The lack of women in tech is a worldwide problem, no longer just an issue in the U.S. Even though 57% of all degrees are awarded to women, the number of women leaders in Fortune 500 companies is in single digits: 6.6%. I have set to change this and invite the tech community to join me. From right here in the U.S. we can effect change around the entire world.
I am part of the U.S. Department of State speakers program, which means I travel around the world speaking at conferences, universities and other events about one of my favorite topics: Women in Tech. I also belong to the U.S. Department of State TechWomen program, where we bring women entrepreneurs from Africa, the Middle East and Asia here to the U.S. for about six weeks of concentrated training so they can, with our coaching, put together business plans, financial models and pitches about how to solve a local problem with technology.
In my experience, I have seen that a lack of gender diversity carries with it a major opportunity cost, both for individual tech companies and the entire sector. I am often asked what companies can do to increase the representation of women in tech roles. From my point of view, there are three main things you can do.
Ensure you get a diverse pool of candidates.
If you work with external recruiters, you should always ask for a diverse set of candidates and if a particular recruiter agency tells you that this is not possible, take your business elsewhere. If you have your own in-house recruiters, tie their yearly goals to the diversity of candidates they put in front of hiring managers. This can be accomplished via the following:
• Remove names and any type of gender identification from the resumes that are sent to hiring managers.
• Work on outreach programs that target women in tech. At one of my previous companies, we used to go on recruiting trips to women’s conferences.
• Revise work descriptions for openings that are posted to remove any information that could discriminate or discourage diverse candidates from applying.
Make sure that women are represented at the highest levels of management, even the C-suite.
Many studies have shown that there are plenty of women who reach the middle management level at large companies. The problem is that they get stuck there. By promoting more women, you are sending a signal to all the other women in the company that there is someone like them who could reach the top spot. These actions immediately help younger women see themselves in leadership positions. Here in Silicon Valley, I think about 20% of leaders in top positions are female. We need to do better than that. Remember that 57% of graduates are women.
One of the not-so-obvious ways to encourage more women to achieve higher positions is through efforts in the corporate social responsibility area. Giving women the opportunity to work on boards or in other high-level positions at nonprofits to gain experience is a great thing to do. More women with leadership experience will make for more women leaders.
To ensure that women are represented at every level, we need to make diversity a priority. When looking for people to promote to higher jobs, a company might consider adding sufficient weight to things that women are accomplishing, like building consensus and such. These skills are needed the most the higher the employee gets but are often not a part of evaluation committee talks.
Give women the means to create affinity groups that are supported by the company.
Women want to be listened to, and it helps to discuss challenges with others who are facing similar challenges. Mentoring programs are a great resource if managed correctly. It is not true that only the mentee gets something out of a mentoring relationship. Mentors also learn a lot about life and how the newer generation does things.
To implement a successful mentoring program for women, tech leaders should:
• Pair a mentee with a mentor from any level in the organization.
• Ensure that mentoring is part of the culture and not just “something women do.”
• Match a mentee not only with someone who has her potential job in terms of skills, but also with a coach who helps her become the best version of herself.
If you really want to kick it up a notch, get engaged with women-in-tech organizations, and attend conferences. I’m a member of AnitaB.org, which puts together the largest conference for women in tech in the world, and last year they had almost 20,000 women at the Grace Hopper Celebration. I found it incredibly valuable to connect with like-minded women in the industry. Another organization close to me is Mentoring Standard, which helps anyone get a mentoring program up and running.
In closing, no one denies that there is a shortage of women in tech, but there are plenty of things that a company can do to increase numbers. More diverse companies are on average more creative and innovative and are ultimately associated with greater profitability.