing your company. Don't let your tech company become a cliche of tech bros and contact us today.