How tech companies can recruit and retain more women

Learn about the benefits of creating a more diverse workforce and promoting women to leadership roles, reasons why women leave tech jobs, and tips on recruiting and retaining women at tech firms.

How tech companies can recruit and retain more women Learn about the benefits of creating a more diverse workforce and promoting women to leadership roles, reasons why women leave tech jobs, and tips on recruiting and retaining women at tech firms.

The first computer programmer was Ada Lovelace; Margaret Hamilton coined the term "software engineering" and helped develop the on-board flight software for NASA's Apollo missions, Grace Hopper was the "grandmother of COBOL"; Hedy Lamarr contributed to the development of Bluetooth technology; and there are many other examples of women in tech history.

The current landscape for women in tech is improving, but it still needs to make significant strides. According to the US Department of Labor, more than half of the overall US workforce (57%) is comprised of women; however, women only account for about 21% of computer programmers, 27% of computer and information systems managers, and 22% in all other computer occupations.

SEE: IT leader's guide to achieving workplace diversity (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The benefits of a more diverse workforce

Creating a more diverse workforce in the tech industry is crucial to its continued success, and recruiting more women is just one way to accomplish that. A 2018 study published by Deloitte from the National Center for Women & Technology (NCWIT) and the Anita Borg Institute found that gender diversity in IT had the following benefits:

  • Improved operational and financial benefits
  • Better adherence to project schedules
  • Lower project costs
  • Better problem-solving
  • Higher employee performance ratings
  • Higher employee pay bonuses
  • Increased innovation
  • Better group performance

According to Stephanie Rodriguez, vice president of policy and engagement at AnitaB.org, "Research shows that companies that hire more women, people of color, and traditionally underrepresented groups are rewarded with an innovation advantage." Rodriguez added, "These companies produce answers to questions that cannot be answered from a singular point of view. A positive outgrowth of workplaces that include an intersectionality of race, gender, and culture is that the technology we are building will better represent the society for whom it is built."

SEE: Hiring kit: Chief diversity officer (Tech Pro Research)

Another good reason to hire more women into technical roles is the insight they can provide as end users. Johanna Mikkola, CEO of the Wyncode Academy, noted in an interview with TechRepublic that women make 85% of buying decisions for households. She also said: "The highest segment and demographic for casual gaming, on mobile phones for example, they're all female from 18 to 30 years old. So it only makes sense that the people who are building and creating the products are more reflective of the end user." She further explained that "when the builders are more reflective of end users, they're actually going to be better products, meaning: Better products, more sales, and overall a huge benefit to business. Diversity is definitely going to be a competitive advantage."

Why it's important to have women in leadership roles

Recruiting women for tech positions can have a multitude of benefits for tech companies, particularly when they are put into leadership roles. Kavitha Prabhakar, a principal at Deloitte Consulting, explained in a webcast that according to a study by Caliper, women are "more persuasive, assertive, and willing to take some risks. They also outperformed their male colleagues in areas of emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills—including empathy, flexibility, and sociability." In addition, Prabhakar stated in the Deloitte webcast that, "the presence of women in leadership is correlated with higher financial performance, better team dynamics, and higher productivity."

SEE: Women in tech: Solving for XX (CNET)

"The entire diversity question in the tech industry is not only about hiring more women or minorities, but whether they retain and promote them into leadership roles as well," Buck Gee, executive advisor at Ascend Foundation Research stated. "Lack of diversity in each of these stages of talent management should raise questions whether there are implicit or explicit structural barriers to equitable assessment of talent," said Gee. "It is our experience that people are more engaged to work harder and highly motivated to excel when they believe that their leaders hire, retain, and promote based solely on talent without consideration of race or gender."

Coding is not the only skill for working in tech

Women are often left out of tech companies' hiring pools due to the prevailing idea that they're not as technically skilled as their male counterparts.

