A rising tide lifts all boats, right? Well, not exactly. Despite the tech industry’s meteoric rise over the past generation, women hold a lower share of computer science jobs than they did in the 1980s. Today, women make up more than half of the U.S. workforce, but hold fewer than 20% of U.S. tech jobs.
What’s driving this disparity? That’s complicated:
Girls have been discouraged at a young age from pursuing STEM careers. While girls show equal or even higher aptitude for STEM subjects as boys, by high school fewer of them have been considering STEM careers.
Fewer young women pursuing computer science and related degrees in college translates to fewer of them entering the tech workforce. There are signs this trend is changing, but it will take a few years for increasing diversity in education to fully make its presence felt in the talent pool.
On entering the workforce, women face all manner of gender discrimination, from hiring discrimination and unequal pay to unequal rates of promotion and outright sexual harassment.
It’s easy to think this discrimination is something that happens somewhere else, in some Mad Men-esque alternate reality. But it’s often a more unintentional outcome. Consider the startup world, where 83% tech startup founders are men (by the way, gender discrimination in startup funding is a thing). Many founders hire friends from their social networks, which often leads to a homogenous, overwhelmingly male team.
Most technology leaders don’t set out to discriminate against women, but if you want to build an inclusive environment, it’s important to take a more active role in supporting them. That’s why major players like Salesforce and Intuit are rolling out initiatives ranging from reviewing their payroll and closing the gender pay gap to investing in the recruitment and retention of women, and offering flexible work arrangements, especially for women on management tracks.
What if you’re not Salesforce? There are still some simple ways you can be an ally for women in tech:
Hire, pay, promote — If you’re in a position to do so, the most straightforward way to advocate for women in tech is to hire them, pay them equally, and promote them to leadership roles when appropriate. It’s not only the most direct way to support gender equality, it’s also good for business. Hiring more women is correlated with more robust growth and better performance. Innovation-focused companies are $44 million more valuable on average when women hold positions of power.
Mentor or sponsor — Men are 50% more likely to have a mentor in their industries than women, so take steps to balance that out and offer to mentor a junior woman in your company or industry. Women in tech with a mentor are more likely to advance their careers and take on leadership roles.
Invite feedback — If you’re in a leadership position, seek out feedback, specifically on how inclusive your work environment feels. Ensure employees can submit anonymously, so you’ll get honest responses.
Encourage the young girls in your life — If you have a young girl in your life, such as a daughter, cousin, niece, or friend’s child, support and encourage them if they show an interest in tech subjects. It may be a longer-term play, but early exposure to programming may be a key factor in women pursuing computer and engineering-related careers.
Support Equal Family Leave policies — A generous maternity leave policy might seem like a great perk, but many women hesitate to take full advantage of it for fear of being held back professionally. Instead, support family leave policies that treat men and women equally. A workplace that views parenting responsibilities as equal between men and women promotes equality in the workplace, and equal leave policies have been shown to boost morale, retention, and productivity.
Don’t hire to quotas — Hiring a woman just to check a box, even if she isn’t the best person for the job, doesn’t help. It can actually do the opposite, reinforcing gender stereotypes and leading to resentment from her team. There are plenty of talented women in tech — add them to your talent pipeline and recruit them for the right job.
Enforce community standards — Create a code of conduct and educate your employees on appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Establish a zero tolerance for lewd comments, discrimination, and sexual harassment — and enforce it.
Look past “cultural fit” — In a 2007 interview with Forbes, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin said of a candidate, “He thinks like me, he’s just as geeky, and he doesn’t get laid very often. Great hire! We’ll get along perfectly.” Many tech companies still emphasize the importance of hiring a “cultural fit” — that is, someone similar to other employees. It’s important to work against this inclination, as it can undermine diversity and lead to groupthink that can stunt company growth. Team diversity has been demonstrated time and time again to lead to better decision-making and better-than-average financial results.
Speak up — If you experience or witness gender discrimination or sexual harassment, report it. Don’t look the other way, explain it away, or brush it off. Don’t tolerate or excuse bad behavior.
Support organizations that support women in tech — Choose an organization that encourages and supports women in tech and get involved. A Cloud Guru proudly supports Women Who Code, which provides training, education, opportunities and scholarships for women and girls interested in the tech sector. Black Girls Code, AnitaB.org, Girls Who Code, and TechWomen are other great organizations, working hard to champion women and girls in tech. By supporting organizations like these, you are helping to close the gender gap in tech.
Regardless of your gender, role or level in the tech community, you can be an ally for women in tech. Small changes can shift the entire industry toward a more diverse, inclusive, innovative, and successful work environment.
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