Women in Tech: Bridging the Diversity Gap

11 September 2017 By Alastair Cleland

1579 Original

The issue of gender diversity in tech has been making the headlines this year. Google faced backlash when an ‘anti-diversity memo’ internally circulated by a software development employee was leaked to the press – the document criticised Google’s diversity policy and claimed that the lack of women in leadership positions was down to ‘biological differences’. The employee was subsequently dismissed, but the story highlighted that the battle for equality in Silicon Valley and the tech sector is far from over. Start-ups and large corporates worldwide who wish to avoid this kind of negative publicity and work towards a more inclusive environment will be asking: how can we improve gender diversity? And is our firm doing enough?

Where are all the women?

Women are underrepresented in the technology sector, making up about 25% of the workforce and just 11% of leadership positions. The stats for venture capital firms are even worse: just 4.7% of VC partners are female, female entrepreneurs are significantly less likely to get funding, and all-male VC teams tend to do worse at supporting female led ventures. And while other industries such as finance, legal and education have made progress with diversity, the tech sector seems to lag behind, with the number of CIO’s remaining static for more than a decade and the proportion of female computer science graduates in the US actually falling.

And for the women that are working in tech, issues like workplace harassment and the gender pay gap are commonplace. The wage gap worsens for women as they move up their career, and it’s particularly bad for black and minority women. A survey following the high-profile discrimination case of Ellen Pao, ex CEO of Reddit, found that 60% of women in Silicon Valley had received unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, and 88% had experienced clients or colleagues addressing questions to male peers who were less qualified to deal with the issue.

Why does it matter?

Aside from the obvious moral case that it’s not right for companies to discriminate against people on the grounds of gender, there’s a compelling business case for promoting equality too. Research shows that companies with more diverse boards significantly outperform firms that are less equal, and a report from the Lords Select Committee in the UK estimates that increasing the number of women in tech could generate an extra £2.6 billion each year for the UK economy. Technology as a sector is struggling with a global skills shortage; it makes sense for businesses to try and draw on the widest possible demographic for their talent pool. Finally, technology firms aim to create products for the entire population; they benefit from having a workforce that is representative of their end users.

So what can businesses do about it?

It’s often easy to pay lip service to the idea of getting more women in tech, and hard to implement diversity policies in practice, especially in environments where latent discrimination is the norm.  However being aware of the issue is a start, and making diversity a companywide focus from graduate to board level is the first step towards redressing the balance. Here are some practical policies that some companies have followed to try and attract and support talented women:

  1. Publish data on gender disparities in representation and pay as a first step to publicly trying to close the gap. Some of the bigger tech firms including Apple, Facebook and Linked In have started to do this recently.

  2. Widen the pool by encouraging more women to apply to vacancies. This could include employee referral schemes (incentivising employees to refer talented female contacts), writing job ads in more inclusive language, or sponsoring initiatives such as female developer groups or linking with universities promoting women in STEM. Partnering with recruitment companies with strong networks of talented women in tech can also widen your reach.

  3. Implement family friendly policies, since disparities between men and women tend to accelerate after having children. This could include encouraging shared parental leave, flexible working and part-time initiatives. Netflix is a good example of this, giving new mothers and fathers unlimited paid leave for a year.

  4. Some companies incorporate diversity training, such as teaching people how to spot unconscious biases, eliminate discrimination in interviews and create an inclusive environment in the workplace.

  5. Make the recruitment process fairer by anonymising CVs and application processes where possible. You might also consider ‘collaborative hiring’ – having a diverse interview panel to eliminate biases. Choose a diversity aware recruitment supplier who can help implement this and advise on best practices. 

A key part of getting more women into tech is…hiring them! If you’re interested in bringing talented women into your business, contact the team at Pentasia to see how we can help.