How technology organizations stunt growth
Loss of valuable mid-career tech talent can often be attributed to unsupportive working environments, widespread bias (conscious and/or unconscious), undermining behavior from management, and competing priorities.4
In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that 74% of women in technology jobs experienced gender discrimination at work.5 Further, a 2020 survey of Deloitte’s workforce and technology clients confirmed that gender bias remains an ongoing concern. When asked to reflect on their cumulative technical and career experiences, respondents collectively identified gender bias as the top barrier preventing women in technology roles from moving into leadership positions, followed by work/life integration and lack of sponsorship (figure 2).
For women with access to secondary resources and opportunities, leaving their jobs may be a viable solution to ending immediate discrimination or unrealistic expectations. Some, like our main character Aniyah, leave the workforce to focus on family due to the lack of work/life integration options. Others may continue in stagnant, often disappointing, careers because exiting their role is not a viable option due to economic, health, or support network limitations. This often results in the need to “mask” their authentic selves, or downplay their identity, in order to adapt to the workplace environment.6 Either way, the company often loses valuable, productive talent that may be hard to replace with less experienced people.
Plant seeds: Recruiting diverse experienced technologists
Even companies that are recognized among the best workplaces for women face stiff competition for acquiring women technologists. There are not enough qualified women candidates to fill today’s high demand for technology talent, especially in a booming tech environment where gender parity and diversity are strategic imperatives. As a result, tech leaders are becoming increasingly focused on devising and enhancing recruiting methods to attract and recruit women from often overlooked talent pools.
Expand beyond traditional channels
It may seem obvious, but to find diverse candidates and reverse cultural trends, companies need to look in places besides the traditional, well-known sources. A trailblazer in this space is Microsoft, whose mission is inherently inclusive: to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Microsoft takes a holistic, multifaceted approach to diversity and inclusion by diversifying the pipeline, forging new paths to tech careers, engaging their employees’ perspectives, and supporting diversity in the broader tech community. Priya Priyadarshini, general manager of employee career and development at Microsoft, says, “That means coming at diversity and inclusion approaches from a variety of places within our company and at different points in the talent life cycle where there could be a positive impact on a person’s career choice, path, trajectory, and life.”
One way they do this is by starting early. Priyadarshini says, “Our work to diversify the STEM pipeline into colleges and universities starts with generating excitement for tech as early as possible. Through a range of initiatives and partnerships, we’re trying to reach the future generation of talent (K-12, high schoolers) as early as possible. Our goal is to help them grow their skills, discover a passion for tech, and envision a future filled with possibility.” Microsoft is also forging new paths into technology. Through a variety of programs, they are rethinking where they look for talent and how they can reach people from previously untapped talent pools—talent from outside of the traditional academic path such as veterans, workers transitioning from other industries or life phases, and people with autism.
Partnerships are key to forging new pathways. Many companies may lack adequate in-house resources or specialized knowledge required to quash adverse cultural trends that have been years in the making, especially when looking for tech talent with in-demand skills. Developing partnership programs and building relationships with external entities can offer companies access to a virtual rolodex, expanding their recruiting network. Sometimes companies need help to enhance their recruiting strategies. Entities such as iRelaunch and Path Forward help companies with their return-to-work initiatives. As external partners, they collaborate with enterprises as well as candidates looking to return and provide the specialized expertise that’s needed to support recruiting efforts.
Other companies possess a ready-made, yet often overlooked, source of potential diverse technologists. Cody Sanford, CIO and chief product officer at T-Mobile, shared, “We have an amazing pool of people who want to become part of Product and Technology but have no clear path. Our team created a development program for customer-facing employees—putting them in product technology groups for six-months rotations. Many of them have moved into full-time tech roles. These employees bring a valuable understanding of what the company’s customers want and need—and the company invests in developing their technical skills.”
By hiring technologists who reflect the makeup of their markets, T-Mobile believes it can deliver the best product experience to their customers. Of course, there are challenges. Sanford finds recruiting diverse technologists is easier in some geographies than others. Given the massive shift to remote work, CIOs, such as Sanford, may also be able recruit untapped technology talent independent of geographical boundaries.
As the COVID-19 pandemic shifted a substantial percentage of the US workforce to remote work overnight, executives found that worker effectiveness and productivity remained stable, if not increased.7 Of course, meeting the company’s mission is a top priority, but nontraditional work arrangements, such as remote work that offers caregivers and others more flexibility, may be more viable than previously assumed. In this sense, the pandemic has been a proof of concept of sorts. This new way of working offers a tremendous opportunity for companies to reimagine their strategies and policies to recruit and retain women technologists.
Niki Allen, senior vice president of technology at Kohl’s, reiterates the opportunity, “There is a problem across the tech space in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and you have to admit where improvements can be made. Take a step back, be honest, and remove ego.” She points out that her goal for the technology team at Kohl’s is to be a microcosm of the societies in which it does business; they work to be representative of the communities they serve. She’s optimistic as she partners with HR to bring forth opportunities to rethink traditional work models to appeal to a broader range of candidates.
Additionally, relationships between employers and employees may continue despite career pauses or organizational exits. Former employees can be brand ambassadors, potential clients or vendors for future work, referral sources for additional recruits, or even future talent, if they opt to return. Those who do return may have refreshed career goals or even want to pursue a new career path; programs such as apprenticeships and returnships can provide the care and attention needed by diverse, experienced women reentering the workforce.