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6 ways tech firms can create a more gender-inclusive workforce

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Pamela Hennard
Pamela Hennard is global head of talent acquisition at NetApp.

Across the tech industry, women and men remain unequal in compensation, opportunity and influence. This was punctuated by the decline of women in the workforce during the pandemic, when almost 1 million women left to care for children fulltime. And, while the tech industry continues its innovation leadership, it can’t say the same for innovation around women in its ranks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are now the majority of the US workforce (50.04%) but only 28% are in STEM occupations and only 20% are in computer science occupations. Worse still, according to Accenture, half of women leave their tech jobs by age 35.

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While that data can seem daunting, there are several ways companies can help mitigate, and even eliminate, these inequities among their employees and across the industry—not only because it’s “right and fair” to do so but it’s also good business: Companies that score high in gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability, according to McKinsey. Here are six elements of a multi-pronged approach companies can adopt to create an equitable workplace and influence the pipeline of women and people of color entering STEM.

1. Start early: To close this gender gap, organizations and educators need to start introducing tech careers to female students even before they enter post-secondary education. For instance, encouraging volunteerism for nonprofit organizations preparing young women for careers in coding and data science helps introduce role models to young female students, who can inspire them to choose a technology pathway in college. It can also help them see that tech jobs are not exclusive to men. Partnering with external organizations already focused on these initiatives is a good place to start.

2. Hold all leaders accountable: There should be accountability throughout all levels of the organization to hire, develop and retain diverse talent, with key performance indicators that illustrate progress (or lack thereof). Additionally, leadership should always be encouraged to model inclusive behaviors they want others to emulate. Form executive steering committees to avoid silos when developing company diversity, inclusivity and belonging (DI&B) policies and ensure all voices are considered before policies are enacted. There is also the need for leaders to take a more active role in development, talent reviews and other key activities for women by sponsoring DI&B programs within the company.

3. Spark a grassroots movement: It takes more than corporate leadership to transform the workplace. Creating a working environment that is a model for diversity, inclusion and belonging requires commitment and participation across all levels. Empower employees by providing a platform to imagine a more equitable future and bring that vision to life through affinity and special interest groups that increase inclusion and help influence corporate policies.

4. Provide opportunities for growth and decision-making: Employers should offer robust opportunities that help women advance in tech. This includes training and development programs, leadership opportunities, mentoring programs and more. Include more women and underrepresented leaders in job candidate evaluation to better challenge “established norms” and point out candidates who might be overlooked but have relevant skills. Additionally, companies should ensure diversity among project teams and commit to allowing women to speak first in meetings, while monitoring silence and allowing people the opportunity to speak.

5. Educate everyone on bias: Training on inclusive leadership and unconscious bias should be delivered companywide. Look for ways to introduce diversity and inclusion mini lessons at the start of meetings and group gatherings to drive education and awareness on key diversity topics so they’re viewed as integral to every aspect of the workplace and not an annual training module. In recruiting, the assessment of job requirements should look closely at all criteria and be honest about where skills may matter more than education or experience.

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6. Increase salary transparency: Women and people of color often still experience pay inequity in the same roles despite having more years of relative experience, holding a greater number of advanced degrees and having more certifications in their fields. Though there are several state-based initiatives requiring public disclosure of salary ranges in job postings, this isn’t enough, and the conversation must continue as the industry seeks solutions. Companies should take an algorithmic approach to deciding what they will pay an employee based on market conditions, candidate experience and education level. Choosing to look only at quantitative candidate data when considering salary eliminates unconscious (or conscious) bias against female candidates. Tech companies should also avoid basing compensation offers on salaries from previous roles, as this creates opportunity to perpetuate lower salaries for already-underpaid individuals.

It’s crucial to address the different challenges that exist in the workplace for women in tech. This is especially true since we can’t address inequities if women continue to leave tech shortly after they start their careers because of a lack of professional growth and discrimination. Tech companies need to make their work environments not only equitable, but safe, for women technologists and view women as critical to the company’s success—not just as a way to improve optics in diversity reporting.