Hiring more women in IT is one thing – retaining them is another

Debra Logan

Make pay equality a priority Debra Logan, Gartner

The value of diversity and women in IT is well-trodden ground. Yet women represent only 31 per cent of IT employees, compared to making up nearly half of the global workforce, according to a Gartner survey.

While progress is being made in many industries and professions, gender balance in IT has gotten worse over the last 30 years.

Women leave technology jobs at twice the rate of their male counterparts. By the time they reach the midpoint of their careers, more than half have dropped out, which is double the level of men at a time when attrition is most costly to their companies.

The well-publicised gender pay gap, which increases as women progress up the career ladder, negatively impacts the retention of female IT staff and decreases diversity at senior levels.

The lack of flexible working conditions, sponsorship programs, role models, leadership development and training mdash; along with policies that penalise those that take career breaks mdash; are reasons why women leave IT.

Corporate IT departments, as compared to other corporate functions, struggle in creating the appropriate policies and culture that will entice women to stay with the organisation.

The high dropout rate ensures that fewer women will be available at senior levels. This in turn leads to fewer promotable women, fewer role models for younger women and becomes a vicious cycle.

It’s unlikely that gender parity will be obtained simply by making changes to recruitment procedures.

Of course, those changes are both welcome and necessary, and are certainly part of the answer to achieving gender balance in IT. However, understanding the reasons why this attrition occurs and taking steps to retain more of the existing female workforce will go a long way toward solving the problem.

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Remediate female flight risk

Use data-driven methods to assess and remediate female flight risk. Retention is a more productive and less costly way of increasing diversity than recruitment.

The cost of attrition is frequently estimated as between one and two times the average annual total target compensation of terminated employees. High attrition can lead to increased cost, missed business targets, unhappy employees and dissatisfied customers. Costs can be especially onerous for organisations with highly skilled, hard-to-replace workers.

Many organisations monitor this metric regularly, at least at an aggregate level. Some organisations have also adopted more advanced segmentation analysis to understand which parts of the organisation have abnormally high attrition rates.

As a CIO, you almost certainly have a similar set of challenges. Documenting it in your own organisation and discovering the underlying reasons for female attrition is the first step in solving the problem.

Make pay equality a priority

This is simple. A commitment to pay equality increases the number of women who stay and plan to advance.

Work with HR and senior management to conduct a pay equality gap analysis. There’s an open-source tool for doing this, created by a joint initiative of the UN Global Compact and UN Women.

It’s important to stop the gap from developing in the first place by recognising that there are also gender differences in the ability and willingness women demonstrate in negotiating salary offers and increases.

Create policies on issues important to women

After salary, what women want most is flexibility. Gartner asked women leaders about a range of different things that could potentially help them in their career progression and which would be the most impactful in helping them to advance their careers.

Corporate IT departments, as compared to other corporate functions, struggle in creating the appropriate policies and culture that will entice women to stay with the organisation

The leader mdash; by a wide margin mdash; is flexible time scheduling. In particular, staggered hours within a fixed schedule, a variable day schedule, being able to take longer breaks in the middle of the working day, or even a compressed work week. Flexibility was picked twice as much as things like gender diversity initiatives, holding leaders accountable for gender diversity and employee resource groups.

The message is clear mdash; give female employees something that makes a practical difference in everyday life.

Assess the culture in your IT department

IT has an image problem, in addition to its more concrete cultural problems. The pay gap in tech is the subject of much high-profile media attention and hand wringing. Young women and those changing career paths are well aware that they’re entering a field that doesn’t pay them as well as their male counterparts.

According to a recent Gartner survey, some of the other cultural issues that women experience include lack of mentors (48 per cent), lack of female role models (42 per cent), gender bias in the workplace (39 per cent), unequal growth opportunities compared to men (36 per cent) and unequal pay for the same skills (35 per cent).

One of the ways to overcome gender bias is to focus on inclusiveness. In organisations where leaders demonstrate inclusive behaviour, women generally feel more welcome and included, free to express their views, and that their ideas are heard and recognised.

If you want not just diversity, but also inclusion, leadership matters!

`The Fearless Girl` statue facing the Charging Bull on Wall Street.

Debra Logan is a distinguished VP analyst at Gartner. She covers strategic information management topics in data and analytics, as well as change management, culture change leadership development and diversity in IT. Gender diversity is a topic being discussed at Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2019 on the Gold Coast, 28-31 October.

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