"Knowing how to code is a great skill, but it is not required to be successful and part of a tech team," according to Adrienne Weissman, executive advisor and investor at G2 Crowd, in an interview with TechRepublic. "I think people kind of default to [the idea that] it's tech so you have to be very technical. ... I would not deter anyone away from pursuing jobs at tech companies just because they don't know how to code," Weissman said. "There are truly plenty of other jobs available." For example, women can also be hired for roles in marketing/SEO consulting/social media management, sales, human resources, and analytics, just to name a few.

SEE: Feature comparison: Hiring and recruiting software and services (Tech Pro Research)

Factors that contribute to women leaving the tech industry

Recruiting women to work at tech companies is just half the battle—retaining women is also an issue many tech companies face. According to a report by Indeed, women leave the tech field at a 45% higher rate than men, with only 27% citing work-family balance as their primary reason for leaving, based on research from AnitaB.org. These are common reasons that women leave tech jobs.

    Lack of career growth

    The lack of career growth or trajectory is the most common reason women leave the tech industry, according to a report by Indeed. Women surveyed said that they felt outnumbered in the industry and believed men have more opportunities for career growth.

    Another report from Indeed found that 59% of women feel they received fewer opportunities for advancement than their male colleagues. Additionally, The Center for Women and Business at Bentley University found that, in all industries, women in entry-level positions are 21% less likely to be promoted than their male counterparts.

    SEE: The state of women in computer science: An investigative report (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

      Gender pay gap

      According to another Indeed report, 36% of women in tech reported earning less than their male colleagues. Women are often offered lower salaries than their male counterparts, even when applying for the same position. A 2018 study by Hired found that men in the US are offered higher salaries than women for the same role in the same company 63% of the time. The same study found that women are offered, on average, 4% less than men for the same position, with some being offered up to 45% less.

      There are several reasons for this wage disparity. According to the 2018 Hired report, "unconscious biases, inconsistent compensation policies, and relying on past income to inform salary offers and expectations," contribute to the pay inequality. Additionally, the report found that 66% of the time, women asked for 6% less salary than men. 50% of female survey respondents also reported frequently experiencing imposter syndrome, which may be why women undervalue their worth.

      SEE: International Women's Day spurs initiatives from tech companies, groups (CNET)

      Age also increases the gender wage gap. Based on the Hired report, women aged 20-25 receive $0.97 for every dollar men in similar roles make, while women in their 40s receive $0.90 for every dollar. Women in their 30s ask for 2% less salary than their male colleagues but receive, on average, 7% less. Women who have more education and experience are actually at a disadvantage—women with less than two years of experience were the most equally represented, making $0.98 on the dollar, while women who had 13-14 years of experience earn $0.92 on the dollar.

        Culture of the tech industry

        The tech industry is shown to favor men in the workplace, with only 8% of women saying that they have never experienced gender bias at work, according to an ISACA report. This is echoed in a finding from a report by Indeed: Only 49% of women working in tech stated that they felt both genders are treated equally.

        A report by payroll and HR company Paychex surveyed 200 women in tech and found that 67% reported being underestimated or not taken seriously by their peers. 65% reported receiving overexplained responses to questions, with 61% said they received oversimplified responses to technical questions. In addition, 58% were given tasks unrelated to tech, 53% witnessed women being passed over for promotions, and 50% saw male colleagues act uneasy in the presence of a woman but not a man.

        These surveyed women also considered switching jobs because of day-to-day interactions with male colleagues (33%), considered switching careers because of day-to-day interactions with male colleagues (24%), reported a male colleague to HR for an issue related to gender bias or discrimination (19%), and/or reported a male colleague to HR for an issue related to harassment (21%).

          Lack of role models and mentorship

          According to a report by ISACA, 48% of women felt that lack of female mentors was one of the biggest barriers in their workplace. Lack of mentorship can create feelings of isolation, lack of representation, and result in more women experiencing imposter syndrome. Additionally, 42% of women cited lack of female role models as one of the biggest barriers, with 27% reporting limited networking opportunities in their workplace.

