The Covid-19 pandemic brought into full view what has been broken for women in corporate America for a very long time. It also afforded business leaders an opportunity to have real conversations and brainstorm scalable solutions to create positive change for multitudes of women, not just the high-potential few.
Whether by rethinking child care benefits for working parents, rooting out bias, achieving pay equity or exchanging old corporate ladders for modern bridges that carry more women across the divide together, we are making progress. As I spoke with senior learning and development leaders during the pandemic about how to bolster community and connection, one specific group kept coming to the forefront of conversations: women in tech.
Women in tech are highly intelligent, motivated professionals navigating male-dominated environments every day. They are often islands of one, especially as they advance in their careers. A 2021 “Women in Tech Report” found that 72% of women in technology are outnumbered by men in business meetings by a ratio of at least 2:1, while 26% report being outnumbered by 5:1 or more.
When women can’t compare notes and experiences with each other about actual situations they encounter at work, many leave, deciding to either seek friendlier work environments where their voice can be heard or leave their fields entirely. A small survey reported that over half of women in tech leave their employers mid-career.
We need to do more to stop the leaky talent pipeline of women in STEM fields. By supporting women at the beginning of their career journey and as they continue to mid-career and beyond, we can help women survive and thrive in male-dominated environments.
Take, for example, what three technology companies did during Covid to put action behind their DEI goals to advance and retain women in tech. One is a global technology manufacturer, another develops software and the third is a leader in consumer tech products. All three corporations recognized that if they did not do more to build community and engagement among their female employees, they were going to lose the key female talent across their pipeline that they had worked so hard to find.
First, they started by understanding the biggest challenges for women in tech:
• A lack of female role models.
• Lack of access to adequate training to succeed.
• The majority having male direct supervisors.
• Not believing their employers are committed to advancing women in tech roles.
• Limited networking opportunities.
Then they took action.
1. Providing the time and tools to help women band together accelerates their success. Women are more likely to be higher performing at work with a tight-knit circle of supportive women they can trust and lean on for advice and input. Using an innovative scalable tech platform, they built small-group communities across women in their organization to meet virtually during regular business hours to learn new skills, share experiences, celebrate accomplishments and give or seek advice.
2. They provided virtual, expert-led training and support for women led by vetted executives to help grow their next generation of leaders.
3. They drove engagement and belonging in their early-career and mid-career women employees. As professional women gain experience, their confidence levels fall by half, and 40% of women undersell their experience and capabilities at work, which can limit their potential for advancement.
The impact of steps like these can be remarkable: Female employees feel more committed to their company, employees feel their company prioritizes their development and confidence and leadership skills improve.
As we emerge from the pandemic and settle into a new normal, it can’t be business as usual for women in tech. We need to stop the revolving door of female talent.
Retention is a $30 billion annual problem, with the estimated cost of losing an employee ranging from one-half to two times their annual salary. By listening to the challenges faced by women and responding with solutions that address their needs head-on, we have a real shot at making a real difference. We can go from shaking our heads at disappointing statistics to shaking things up for women in tech.