Fixing tech’s gender disparity isn’t just about getting more women through the door; they also need to be able to climb the ladder. President at cloud talent creation firm Revolent Group, Nabila Salem, talks about what companies can do to address the issue of the ‘missing middle’.
With demand for talent increasing as more organisations seek digital transformation the skills gaps is growing wider every day. As such, the need to address the technology sector’s gender discrepancy has never been more pressing. New roles are being created every day and the opportunities are there; yet women have occupied fewer than 20% of tech roles for more than a decade.
Our lives are increasingly dependent on tech, as are many organisations. If we want to keep moving forward, tech leaders need to tackle any potential barriers that could hamper the attraction of diverse talent, including gender disparity. But tackling the gender gap in the tech industry isn’t just about getting more women into tech roles, it’s also about retaining them and helping them to progress.
The sad fact is that the industry has a pipeline problem. No matter what we do to attract more women into tech, very few seem to stay and even fewer make it into more senior roles. While we can point to several high-profile women on tech company boards, there’s a notable absence of female professionals in leadership positions. According to research by Accenture, half of women in tech roles leave the industry for good by the time they reach 35. In other industries this figure sits at around 20%, so there’s no denying the tech space has a real problem.
The reasons for the absence of women further up the tech career ladder are multifaceted and abundant. A lack of investment in retention, inadequate support for working parents and a less than inclusive culture in tech, have all been cited as barriers by women struggling to advance their careers.
This issue of the missing middle has troubling implications for our ability to move the needle. We all know the value of representation, and having more women in senior leadership positions in tech will help keep the wheels turning towards equality in the sector, not only by showing women that there’s a place for them at all levels, but also by bringing more diverse, innovative thinking to the table when it comes to creating impactful policy.
So what can we do to stop talented female tech professionals from disappearing from the industry?
Supporting flexible work
Attitudes toward the future of work have shifted dramatically since the pandemic, and we’re likely to see remote and flexible working options become increasingly widespread in the future. This is excellent news for the diversification of the tech industry, as flexible working options have been proven time and again to help women start, and develop, tech careers.
Putting remote and flexible working policies in place so that women have more agency to balance their careers with their unpaid caring and domestic responsibilities empowers them with more options for staying in work.
But it’s not enough to just offer flexible work; you need to ensure that employees who utilise it aren’t excluded or otherwise penalised. Despite the increased adoption of flexible work policies recently, the so-called flexibility stigma is pervasive; those who choose to use these policies can be viewed by some employers as less committed, less valuable, and are often less visible than those who work traditional schedules. Businesses need to purge this presenteeism, and create clear development plans to ensure flexible workers don’t get left behind.
Reassessing the typical tech career path
For many women, disengagement with STEM subjects begins early on and resultantly, their pathways into the tech industry can be vastly different than those of their male peers. Some women come into technology late, some cross-train, and some come into it unintentionally, via a tech-adjacent role in another sector. Women’s career trajectories are also less likely to be linear. While these paths are all perfectly valid, they can often hold women back as they strive to progress their careers.
By retaining this rigid approach to what a tech professional (and their background) should look like, we risk freezing out talented tech professionals, who might not necessarily have a tech-related degree, or who started their careers on a service desk. The industry is maturing, and career paths are evolving; we shouldn’t discount those with transferable skills, valuable experiences, or the potential for excellence.
Succession planning and mentoring
Another issue women in tech encounter is a lack of proper career development planning. If we want to prevent women from disengaging and giving up their tech careers, employers should work with female tech professionals to create clear pathways, goals, and a support structure to help them progress.
This is particularly vital for returners; those professionals who have temporarily left the workforce and are restarting their careers.
Sadly, when re-entering the workforce, women are far less likely to have a clear idea of where they stand within their organisation, what opportunities there are available, and how they can progress. Having a proper career plan in place for all employees removes some of the onus on women who are coming back into work and likely feeling pressure simply to get back up to speed and keep their jobs, rather than looking at the next step. But these are professionals with valuable experience, and detailed succession planning can make sure they’re achieving their full potential.
Mentoring and sponsorship can also empower women to advance. Having a sponsor in their corner who can help identify great opportunities, offering coaching, and inspire confidence can make all the difference in helping women in tech move up the ladder.
This is something that we’ve seen the benefits of first-hand in our business, and recently we’ve developed a scheme that connects up-and-coming female tech professionals with those in more senior roles in the industry who can offer mentorship and professional guidance. The program is designed to match women working in tech with experienced figures who can help them recognise their abilities and champion them on their journey through the tech ecosystem.
There is an enormous amount of promise among the women working in tech today—we must take these actionable steps to retain them, support them, advocate for them, and ensure there are no barriers to them achieving their full potential, so that—ultimately—the tech industry can benefit from their talents.