7 Ways IT Companies Can Attract & Retain Millennial Women

The most successful organizations are made up of a diverse group of men and women of all ages. If you follow these tips, you will be better able to attract millennial women, increase overall diversity and, ultimately, strengthen your team, its leadership and opportunities for success
Related imageAnyone who runs an IT company, or IT department for that matter, knows all to well that finding and keeping tech talent is a challenge -- and one that’s not going away anytime soon. In fact, nearly six in ten CIOs said the skills shortage was a concern, according to the 2015 Harvey Nash CIO survey with KPMG. That number is a third higher than it was just two years earlier. To fill the gap, organizations need to get creative about recruiting and retaining tech-savvy employees. Increasingly, this means pursuing more a diverse workforce, including millennial women like me -- a 30-something female who has spent the last decade working in IT.

“Female millennials make up a significant portion of the current and future talent pool,” according to a 2015 report, “A New Era of Talent” by PwC, which estimates millennial women – those born between 1980 and 1995 -- will form 25 percent of the global workforce by 2020. The report makes clear that female millennials are not only entering the workforce in larger numbers but with a different career mindset than previous generations.

Contrary to rumors, millennials are not all “self-entitled, lazy or resistant to being managed.” We are ready to learn, open-minded, educated, confident, ambitious and an asset to your workforce. We are, however, looking for careers that offer us more than just a paycheck. Passion, purpose, career growth and work-life balance are some of our hot buttons.

I have been fortunate to find many of these things at Cisco, where I started at 22 and just celebrated my 11th year. Based on my experience and recent research, I’d like to share a few ways that you can better position your company to engage and empower millennial women throughout their careers.

  1. Career Path. For female millennnials, opportunity to progress in our careers is the most attractive trait for potential employers, according to the PwC report. Conversely, lack of opportunities for promotion is the top reason we leave, so it’s critical to retention as well. Unlike Baby Boomers, millennials don't want to wait three to five years for a promotion, according to Forbes. Give us a roadmap to pique our interest and give us goals to work toward. At my company, I have been given many opportunities for advancement and evolving responsibility that have kept me challenged and engaged over the last 11 years. Currently, I am participating in a developing leadership program, and have led the initiative to increase rewards and recognition in our organization globally, empowering me and other employees to take risks, make a change, fail forward and dream big.
  2. Passion & Purpose. Like our male counterparts, female millennials want our work to have purpose beyond the company’s bottom line. A corporate mission that ignites passion and includes giving back to the community will be more attractive to our generation of do-gooders. Belief in the company’s mission also infuences our decision to stay. Make sure your company has that higher purpose and supports group volunteer activities that bring your team together and make you feel like you are making a difference.  In my case, I joined Cisco because I truly believed then-CEO John Chambers when he said Cisco is the company that “changes the way we live, work, play and learn.”  In practice, I am encouraged to support community programs, including time off to volunteer and matching financial contributions and volunteer hours for dollars (talk about putting your money where your mouth is).
  3. Competitive Compensation. While purpose is critical, money does matter to millennials who often have student loan debt and a fear of economic recession like the one in which they grew up. A recent study from Business Insider found that 69 percent of millennials said that money is the top incentive that motivates us  to work harder and stay at our employer longer. In lieu of a top-dollar salary, be competitive and consider offering creative options, such as loan repayment programs, tuition assistance or health care incentives. For women in particular, but not exclusively, that might also include paid parental leave, travel opportunities, or a career trajectory that fosters our  growth and development.  Two years ago when I gave birth to my first daughter , I received six weeks off.  With my second daughter, I was given an an additional four weeks of paid leave to bond with my baby.  I was so thankful for the extended leave; it made the transition back to works much less stressful, and made me a very focused and productive employee. 
  4. Perks. Whether it’s game rooms, sleep pods, gyms, volleyball and basketball courts, or pet-friendly office space, company perks are an employer's opportunity to really stand out to the millennial generation. For female millennials, these items may change over time, particularly for those of us who  want to start a family, as I recently did. Nursing rooms, daycare facilities and, particularly, the ability to have a flex schedule or work remotely, can be a make a big difference to attracting and keeping millennial women who want to have it all -- a career they love that supports their family and lifestyle needs as well. At my company, we have a long lit of perks, but my personal favorite is the fitness  and health center where I can recharge, keep fit and access many health care services. Having these services on campus also helps me  with work-life balance and improves my productivity!
  5. Flexible Schedules. Millennials don't necessarily believe in a 9-to-5 workday and value the ability to work from home, a co-working space or even a coffee shop. At Cisco we call it “the power to work anywhere, anytime.” This level of flexibility not only gives us a sense of empowerment, it also enables us to achieve the all important work-life balance. Ninety-seven percent of female millennials say work-life balance is important to them, according to the PwC report, which found flexible work arrangements ranked third -- behind career progression and competitive wages -- as the most attractive employer trait. I currently work remotely and use Webex and Telepresence technologies to keep connected with the team and my customers. Cloud and mobile technologies also allow me to more easily blend my personal and professional lives.  I can throw in a load of laundry before jumping on a conference call or check email on my smartphone after putting the kids to bed. According to Dan Schwabel, research director at Future Workplace, in his blog for Forbes, this kind of work-life integration is the new norm, especially for millennials.
  6. Collaborative Culture. To attract millennials, break down the barriers of private offices and closed-off cubicles in favor of open-concept spaces and meeting rooms that facilitate collaboration as we have recently done in most of our locations around the world. A collaborative environment plays to women’s strengths since we  are more likely to team up with co-workers to get the job done.  Networking and mentoring between millennials and senior managers also can aid collaboration across the company. Consider a “reverse mentoring” program where millennials help more seasoned employees better use technology and social media, etc.  Teamwork across the hierarchy can help create a company culture that energizes millennials so we want to stay, learn and give back.   At my company, we have a peer-recognition program that allows us to give awards to co-workers on the spot as a thank you for work well done.
  7. Gender Diversity.  Millennials, in general, are more interested in working with companies that have a commitment and track record on diversity. Not surprisingly, this is particularly important to female millennials, with 86 percent of us citing diversity policies as key to choosing an employer, according to the PwC report. That said, having a policy is not enough, women want to see visible results, such as women in leadership roles and mentoring programs. I have been fortunate to have had the benefit of mentorship to help me grow in my career.

The most successful organizations  will be made up of a diverse group of men and women of all ages. In my experience, if you follow these tips, you will be better able to attract millennial women, increasing overall diversity and, ultimately,  strengthening your team, its leadership and opportunities for success.

Michelle Ragusa-McBain is Chair of the Executive Council of Advancing Women in IT for CompTIA and Global Customer Partner Experience Manager with Cisco Systems. She is also a long standing member of the National Women in Technology Group, where she has given speeches for young women in technology - most recently at NC State University.

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