CXO

Bias against women in tech still exists, but there are ways to fix it

On International Women's Day, women who work in tech remain underrepresented and underpaid. Here's how the EDGE Certification can help enterprises work toward diversity and egalitarianism.

Gender bias persists for many women in the tech industry: According to a new survey from ISACA, 27% of women in tech say they often or always experience gender bias on the job. And 43% report that male colleagues are paid more without reason.

Women also remain underrepresented in the industry, holding only one in four technology jobs, the survey found. Meanwhile, more than half of global executives say they face a shortage of capable tech workers.

The top three barriers to equal treatment of women in technology are a lack of female mentors (48%), a lack of female role models (42%), and limited networking opportunities (27%), according to the survey.

"Women are vastly underrepresented in the global technology workforce. This is not only a societal concern, but also a workforce problem, given the critical shortage of skilled technology professionals faced by many enterprises," said Jo Stewart-Rattray, board director of ISACA and director of information security and IT assurance at BRM Holdich, in a press release. "ISACA's survey findings reinforce that there is much work left to be done. By providing more opportunities, including career advancement programs, we can make long overdue progress in ensuring that women are more equitably represented in the technology workforce."

How can businesses ensure that they are attracting and retaining female tech workers, and treating them equally? One option to explore is the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE) Certification, a workforce analytics approach for companies to measure where they stand in terms of gender equality on both the numbers and their culture, as well as identifying areas that need work. Gaining the certification is essentially a gender equality stamp of approval.

SEE: 10 tools to help your company improve diversity

There are 13 EDGE Certified companies in the US, four of which are tech companies. Globally, there are more than 100 EDGE Certified companies with more in the pipeline to become certified, according to Johan Tideman, lead client adviser at EDGE Strategy.

"When it comes to gender equality, the challenges of the tech industry have been so public that [the industry] has almost lost its attractiveness for female talent," Johan said. "The EDGE Certification is an authentic and credible recognition for any tech company of their commitment to become an attractive employer of choice for women again, as well as for men."

Why is gender diversity important? Simply speaking, it's good for business, Johan said. "A culture of inclusion is a higher performing culture that can better harness ideas and creativity," he added.

SAP gained the EDGE Certification in 2016. In 2011, the company's board created a gender diversity initiative, with a goal of having women represent 25% of leadership positions by the end of 2017. At the time, about 18% of the company's leaders were women. As of this writing, that number had reached 24.6%.

Nicole McCabe, senior director of global diversity and inclusion at SAP, was hired in 2012 to chart the course for the company's 70,000-plus employees. "A lot of what I focused on in building a strategy for gender was transformation—not just meeting the goal, but building something sustainable that will grow over time, and building inclusiveness, so when women join SAP they feel valued and stay," McCabe said.

That year, SAP launched the Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program (LEAP), which allows women to participate in a 12-month virtual workforce development program that covers topics such as leadership and negotiation. The company also created a women's professional growth series, with virtual webinars led by executives and an online chatroom where women could ask each other for advice.

Pursuing EDGE Certification fit into the strategy in terms of creating sustainable change, McCabe said. The process was split into three parts over the course of almost a year. First, the EDGE team examined SAP's data, including hiring, promotions, terminations, mentoring, and flex hours. Then, SAP leaders filled out a policies and practices questionnaire, in which EDGE looked at whether policies around equal employment, equal pay, flexible work, and parental leave were in place, as well as how they were implemented and how many people took advantage of them. The third piece was an employee survey.

After analyzing those components, the EDGE team reviewed them with SAP and made recommendations on how to improve. SAP then created a project plan around those action items with specific goals. After a review from a third party auditor, the company received the certification, and has the opportunity to get re-certified every two years if it continues making progress, McCabe said.

SEE: Does your company need a chief diversity officer?

"It tells you exactly what your organization looks like, what you are doing well, what you're not doing well, and gives you recommendations for what you can focus on to dive maximum impact," McCabe said.

It can be difficult for organizations to know where to start when it comes to gender diversity initiatives, McCabe said. "My advice is always to pause—this is such a hot topic and getting so much focus, but people equate activity around gender equality with results," she said. "It goes back to understanding your organization."

Executive support for gender equality initiatives is key, McCabe said. It's also important to examine your own processes to see if they are broken or road-blocking one another. For example, if you want to hire more diverse leaders, and have a future leader program that does not take diversity into account, you've hurt your own initiative, McCabe said.

"As an industry, we must commit to breaking down the barriers for women in technology," said Tara Wisniewski, ISACA's managing director of advocacy and public affairs, in a press release. "It is well past time to address these issues."

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Image: iStockphoto/BrianAJackson

About Alison DeNisco

Alison DeNisco is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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