by Anna Frazzetto

#MeToo in tech: how to go from window dressing to action

Feb 27, 2019
CIOIT LeadershipTechnology Industry

The #MeToo movement ushered in a wave of gender parity awareness in nearly every industry, yet many women are still feeling underrepresented in tech. Can we do more to make IT more welcoming to women?

It’s a year and a half since the #MeToo movement was born. Awareness of the need for gender parity in nearly every industry has increased and that includes the technology sector. Several professional women I speak to and work with are telling me that the #MeToo movement has made an impact and, as a result, they see the tech sector gradually becoming more welcoming and/or accommodating.  The industry is also seeing an increase in programs that support recruiting and hiring of women in tech. A 2018 Deloitte survey of more than 2000 tech professionals found that 59% of respondents either strongly agreed or agreed that their “organization understands the business case for a more gender-diverse workforce, and has taken steps to increase diversity.”

While it is encouraging to see more awareness of the need for greater gender equality and an increase in practical applications that can help make it a reality in tech workplaces, progress remains slow. Many women still feel underrepresented in tech and tech leadership. Work/life balance remains elusive, and IT can’t seem to shake off its reputation for being an unwelcoming environment to women. According to the 2018 Harvey Nash Women in Tech survey, more women than men are leaving their jobs because of a negative environment. In fact, twice as many women as men moved on in part due to unfair treatment.

Are you just checking the box?

The million-dollar question tech companies and their leaders have to ask if they want to see a real movement toward parity is this: Are the gender equity programs put in place to raise awareness, increase acceptance and recruit women truly substantial or are they superficial? Are they making a considerable impact or are they simply window dressing thrown up for however long the #MeToo movement has strength?

The fact is that to go beyond “checking a box” and make significant strides in engaging, hiring and retaining women at all levels requires more than a program. It requires engagement in the issue at all levels of the organization, an honest assessment of where things are at and a concerted effort to set goals that achieve progress.

Tips for taking bold, effective action

Many of the technology organizations that are seeing substantial progress in engaging, hiring, retaining and promoting women have similar winning strategies. Here are tips for taking their successful actions and making them yours:

Tip #1: open productive dialogs

To make a difference in gender equity, businesses and leaders have ask the hard questions and be willing to hear uncomfortable answers. Here are some of the questions IT organizations can use to shake up their dialogs:

  • Does our company have a problem with unconscious bias? Is the leadership and the company perspective “male, pale and stale?”
  • What is the comfort level in our offices with uncomfortable conversations? Is the work environment one that invites people to ask tough questions?
  • Do employees have the confidence and the support to stand up and speak out when they see bias and/or inequity? Could there be/or has there been retaliation when it has happened in the past?

Even the most well-meaning business leaders can exhibit an unconscious bias towards those who are more like them. Even innovative and forward-thinking companies struggle with diversity and gender equity. One of the first steps to addressing these challenges is being open to the hard and important conversations that come with any transparent effort in overcoming bias.

Tip #2: strive for equal pay

According the Harvey Nash Women in Tech, more women in recent years are finding that working in technology is financially rewarding. But, when it comes to equal pay for equal work, stark differences still exist. The survey found that more women than men feel their companies pay unequally and those feelings are validated by fact. Government research finds that women in “computer, engineering, and science occupations are paid an estimated 79.2% of men’s annual median earnings.” To address pay inequity, a number of high-profile firms, including Salesforce, Starbucks, Adobe, and Apple, have invested in pay audits to examine objective determining factors and made adjustments to close the pay gap. How big is the pay gap in your organization? What are you doing to address it? Now is the time to answer the question and make the fix. If you can’t justify a pay gap today, imagine trying to defend it to the upcoming generation of working women who are studying IT at high schools, colleges and universities right now?

Tip #3: help women jump start their IT careers

Just as many women as men aspire to technology leadership positions but moving up the ladder is easier said than done. The Harvey Nash survey found that 41% of women compared to 26% of men feel that lack of advancement is a top career challenge. Businesses and leaders can signal and give their support to high achieving women in technology by investing in career development programs, such as:

  • Special interest networks/programs (e.g., internal support groups for women in tech)
  • Mentorship and sponsorship programs directed at women
  • Technology training that covers expenses and time off

Over the course of my career I have heard women say that they have to constantly prove themselves while men are assumed to be competent right out of the gate.

Tip #4: improve work life balance

The technology industry’s reputation for high-pressure assignments and long hours continues to define tech culture. Unfortunately, working moms more often face career setbacks because they don’t have the workplace support and flexibility that allows them to balance work, maternity and family demands. Reassess your flexible work schedules and options to support working families and the unique challenges of working moms. Consider increasing parental leave and other ways your workplace can work for parents.

Flex your equity muscles

Building an inclusive corporate culture requires everyone—men and women, leaders and colleagues—to flex under-used muscles. And that can be uncomfortable at first. But with diligence and persistence despite the discomfort, the results of pushing for greater equity will be life-changing for ourselves, our teams, our businesses and the future.