The effects of the “great resignation” on tech employment have been widely reported in recent months. However, there has been little specific focus on women in tech and the impact on employers’ efforts to even out the gender imbalances in their tech workforces.

In the first in a series of articles on diversity and inclusion in tech, we have tapped into the knowledge of Tiffany Williams, Global Director of DE&I at Korn Ferry RPO. Drawing on her insight into the current market, we will outline how tech employers can outperform their competitors in attracting and retaining female tech talent.

The cycle of recruitment & retention for women in tech

It is important to stress how closely recruitment and retention are linked when thinking about female tech talent. In today’s market, employers are at risk of female tech professionals leaving the industry altogether or moving on to a more female-friendly company. As a result, losing female team members will increase the need to hire more women, all while making that goal harder to achieve.

In contrast, employers that successfully retain and develop women in tech will find it easier to hire additional female talent and retain new joiners. Showcasing female employees who are thriving will give other women in tech the confidence to join the company. Achieving a better gender balance on the team will also make the culture more attractive to other women. The more women who are promoted into leadership, the more role models and mentors will inspire the next generation.

It is imperative to avoid siloed thinking in recruitment and retention, especially in terms of your tech employee value proposition (EVP), culture and employee experience. When delivered in tandem, best practice recruitment and retention create a virtuous circle that will transform the gender balance at every level of an organization. Here are 5 ways that companies can successfully hire & retain women in tech in today’s market.

1 Take steps to avoid burnout

Pandemic burnout has been cited as a key driver behind the great resignation – and it disproportionately affects women. A March 2022 study of more than 36,200 IT professionals in 33 countries revealed that 46% of women have a high burnout risk, compared to 38.2% of men. The Yerbo State of Burnout in Tech study also found that more women than men (69% vs 56%) reported feeling "run-down and drained of physical and emotional energy" at the end of a workday.

Flexible and hybrid working are part of the problem and the solution, especially for parents. Many women in tech want a more flexible working schedule, but remote working can blur the boundaries of home and office life. Tech leaders need to do more to promote work-life separation and balance – from setting clearer deadlines and output expectations to switching off cameras on video calls.

Extra paid leave is also a major attraction to female employees at risk of burnout, and more progressive employers are offering sabbaticals for longer-serving team members. These breaks not only help companies retain talented people – returners come back refreshed and ready to perform at a higher level.

2 Focus on learning & development for women in tech

Alongside salary and work-life balance, development is one of the top three motivators for women in tech. Yet women still feel they lack the same opportunity to gain new skills, qualifications and experience as their male co-workers.

The stats back up this perception. In an April 2022 survey from Women Who Code, 82% of women say they do not have sufficient access to training opportunities. The 2021 Trust Radius Women in Tech report suggested 66% of women in tech don't see a clear path forward in their careers at their current companies.

While women in tech are often a vast, untapped pool of potential tech leaders, many leave the profession before their mid-thirties. As Williams highlights, “It is interesting to note that the top 2 certifications currently sought by women in tech are Project Management and Leadership & Management.” Yet too many tech functions focus largely on technical skills development – and few give employees the chance to practice skills outside of their day job.

Employers need to provide structured, yet flexible, career paths to all tech employees – this includes formal and on-the-job learning designed to progress individuals to the next level. But this alone will not even the playing field for women in tech. Tech employers need to do more to unlock the leadership potential in women.

Williams explains, “A dedicated female mentorship program is a really strong way to attract and retain women – while growing your leadership pipeline. But you also need to focus on succession planning, with clear roadmaps aligned to the career trajectory of aspiring female leaders.”

3 Review hiring & promotion processes for gender bias

67% of male respondents in the 2021 Trust Radius report said they would be comfortable asking for a promotion, compared to only 52% of women. 39% of women in tech view gender bias as the main reason for not being offered a promotion.

These findings echo research studies that show women are less likely to apply to jobs than men if they do not meet 100% of the stated criteria. Women do not lack belief in their abilities. They lack confidence that they will succeed in the assessment process.

It is important that employers re-think existing hiring and promotion processes – starting with rewriting job descriptions to be gender neutral and limiting job requirements to only the most essential skills and behaviors.

To remove unconscious bias, promotion and hiring decisions should be based on empirical evidence, using rubrics and scorecards. Employers should be transparent in communicating how hiring, promotion and pay decisions are made, providing women in tech with confidence that the system is not stacked against them.

Nor should women be treated as a homogenous group. Williams believes, “We need to expand our lens in the way in which we think about inclusion, not just focusing on being female, but the multi- dimensional identities that women hold in terms of race, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, motherhood and more.”

4 Link purpose to your tech career offering

The What Women Want report, from the Center for Creative Leadership, identified work-life balance as the most common reason for women to stay with a current employer, followed by enjoying the work that they do, and believing they have the opportunity to make a difference. The search for meaning and purpose has been amplified across both sexes, as evidenced by self-reflection during the pandemic. In fact, 56% of employees now want to contribute more to society according to a Gartner Survey from October 2021.

For women, having a calling is directly linked to job satisfaction. Yet tech teams are often focused on the immediate technical problem or client solution – and they are often distanced from the customer and end user.

According to Williams, “Candidates want to see and want to know what is going on internally under the hood. This is where the employee value proposition (EVP) and employer brand are so important. Companies need to identify what differentiates them as a tech employer – and vision and purpose should be at the heart of this.”

If your company has a clear purpose that benefits customers, communities, or the planet, then the “tech vision” should be aligned directly to supporting this purpose. It is vital to show tech teams, especially women in tech, the difference that their code and products make in the real world.

5 Take a more nuanced approach to company culture

In the 2021 Trust Radius report, 72% of women said they have worked for a company where “bro culture” is “pervasive”. Only 41% of men said the same.

Williams explains it this way, “In tech, you don’t see many macroaggressions such as overt bullying, misogyny or harassment. But the working day can still be full of microaggressions for females.”

These instances will be familiar to many women, such as being talked over in a meeting or receiving blunt, insensitive feedback in a code review. Even well-meaning banter can leave women in tech feeling belittled.

As Williams describes, “This is what happens in a dominant culture. As leaders and co-workers are not affected, they don’t even notice the problem, or they dismiss it as unfounded. Women feel that they have to downplay part of themselves to fit in – they don’t want to look like a know-it-all. It is demotivating and can reinforce imposter syndrome.”

There is no instant fix for a company’s culture. The key focus should be leadership education – and involving female employees in reshaping the day-to-day working experience. Of course, the other way to shift culture is to hire and promote more women into leadership roles, so they can help set the tone.

Ultimately, as Williams highlights, “Organizations need to build the infrastructure to support women and other minorities, so people have a feeling of belonging once they get there – and can start to thrive.”

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