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The tech industry has long been known for its lack of gender diversity, with women significantly underrepresented in tech occupations.
Despite the growing demand for tech talent and the increasing awareness of the issue, progress in addressing this gender disparity has been slow. According to a 2021 report by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), women hold only 26% of computing occupations in the US. The lack of women in tech is not only an equity issue but also a business issue, as companies with more diverse workforces have been shown to outperform their less diverse peers. Let’s look at the challenges faced by women in tech, the benefit of having more women in tech, success stories and the efforts being made to support women in tech.
My personal journey in tech has been both challenging and rewarding: Being one of the very few female Solution Architects back in the days at Oracle; and the only female C-Suite executive at start-ups were lonely and scary at times. Many men and women contributed to my career growth. Having a supportive network helped me get back on my feet after setbacks, and gave me the courage to start my own company as a growth accelerator. My collective experiences have inspired me to rally for women in tech because I see we still have a long way to go.
Despite their talent and skills, women in tech face challenges that hinder their success and advancement in the field. These challenges are seen through real numbers:
Lack of representation: According to the National Center for Women Information Technology, women represent 57% of the workforce, with only 26% in computing tech as of 2021. Women remain underrepresented in the tech industry, and they often face barriers to entry and advancement due to systemic biases and stereotypes.
Lack of role models and sponsorship. There are plenty of mentorship programs. However, women in tech may struggle to find role models and sponsors who can provide guidance and opportunities as they navigate their careers.
The gender pay gap: Men were offered higher salaries than women for the same job title at the same company 59% of the time, according to a 2021 survey from Hired. On average, women were offered salaries 2.5% less than the ones that men were given for the same roles
Balancing work and personal life: Women who work in tech often face challenges balancing their professional and personal lives, especially if they are working in demanding, high-pressure tech environments.
Addressing these challenges is crucial to creating a more inclusive and diverse tech industry. Companies can take steps to create a more welcoming and supportive environment for women in tech. Toptal’s Staffing.com suggests that companies can narrow the Gender in Gap in Technology by doubling down efforts to avoid bias in hiring, offering work-life balance policies that benefit women, and advancing women throughout their careers. By removing these barriers, we can help ensure that women have equal access to opportunities in tech and can contribute their valuable skills and perspectives to the industry.
Increased innovation: Diversity in tech brings diverse perspectives, experiences, and problem-solving approaches to the table. This can lead to more innovative and creative solutions to complex challenges as diverse teams are better equipped to understand the needs and perspectives of different user groups.
Improved financial performance: McKinsey finds that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability. This highlights the importance of promoting gender diversity in leadership positions and suggests that it can have a positive impact on a company's bottom line.
Expanded talent pool: By increasing women representation in tech, the industry can tap into a larger pool of talent. Girls Who Code is a success story, providing free coding programs and resources to girls in the US, reaching more than 500 million girls and closing the gender gap in computing education.
Better products: When women are involved in the design and development of tech products, those products are more likely to meet the needs and preferences of a diverse user base. This can lead to products that are more inclusive, user-friendly, and effective.
Overall, increasing diversity in tech is not just the right thing to do. It is also a smart business decision that can lead to better products, improved financial performance, and a more innovative and inclusive industry.
What steps can we take to address the challenges and barriers faced by women in tech?
Here is the 4Ps strategy:
Pipeline: It is important to build a pipeline of talent by encouraging girls and young women to pursue tech education and careers. This can be done through programs and initiatives such as hackathons, coding clubs, summer internship, and other initiatives that expose girls and young women to the field of technology and help build their skills.
Promotion: Promoting the visibility and accomplishments of women in tech. This can be done by highlighting the achievements of women in tech through media, awards, and recognition programs, as well as by showcasing diverse voices and perspectives in tech conferences, events, and panels.
Pay: Ensuring that women are paid fairly for their work In tech. This involves addressing the gender pay gap by conducting pay equity audits and taking steps to close any pay gaps that are identified. It also involves creating a culture of transparency around compensation and benefits, so that women have the information they need to negotiate for fair pay.
Policies: Implementing policies that support and promote diversity and inclusion in tech. This can include policies such as flexible work arrangements, parental leave, and unconscious bias training. It demonstrates that companies value employee’s well being and work-life balance. It can increase employee satisfaction and retention and become a competitive advantage attracting talents.
With the rapid advancement of technology, the field needs a diversity of voices and ideas to keep up with the pace of change. Encouraging more women to pursue tech education and careers, promoting the visibility and accomplishments of women in tech, ensuring fair pay, and implementing policies that support diversity and inclusion are crucial steps to achieving this.
A good example is Toptal, a network of the world’s top talent in business, design, and technology that enables companies to scale their teams on demand. Toptal is working to increase diversity in tech through initiatives like sponsoring the Women in Tech Lounge at Web Summit to bring innovative and bold ideas, cultivate conversation to elevate women thought leadership and empower women in talent networks. Freelancers in the Toptal network also choose their own rates, which helps mitigate gender pay disparities. Toptal will be at Tech Show London 2023, where the agenda is heavily focused on influential women in tech. (Sidenote: I am thrilled to host Christy Schumann, Chief Customer Officer at Toptal, on my CXO SPICE show where we will learn how they have created a more equitable and supportive environment for women in tech.)
My high school track coach gave me great advice: never give up and keep going – especially when the odds are not in your favor. My curiosity and persistence enabled me to pivot from a bean counter (accountant) to a bean grower (C-Suite executive); and from a corporate leader to an entrepreneur. This path has led me to the Boardroom where many decisions are made. I encourage women to master their domain expertise, take the risk to get out of their comfort zone, constantly reinvent themselves, and network with others. Most importantly, support each other, embrace equity – and never, ever quit pushing forward.
By fostering a culture that is welcoming to everyone, we can create a new world of tech: one that is more innovative, bold and empowering for women.
Helen Yu is a Global Top 20 thought leader in 10 categories, including digital transformation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, cybersecurity, internet of things and marketing. She is a Board Director, Fortune 500 Advisor, WSJ Best Selling & Award Winning Author, Keynote Speaker, Top 50 Women in Tech and IBM Top 10 Global Thought Leader in Digital Transformation. She is also the Founder & CEO of Tigon Advisory, a CXO-as-a-Service growth accelerator, which multiplies growth opportunities from startups to large enterprises. Helen collaborated with prestigious organizations including Intel, VMware, Salesforce, Cisco, Qualcomm, AT&T, IBM, Microsoft and Vodafone. She is also the author of Ascend Your Start-Up.
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