Part of solving the IT skills gap involves bringing women into the technology industry, and inspiring them to stick around. That can involve special programs, like the one GE rolled out in February, or simple moves like rearranging a meeting room so women are seated in power positions.
“Sometimes people say, ‘You’re unfairly promoting women.’” said Tracy Pound, CompTIA’s 2016 Member of the Year and owner of the UK-based MaximITy. “This isn’t about promoting men over women, it’s about a level playing field, with a diverse workforce.”
The goal to bring more women into tech belongs to groups all over the globe. In the U.S., GE is working toward gender parity in their technical entry-level programs; 20,000 women in STEM roles at the company by 2020. Across the country in Cosa Mesa, the STEM workforce and entrepreneur acceleration company Base 11 is using 2017 to promote technology careers as an excellent choice for women.
In Japan, the CEO of Global Brother, headquartered in Japan, is working on diversity goals with a particular focus on women. Karen Drewitt, general manager of The Missing Link, expanded the Dream IT program with great success in Australia and New Zealand in 2016, and Erin Thompson, Canada’s marketing director for Lenovo, will follow in her footsteps by expanding Dream IT in Canada in 2017.
“Diversity increases innovation and creativity in the workplace, and bringing more women into technology means direct fire on the increasing skills shortage,” said Drewitt. “In Australia, we struggle to bring women into tech, so programs that focus on educating females on the benefits of joining the industry workforce are critical.”
And the issue is not only for women. In Australia, groups like Male Champions of Change make a difference. Although not technology specific, these men recognize the benefits of gender equality and take practical steps to support “a significant and sustainable increase in the representation of women in leadership in Australia,” according to their mission, championed by several representatives of ANZ tech industry.
“There is no one solution to moving the needle,” said Drewitt, “but often the common theme is education, both around positioning the attraction of the industry and within it to ensure unconscious and conscious bias are removed in retention and promotion of women in tech.”
Office culture becomes especially important when it comes to getting women to stay in technology jobs. Cultivate cultures where women can find like-minded mentors and set and achieve their career goals. Here are four areas you can focus on to make sure your office culture is comfortable for everyone and an inviting place for women getting started in technology.
Watch Your Language
The language you use in your job descriptions, for example, can unintentionally turn women away before they even get started.
When you’re hiring, use tools like Textio to make sure your job descriptions are gender neutral. “You can run your job descriptions through it and check for words that speak to specific genders and ways to avoid unintentional partiality,” said Cathy Alper, CompTIA’s Advancing Women in Technology Community leader. “It’s like a gender bias meter.”
For example, changing “You will manage customer relationships” to “You will nurture customer relationships” draws eight percent more women to a job post, according to Textio.
“People don’t do it on purpose, but they aren’t talking about the ‘she’ in the IT industry, and ‘her’ and ‘this lady,’” said Pound, who regularly blogs about diversity issues and topics like unconscious bias. “We have a duty to stand up and make people take notice that it’s unconscious bias and they have to be careful about how they say it and who they say it to.”
Try Simple Forms of Validation
You don’t have to develop a full, company-wide initiative to bring women into technology careers. Try something simple, like saying “Good idea,” when a female co-worker proposes something you like. “It’s an easy way to support and to help someone feel more confident,” Alper said.
Shake things up in meetings: Sit somewhere new, or have the whole room change spots. These are small gestures that can change the way people interact and feel heard.
Take 15 minutes at the end of your week to think back to people who helped you that week, and send them a quick thank you note. Alper said, “People need to know they are making a difference and that they are noticed and appreciated.”
Don’t Leave People Out
Avoid a culture that praises the genius engineer who stays up all night to fix a bug before a deadline. But what’s up with your bug detection process, project management and lack of resources that has someone saving the day at 3:00 a.m.? Companies that hire “rock star programmers” can be held hostage by that single point of failure for critical systems. Hero culture also creates an environment where others are left out.
When the company is planning events, plan events with inclusiveness in mind, said Alison Stanton, who is a teacher of the Ally Skills Workshop and the owner of Stanton Ventures. Be mindful that team activities scheduled outside of work hours tend to exclude parents, she said, especially working mothers.
Extend Yourself in the Community
Bringing in a new generation of women is another important part of moving the needle on women in technology. In Miami, the women of CODeLLA help girls see a future in technology by bringing in interesting speakers and connecting girls to hands-on projects. Their mission is to inspire next generation Latina innovators to become problem solvers and digital creators. That kind of thing is happening all over the world — check AWIT’s Dream IT program for a whole page of tech groups for girls and women.
Sometimes a starter conversation is enough to get things going. “Kids benefit from seeing a woman who’s a technology role model, and having a casual conversation about how fun it can be to work on computers,” Alper said. “For trick-or-treat, I engage every single girl about growing up to be a scientist. If you want candy, we’re going to talk about women working in technology and science.”
Michelle Lange is a writer and designer living in Chicago.