          Ways tech companies can recruit and retain more women

            Offer benefits and incentives that appeal to women

            A report from Indeed found that over two-thirds of the women surveyed (68%) named health insurance as most important when considering new opportunities. Other desired benefits, according to the report, include: Vacation time (52%), bonuses and regular raises (46%), regular time off (37%), and retirement planning (26%). Paid parental leave is another big incentive for women (and men), with only about one-third (32.5%) of the women surveyed saying their current company offers parental leave, and of that percentage, only 69% are offered paid leave.

            SEE: 10 tech companies with generous parental leave benefits (TechRepublic)

              Market to women

              Target marketing can be a very powerful tactic, not just in advertising, but also in recruiting efforts. Mikkola explained: "Marketing can be very effective. Looking back on those early days [in technology], there was a lot of marketing towards men." Mikkola continued, "this is an issue we need to champion and market to women. Seeing that only 12% of engineers are women in the US currently, it doesn't happen overnight. We need to have more women in the pipeline in order for there to be more programmers."

                Be proactive about recruitment

                Some companies miss opportunities to find talent because they fail to look beyond certain areas. Julie Elberfeld, senior vice president of shared services and executive sponsor for diversity and inclusion in tech at Capital One, explained: "There is a need for proactive outreach, in order to get more diversity into the pipeline."

                Elberfeld continued, "the best talent is not actively looking in the workforce, especially underrepresented minorities, so you have to meet people where they are. You have to connect with them. You have to talk to them about the opportunities that you can offer them for great positions and great roles in technology."

                  Offer equal pay

                  As the aforementioned studies show, women in tech positions often make less than their male colleagues. Based on a Hired report about wage inequality, both genders found the pay gap an unattractive quality in a company, with 84% of surveyed women and 50% of surveyed men feeling that way. This suggests that eliminating this gender pay gap would be a good recruiting method.

                    Be transparent

                    According to a survey from Indeed, 40% of women working in tech said they wished their employer had been "more transparent" about salary while they were interviewing. 76% of the women surveyed stated that having that information during the interview process would have helped them negotiate more fair compensation.

                    The survey also found that if companies were more clear about opportunities for switching roles and/or internal mobility, 80% of the women surveyed would be more likely to stay in their company.

                      Sponsor K-12 STEM programs

                      One way tech companies could attract more women to the industry is through sponsoring K-12 STEM programs. A study of 524 tech-savvy Millennials, conducted by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) and published by ProtectWise, found that technology influenced their schooling choices and guided anticipated studies in college and the types of careers they consider. 48% had been part of a STEM program during their K-12 education. 23% cited Computer Science (CS) and Technology (e.g., computer engineering) as their intended college major, with 15% planning to major in Engineering.

                      SEE: How Tesla is helping girls learn about engineering (TechRepublic)

                      Sponsoring programs like Girls Who Code can also help prepare young females for jobs in the tech industry, with their alumni declaring CS majors in college at a rate of 15 times the national average. The organization also focuses on historically underrepresented groups—50% of girls served are black, Latina, or from low-income households.

                        Provide access to female mentors and promote more women to leadership roles

                        By providing female employees access to women mentors and leading by example with women in executive or management positions, it could inspire more confidence in women.

                          Create an inclusive workplace culture

                          Companies can create a more inclusive work environment through executive-level reviews, sponsorship programs, and voluntary diversity training. The 2018 Top Companies for Women Technologists Report from AnitaB.org found that company executives reviewing diversity data frequently had the best recruiting rates, higher rates of sponsorship programs were correlated with higher rates of retention, and companies with lower rates of mandated diversity training had the highest promotion rates.

                          According to the report, creating a culture of sponsorship where senior leaders are actively engaged advocates for women, rather than just mentors or allies, helps retain and advance female technologists.

                          Also see

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                          Image: SeventyFour, Getty Images/iStockphoto

                          By Kristen Lotze

                          Kristen Lotze is an Associate Writer for TechRepublic. She is a graduate of the University of Louisville, and previously worked as an intern in the Marketing and Communications department at Metropolitan State University of Denver.