Steps Leaders Can Take to Improve Retention and Career Opportunities

Women in technology-related roles across industries have long faced gender gaps and lower pay than their male counterparts. In addition, women can face bias and discrimination.

However, it is possible for women to thrive and excel in tech careers. Many of the work culture factors that help women succeed in technology careers benefit everyone at a company, regardless of gender.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we heard from the following professionals about how tech leaders can help women retain and grow in careers in tech. We also asked for their experiences with common challenges faced by women in tech.

  • CFO of Alphabet’s drone delivery company Wing, Shannon Nash.
  • Onymos Vice President of Engineering Bhavani Vangala.
  • Robert Half Executive Director Randi Weitzman.
  • Karren Jensen, chief executive officer of Conductor Software and graduate of the Aerospace Xelerated Programme accelerator.

Women in tech, by the numbers

According to technology modernization firm SPR, 73% of women in tech have experienced gender bias over the last year (February 2023 to February 2024).

Job marketplace Hired found in 2023 that women in tech earn less than their male counterparts on average. For every $1 earned by a white man, a woman earns:

  • $0.90 for Black women
  • $0.92 for Hispanic women.
  • $0.95 for white women.
  • $0.99 for Asian women.

Women made up 35% of all employees in the U.S. in computer system design and related services in January 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to Statista, the share of female tech leaders globally has grown gradually since 2015 and in 2023 maintained a high of 14%, the same as in 2022.

Discrimination faced by women in tech

“Stereotypes persist, which perpetuate outdated standards that hinder women’s advancement in the industry — like those around child or elder care,” said Vangala.

Specifically, she said, women have historically been seen as “homemakers” in a way that seeps into the workplace.

“Women are still more often than not asked to plan parties and activities, organize lunches, and the like,” she said. “As a woman who has spent the last two decades in the tech industry, I know women possess talent and expertise that far surpasses those typical activities, yet they are still tasked with them.”

DOWNLOAD: This template for a workplace anti-discrimination policy from TechRepublic Premium

Women may experience discrimination as a result of others not expecting to see them in leadership positions.

“As a woman leading a tech company, I have experienced a number of times that unless I am specifically introduced as the CEO, men overtly direct their conversations and turn their bodies to a male colleague or associate, assuming they’re the CEO,” said Jensen, in an email provided to TechRepublic.

How business leaders can improve career development opportunities for women in tech

Some of the most important elements of improving career development opportunities for women in tech are:

  • Pay transparency.
  • Focused talent retention.
  • Training and mentorship.
  • Active listening and encouraging communication.
  • Flexibility.

Pay transparency

Pay transparency can benefit women in particular by highlighting the gender pay gap. Awareness of the pay gap may be the first step in encouraging organizations to eliminate it.

Focused talent retention

“Employers who are intentional and focused on supporting their female talent can make tremendous progress in creating an equal and inclusive work environment,” said Weitzman.

“Most people in the C suite know that unemployment is extremely low in IT, and it’s important more than ever that they retain their employees,” said Weitzman. “It’s still a high in demand space where there’s a ton of hiring going on.”

Training and mentorship

“Proactive, comprehensive bias training must go beyond the basics, delving into the nuances of unconscious biases and how they manifest in everyday interactions and decision-making,” said Nash.

Vangala emphasized that mentorship and educational programming for women at the workplace can improve career development and advancement for women in tech.

“I highly encourage leadership to develop specific internal teams that create in-depth educational programming that is conducted on a weekly or monthly basis online or in-person,” Vangala said. “This programming should provide a mix of topics for women to choose from — whether it be technical, business or organizational management content.”

In addition, “Women in technology should be encouraged to engage with a diverse group of mentors that include people from all levels within the company and backgrounds,” Vangala said.

Active listening and encouraging communication

Another important element is active listening – being focused and engaged in interactions with others. It helps make sure employees feel they are heard and that their feedback matters to the organization. Active listening is important when working with any employee, but may be especially helpful in addressing issues facing women in tech specifically.

“Encouraging women in technology to provide other women with safe spaces to share their thoughts and experiences without judgment or repercussions is critical,” Vangala said.

Flexibility, including remote work

For Weitzman, flexibility means having the option to work remotely or in the office, and providing time for people to pick up their children or handle other family matters. Work-life balance can look like “having that ability to come in at nine, leave at three, and still be able to take care of the family,” Weitzman said.

“In many cases, women are willing to forgo a job advancement or a move knowing that they can be more flexible,” said Weitzman. “Personally, for me, I love the fact that I can be very involved with my kids, going to dance, going to baseball, all these fun things, while at the same time, I still have an awesome career.”

Women can sometimes be pigeonholed into roles involving ‘soft skills.’ Employers should be open to areas in which women might want to pursue work in ‘hard’ technical roles.

“They (women) shouldn’t just be placed in a project management role,” Vangala said, “but if they have the skills to develop software, train AI, etc., they should be encouraged and empowered to take roles that leverage them (their skills).”

The pandemic opened up more remote working opportunities, offering potential benefits for women in tech. Advocacy group WeAreTechWomen says that remote work can improve work-life balance, reduce the stress of a commute and may help companies retain and attract talent. While every employee’s preference is different, offering the option for remote work is another good way to promote flexibility.

Support for women of color

Women of color may face bias from two intersections: their gender and their race. Equal pay is important here, too, Vangala pointed out. So is representation that lets current and prospective women of color in tech know they are not alone.

“Women of color should be regularly shown that they are represented in technology and their individual workplaces. I like to think about this from the perspective of students today who are looking to enter the technology industry in the next few years,” Vangala said. “If these female students don’t see women of color represented in the workforces they are hoping to enter, they are less likely to pursue careers there.”

Nash pointed out that “Transparent reporting on diversity metrics and holding leadership accountable for making progress” are important components to helping women of color succeed in achieving C-suite and corporate board positions in tech.

“Affinity groups and networks within organizations can provide a community and support system internally and create a sense of belonging that empowers women to create change from within,” Nash said.

That change needs to come from leadership as well. “Having leadership present to connect with employees helps boost representation for women of color in safe spaces,” Nash said. “It creates a culture where leaders can advocate for decision-making roles and committees that influence hiring, promotions and project assignments.”

The importance of networking

As well as providing pay and career advance structures that promote equality, it’s important for organizations to encourage ways for women to network with each other and with others.

“When a woman walks into a networking event, conference or symposium to try and gain new skills and connections, this should not feel like an isolating experience,” said Nash. “That’s why conferences, panels and leadership forums should actively cater to women’s dynamic needs and interests, amplifying their voices and creating representation.”

Weitzman explained that Robert Half has a women’s group that hosts events and meets monthly to talk about topics affecting women in the workplace today.

Events like these can give women opportunities to gain more visibility in their organizations and greater opportunities for advancement.

“In technology, women are often paired with other women that work in their same department or even (the) same team,” Vangala said. “While this can be beneficial in a number of ways, it can also be somewhat limiting for women looking to advance their careers. Broadening peer-to-peer networking outside of one’s immediate work environment or team can help to develop an individual into a more well-rounded worker that can have multiple perspectives.”

Economic benefits of gender equity

One way gender equity benefits organizations is through promoting economic growth. In 2015, McKinsey found global gender inequality reduces global gross domestic product by about $12 trillion, with some countries facing a 35% loss. Gender equity opens organizations up to a wider pool of talented individuals and provides more diverse perspectives that could be useful in making products more practical for customers.

“Valuing gender equity and diversity within the tech sector not only equips companies with a strategic edge in attracting top talent but also fosters the development of more inclusive and equitable technological solutions,” said Vangala.

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