Need for New Approaches to Encourage Women to Join, and Stay in, Tech
The ongoing paucity of women in the technology world has led to various efforts to tackle this imbalance—but so far the results of such campaigns have been debatable. Now many voices are rising to share their thoughts on what more needs to be done.
Despite the emergence across the country of advocacy organizations such as Girls Who Code and programs including L’Oréal’s Women in Digital, the challenge remains to make the technology scene more hospitable to women. Adopting different strategies at companies and in mentorship might be called for to bring about tangible change.
Promoting education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is commonly part of the discussion of getting more women into careers in innovation, yet more could be done. Joelle Emerson, CEO and co-founder of Paradigm, a consulting firm based in the San Francisco Bay area, says the problem goes beyond getting more women in the pipeline for technology jobs. Once they find work in the field, is everything rosy?
“The data tells us ‘No,’” Emerson says. “Women are leaving the tech industry at more than twice the rate of men.” Her firm uses analytics and metrics to advise tech companies on recruiting and retention. She says Paradigm looks at a variety of diversity issues in the workplace, such as why women and minorities seldom rise to leadership positions. Emerson says such factors as how candidates are attracted to jobs, the way they are hired, how assignments are given on the job, and the ways promotions are granted can be impediments to diversity.
Unconscious bias, she says, which can include passing judgments on others without realizing it, might be present in the workplace. Even if such issues are brought up, Emerson says companies need to follow through and take action. “Training in unconscious bias isn’t effective if you don’t train people what to do about it,” she says.
There are points of encouragement, Emerson says, as more companies ask how they can be more proactive on this front. However, there is still a long way to go. “I don’t think enough companies are looking at their own workforce,” she says, “to see what they can do to structure a better recruiting process, improve retention, and advancement.”
Making the workplace more conducive for women to thrive can be a matter of company culture, says Katharine Zaleski, co-founder and president of New York-based PowerToFly. “When women get to their 30s,” she says, “when they’ve had 10 years of experience, they start to pull out.”
PowerToFly’s website helps highly skilled women find jobs they can do remotely and on flexible schedules. Zaleski says if more businesses offered leeway on the job, retention rates among women would be much higher.
Organizations such as Girls Who Code, which promotes technology education among young women, are important, she says, but Zaleski sees a need for companies to change to truly improve gender diversity in the workplace. “You’re seeing less and less women graduate with tech degrees because they felt discouraged,” she says.
Part of the problem, she says, is how companies accommodate women who are or may become mothers. There’s a last-man-standing mentality in tech, Zaleski says, where people are expected to stay at work for hours and hours, and the concept of picking up a child at the end of the day is looked down upon. Many companies offer maternity-leave benefits, but once a mother returns to work, there is often a very tough decision to make. “She’s given two very bad choices: stay in the office all the time or bow out of her career,” Zaleski says.
That can be a loss for the company as well, she says, if talented professionals are … Next Page »
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