The technology industry is thriving in terms of sales, growing jobs, and developing innovative new products. One area where it gets lower marks is gender balance. Some of the latest research suggests that women hold less than 20% of technology jobs, and Forbes notes that women represent just 5% of leadership at tech companies. Companies, educational institutions, government players, and innovative nonprofits are coming together to find new ways to empower women coders, engineers, and managers to help close the gender gap in the technology and STEM fields. Here’s an overview of some exciting initiatives happening in this space.
Getting Girls Excited about STEM
Investing in STEM education and participation is a global educational priority. When looking at women’s participation in STEM in general—and technology in particular—it’s important to look at what steps are being taken to encourage girls to focus on math, science, and coding. In 2018, research from Microsoft found that despite efforts to increase female participation in STEM, these efforts weren’t as effective as they could be. The researchers underscored the importance of hands-on activities, strong female STEM role models, and inclusive learning and work environments. A number of organizations are doing innovative work to help engage young female learners with technology content, including:
- Girls Who Code offers free summer programs, clubs, and other pathways to encourage girls to learn to code.
- Black Girls Code works to increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields.
Facilitating Learning and Career Changes
Shifting careers into a technology-based field can be a smart decision for workers who have already graduated traditional educational contexts. Whether you’re interested in pursuing new challenges or increasing compensation and stability, technology can be a great choice. Organizations are looking at different strategies to help with this, from fostering boot camps to longer-term training rotations that make career change a viable possibility. Northrop Grumman, for example, partnered with the Society of Women Engineers and iRelaunch to hold a 12-week returnship program for people who took a career break (such as to care for kids or family members) and help prepare them to return to careers that align with the company’s key jobs.
Addressing bias in the hiring process is another way technology companies are increasing the number of women they hire in technical roles. Often, this means removing names and photos—and sometimes other details—when resumes are reviewed, for example. Candidates are selected based on merit, and implicit bias is reduced. Tools like Blendoor, GapJumpers, and Hundred5 are all helping lead the way toward making blind hiring a practical component of recruiting efforts.
Addressing Culture and Workplace Strategies
As Forbes notes, companies that want to foster environments where women in tech thrive have to examine both their culture and flexible workplace options: “There’s one surefire way that tech companies can attract more women right now, and that is to create a culture of workplace flexibility. Flexible work arrangements, which allow for remote hours and malleable solutions to work-life balance, are key to solving the brain drain problem and the lack of senior-level women in tech.”
Leading companies in the technology space are providing important examples of different ways to do this. In an interview with Glassdoor, Nokia talked about how they’re implementing a multi-year plan: “Nokia is executing on a five-year strategy on gender balance, empowered by our leaders’ conviction and actions. Awareness is a first major step. We have been taking it very seriously, training our leaders, managers and employees on gender balance best practices.”
Providing Mentorship and Support
Mentorship and support can also play a vital role in helping women thrive. For many technical companies, laying this groundwork can begin with industry partnerships. For example, Dell has partnered with the Women’s Business Enterprise Council (WBENC) to offer targeted programs to support women technology business owners. Another example that’s worth exploring is Million Women Mentors, an organization that helps support careers in STEM by connecting mentors and people moving into these careers.
Other organizations are systematically building an internal infrastructure to help women thrive at all levels. 3M, a manufacturing leader, has an award-winning “I’m In” program that Catalyst describes as follows: “Accelerating Women’s Leadership (“I’m in”) comprises a variety of talent management and leadership development components, including networking, mentoring, talent development, work-life and workplace flexibility programs, and external community efforts.”
Creating the context for women to thrive in STEM—and for technology roles in particular—is a multi-dimensional effort. From investing in programs that help girls learn to code to introducing blind hiring initiatives and investing in corporate programs to support women leaders, there are numerous paths to take. This International Women’s Day, join us in celebrating the women shaping technology today as managers, coders, engineers, and more, while looking forward to many more opportunities for women in the field.