Although known for its market-leading innovation, perks, pay, and benefits, a recent report found the male-dominated tech industry lags behind traditional businesses when it comes to hiring, welcoming, and promoting women.
What will it take to get there? “We have two challenges to overcome,” says Cydni Tetro, president and founder of Women Tech Council. “Pipeline and culture.”
To address the former, Tetro and her contemporaries at Microsoft, Cisco, Facebook, and others are trying to expose high-school aged girls (and younger) to science, technology, engineering, and math fields. When young women are given opportunities to interact with these societal building blocks, “their minds open to creative ideas, sustained interest, and ultimately innovations that have an impact,” Tetro says.
The companies are also incorporating hiring policies where job candidates encounter at least one interviewer of their same gender or ethnicity, a practice that has resulted in a 50% increase in women hires, according to Cisco vice president Ruba Borno. The Rooney Rule is similarly effective, which stipulates that at least one minority or female candidate be interviewed for every job opening.
But solving the pipeline problem is just the beginning, experts say. Conquering corporate customs, old habits, and long-held traditions is the bigger problem. In fact, culture is having a larger impact on women avoiding or otherwise leaving technology than anything else, Tetro insists. “The data tells us that 38% of women in engineering leave after seven years, although they remain in the workforce.”
When young women are given opportunities to interact with these societal building blocks, “their minds open to creative ideas, sustained interest, and ultimately innovations that have an impact”Tetro says
This is because the female talent gap has so far been relegated to a human resource problem rather than a company-wide one. Addressing this issue at the management level, therefore, is the only way we’ll see significant progress, argues David Leighton, president of Women in Technology International. “For most companies, making women participants in every aspect of the product cycle would be a smart and significant improvement.”
But just having parity (or near parity) isn’t enough to ensure performance, Tetro says. “We all know that high performing, diverse teams deliver better revenue and profit. But we have created – and not necessarily on purpose – company environments that aren’t valuing or integrating equal perspectives or experiences.”
For example, frowning upon or not promoting women who chose to have children and take an extended maternity leave as a result. Or in the opposite case, coddling or otherwise pandering to the female condition. “Women don’t want messaging that shows bias, too much ego, and not enough reality about how to manage or lead people,” Tetro says. “They just want fact-based information with broader perspective.”
That will increasingly come as CEOs and executives acknowledge that both perspectives are important, and that company communications should equally invite, ask for, and encourage involvement and contributions from everyone.
The good news is the early efforts are working. “As long as we keep making progress and acknowledge that we can do better, we are headed in the right direction,” Tetro says.