Women comprise 47 percent of the overall workforce in the U.S., but only 25 percent of the IT workforce, down considerably from a 1990 peak of 34 percent. While several factors have contributed to this decline, companies have considerable control over at least one: the workplace environment.
When women choose to step away from the IT career path, their workplace experience plays a notable role in that decision. IT organizations seeking to diversify their ranks and attract and retain talented women and minorities to their teams should consider the key factors that make a workplace attractive to land diverse talent and shape their working environment accordingly.
Key factors women look for in an employer
According to IDC’s Diversity, Inclusion and Women in Technology report, which surveyed more than 1,100 respondents in May and June 2018, women and men aren’t that dissimilar when it comes to the chief things they seek in a potential employer: Everyone wants to work at a company where they’ll earn competitive compensation, achieve work/life balance and contribute meaningful work to an organization that has a sense of purpose.
“From this research, it’s clear that women and men aren’t looking for vastly different things,” says Michelle Bailey, group vice president, general manager, and research fellow at IDC. “Everyone wants to be paid fairly, have a sense of mission and purpose to their work and have the opportunity to grow.”
But beneath this overarching similarity, key differences arise. When asked to rank selection criteria for considering potential employers, women highlighted seven key factors:
- Company growth potential and future success: 36%
- Competitive compensation and pay: 33%
- Company builds quality products and services: 31%
- Company has a sense of mission and purpose: 22%
- Opportunities for career advancement and promotion: 20%
- Would improve future employability opportunities: 18%
- Trusted by customers and business partners: 17%
As women leave the tech industry at double the rate of men, it’s important for organizations to understand these factors and realize just how much control senior leadership has to make sure women and other underrepresented minority groups see their company as a welcoming place to work, says Julie Elberfeld, senior vice president of core technology at Capital One.
Capital One’s own research, the Capital One Women in Technology Survey, polled a national sample of 450 women; 250 of whom remained in tech careers at least eight years and attained senior roles, and 200 who left the industry after three or more years. The findings reveal a similar range of factors that influence women’s career decisions and journeys, from the nature of the work, to the support provided by employers, to their personal perseverance, on top of more traditional factors such as compensation and work/life balance.
Highlighting these “x factors” provides an opportunity for women in tech and employers to explore new ways to close the technology gender gap, Elberfeld says. Moreover, doing so will help organizations capitalize on the benefits of diversifying their workforces, as 86 percent of employees report business impacts from a lack of diversity, according to the IDC survey.
Filling the gap: Best practices for attracting female tech talent
IT leaders should take note that, when considering the above factors of interest for women in IT workplaces, they do have considerable control, Elberfeld says.
“The elements are within our grasp, and the companies can control those, so you have to make the commitment to developing the actual factors that are impacting diversity and inclusion,” she says. “The hard data offers a concrete path to fixing the leaky pipeline and dispelling many of the myths that get perpetuated around why women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ aren’t choosing technology as a career, or aren’t staying within the industry.”
IT leaders can take the following steps to ensure they are providing a supportive work environment where women will want to work and thrive.
1. Give women challenging and rewarding work with opportunities for advancement
Women who have stayed in tech careers love the intellectually challenging work, Elberfeld says. “Women say they are happy with the work — it’s intellectually challenging, meaningful and purposeful work; women who are leaving tech are doing so for other reasons,” she says. “Only 2 percent of those who left said it was because they were unhappy with the work, and that disproves the narrative that ‘tech isn’t something women are wired for,’” she says. Offering opportunities to stretch and keep growing in their careers is key to retention of top talent, she says, and companies should consider this when recruiting.
2. Make sure the right training is available at the right time
The majority of women surveyed said training is critical for success in tech, so employers should provide opportunities for continuous skills development that leverages women’s high confidence for solving problems.
“Another important factor is the idea of the value of an assignment: Is it making an impact on the world? Is it creating a visible result?” Elberfeld says. “Women are really driven by mission and purpose, and they also feel like training is a differentiator, as well. Making sure that you’re offering visible, compelling assignments that stretch skills, and the training to align with the skills women want to develop, is critical,” she says.
3. Provide women with work/life balance and fair pay
While the women who stayed in tech said work/life balance was one of the top reasons they remained, this is also important for companies that are losing bright, capable, tech-savvy women to other industries. Companies must take a closer look at providing work/life balance and good (and fair) pay, according to the research.
4. Encourage mentorship, peer networks and social connections
Women who have other women as role models, mentors, and social connections are more likely to thrive and advance in their tech careers. According to the IDC research, representation throughout a company — but especially in senior leadership and executive roles — is critical to attracting and retaining women and other underrepresented groups, Bailey says.
“Having women in senior leadership roles changes the perception of the company from women in lower-level roles,” Bailey says. “As women in executive leadership increases, so does job satisfaction; the likelihood to believe pay is fair, that the company is innovative. In addition, engagement and morale also improve with higher rates of women in leadership.”
But it can’t just be any woman, Bailey adds. “It has to be the ‘right’ person who’s actively advocating for greater representation, fairness, diversity and inclusion,” she says.
Taking positive action to help women connect and engage with these resources will have a direct impact on companies’ ability to attract and retain diverse talent.
5. Support women in finding and deepening their sense of purpose
Supporting women in solving meaningful problems with technology can help them find and deepen their sense of purpose at their company and in society at large, Elberfeld says. In turn, this fosters greater resilience and grit, which empowers and supports women to stay and thrive in their technology careers. This positive image of women in tech also encourages young girls, who are the future of a diverse workforce, to consider tech careers.
It’s also important to understand that these factors aren’t exclusive to white women, Elberfeld says. Making sure your organization is soliciting feedback from and enacting policies that help all underrepresented groups in technology can improve your hiring pipeline, as well as engagement and retention rates.
“This isn’t just about white women. We understand that Latinx/Hispanic peoples, Black and Native American people, the LGBTQIA+ community are all underrepresented in tech,” she says. “We’ve taken all our learnings and initiatives and applied those across the board to supporting and amplifying Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Native American and other populations to truly be intersectional and boost opportunities for women of all races and all underrepresented people.”