Simply Hiring More Women Isn't Enough to Fix Tech's Gender Issue
There's an undeniable lack of female employees in the tech industry. Even though many companies have started diversity programs and set goals to hire more women, the situation isn't improving.
But perhaps the problem is that that lack of women tech stars is being approached incorrectly.
The aim shouldn't be to hire more women; it should be to find and hire the right female talent. This is how SAP, an international HR tech company, increased its percentage of female managers from 18 percent to 25 percent. "The Diversity and Inclusion team took a hard look at the data, leadership pipeline and entire HR lifecycle of women at SAP to learn about the blind spots," Anka Wittenberg, the company's chief diversity and inclusion officer, who's based in Walldorf, Germany, told me in an email.
"We worked closely with the business to increase the talent pool, develop amazing talent and focus on retention," Wittenberg explained. By doing that -- creating the right work environment for women to thrive -- SAP didn't have to fight for great female talent. It was able to attract and hire them in more of an organic way.
And SAP is not the only tech company that's improved its gender diversity. Here are three secrets to attracting female talent other companies have discovered:
Spread the word.
True change in an organization has to come from the top down. Leaders first must prioritize creating a better work environment for women, then educate employees about the upcoming changes and explain how they will improve the organization. For example, at Bazaarvoice in Austin, a board member examined all levels of the organization and gave a presentation on the importance of gender diversity.
"This increase in awareness and executive-level support resulted in our leaders and HR team identifying areas of the business where we can improve gender balance," Ryan Robinson, chief people officer, said via email. "We've made conscious decisions to put more women in leadership positions, on our board, and in other areas of the business where they are underrepresented."
This kind of solution helps get employees at all levels on board with the new culture and values. As they see the positive changes, they'll act as brand ambassadors to help attract more great female talent.
"Ultimately, diversity is not just an HR initiative. It must be adopted by leadership and [operate] cross-functionally for it to make a lasting impact," Robinson went on to say.
Walk the walk.
Saying a company is diverse is one thing. But actually being able to prove it to female talent is something else.
"Women consider a company's leadership as a barometer for growth potential at a company," Sheryl Simmons, chief human resources officer of Chicago-based Maestro Health, told me. "Show that you value equality by having women in positions of leadership, rather than just telling prospective employees your mission statement."
Putting women into leadership positions will ensure that positive changes last. Potential employees will see that women can move up the ladder and succeed at the organization. Then, once those new employees become leaders, themselves, they can go on to hire the next generation of female talent.
"In a traditionally male-dominated industry, we find here at Maestro Health that women bring great value. They are leaders, innovators and bold thinkers," Simmons added.
Ask for feedback.
There's always room for improvement. To tap in to the power of a diverse team, ask for input. Afterall, no one strives to create a gender-biased work environment. However, if leaders aren't receiving regular feedback, it's possible to regress.
"We regularly review not just our hiring practices, but how we operate internally to ensure we are an attractive company to a diverse population," Josh Feast, CEO of Cogito in Boston, said in an email. "We discovered early on that the creative success requires a group of individuals with diverse backgrounds who can closely collaborate, feel valued and share ideas."
This led the company to create a cross-functional diversity and inclusion team that regularly makes recommendations directly to the CEO and senior management team. The team has prompted positive improvements, like a more generous maternity leave.
"Because our company believes that inclusion and diversity are highly correlated to our long-term success, we have also joined The National Center for Women & Information Technology -- which provides great resources and ultimately helps expand our pool of candidates," Feast said.
Maternity leaves and other benefits which have come from employee feedback have helped Cogito attract and retain female talent. But, as CEO Feast pointed out, the first step for any company is to admit it's not perfect. Once leaders acknowledge that they may have made gender-biased mistakes in the past, they can focus on how to quickly change course.