The demand for technology professionals continues to grow, with thousands of roles going unfilled in cities across the globe, leaving companies wondering how to deal with the workforce crisis. Women can play a vital role in filling these positions as quality candidates.
Unfortunately, the technology profession is often perceived as a male-dominated industry, leaving companies unsure of how to attract and retain talented female technology professionals.
I’m no longer surprised by the reaction I receive when I’m introduced in meetings: “You’re a solutions’ architect?” Once we move beyond the novelty of the conversation, I’m able to share my expertise and gain respect from colleagues, clients and others.
I often wonder why the conversations continually start this way. Is my situation truly that unique? Or is it an unconscious bias that has others surprised by my title? The reality probably falls somewhere in the middle.
However, once the issue is recognized, there are several ways to make your organization more attractive to prospective female technology employees and then to retain and develop those women already in your organization.
These three areas can help transform your organization from one struggling to attract and retain technology talent, into a highly desired destination for female professionals: building relationships and networking; career support; and mentoring. These may apply to all employees but can have a heightened sense of importance for women in the workplace.
Building Relationships & Networking
The key here is to change it up. The status quo will continue to deliver the same results. Do the teams in your office typically brainstorm over drinks after work? A working mother may struggle to make that happen—or others may assume she’ll pass and leave her out. Think of other options, like a before-work meeting over coffee or a working lunch instead. It is important to actively demonstrate your goal to include every member of your team.
Also, the only way to build a relationship is to better understand the differences in your employees. If you assume female employees will appreciate the same perks and activities the existing male-dominated teams do, you may be unintentionally alienating them. The company golf outing, softball team and volunteer work doing home repairs for the needy may be appreciated and well-received by many women, but there may also be some that would prefer different activities such as volunteer work at a local animal shelter or lunchtime yoga classes. Regardless of gender, diversity in activities will encourage more participation and appreciation.
First, explore flexibility. Having a hard 7:30am start time may prevent a working parent from considering your organization as a fit. Flex time to accommodate school drop-offs and pick-up times can reap huge rewards with employee motivation and loyalty.
Next, are your training opportunities balanced, and are all employees encouraged to cross-train in the same areas? Take a look at your internal and external training programs. Are they being utilized comparably by all employees? If not, examine the numbers, ask questions and figure out why. The responses may surprise you.
Also, make a conscientious effort to put women from your organization in the public eye. Whether it’s attending a local business event, speaking to students at a high school, or just leading an annual required training session, choose a woman and change the dynamic.
According to The WIT Network, companies with employees who have mentors, champions or sponsors in their career see a 72 percent higher retention rate on average, and 27 percent higher job satisfaction.
Those numbers are no surprise—as employees with mentors are six times more likely to see opportunities for promotion, 27 percent more likely to be selected for stretch assignments and receive 25 percent higher pay on average.
But how do you move mentoring from talk to reality? A proven way is to designate time for mentoring and hold to it.
Also, assign mentors. Not just to new employees, but at various levels throughout the organization. Not only does this create more satisfaction in the workforce, it also positions the organization more strongly for succession planning.
And don’t just mentor within your organization. Partner with local schools to identify education and higher education programs that are having success in recruiting women into their IT programs. Create mentorship programs and partnerships with those organizations.
Create opportunities to highlight strong women leaders outside your company. For your annual company meeting, explore female speakers. Take a quick look at the articles and quotes you retweet, link and share. Are they exclusively male experts? If so, it may be a coincidence, but look for options to diversify the voices.
The above three areas are great ways to make a big difference without spending a lot of time or money on costly benefit programs.
Keep in mind, the most impactful thing anyone in an organization can do to attract and retain women in technology roles is to address your unconscious bias. Many never intentionally discriminate based on gender but ask yourself, “Why not this woman?” the next time an opportunity presents.