Only one in six tech specialists in the UK are female, with only one in 10 of those being in leadership positions. In the United States, more than half (60%) of women in the tech sector are being paid less than their male counterparts. Regardless of increasing efforts by some companies to improve, it’s clear female representation in the technology sector is still seriously lagging.
A recent study has shown the UK economy could benefit from an extra £2.6 billion each year if more women were working in tech to fill the prevalent IT skills shortage. To add to this, a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report claims that, by advancing women’s equality, $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025.
It simply makes good business sense for technology companies to try and find ways to attract and retain a larger pool of female talent. In an industry largely dominated by men, what can tech companies be doing to nurture and champion female leaders of the future, and where does good communications, both internal and external, fit into this complex and challenging picture?
Opening eyes, ears and minds
Creating a culture that encourages people to think differently and embrace diversity of perspectives is essential to changing the way people act in their day-to-day work. But companies need to realise that opening people’s minds to deep-seated issues of inequality is not going to happen overnight, and it won’t happen as a result of any one initiative.
Unconscious bias training is a good place to start, and is now increasingly being deployed to eliminate discriminatory behaviours. It’s something we are investing in at APCO to ensure biases do not creep in, both when hiring new talent and when managing our existing employees.
And this should also extend beyond training; for example, companies can proactively adjust their hiring processes to remove as much room for bias as possible. A simple step, such as clearly defining selection criteria before interviewing candidates, can significantly decrease bias when choosing future employees, as it ensures those that apply are not initially judged on anything other than their abilities.
When it comes to communication, in order to be able to properly engage with employees on these kinds of matters, companies need to make sure they understand their experiences both in and outside of the workplace. Organisations, particularly in the technology sector, need to understand the issues women are facing—including why representation is particularly low—to take meaningful steps in the right direction. This starts by listening to what they have to say.
Step back to move forward
Conversations around D&I are increasingly making their way to the top of the corporate agenda, with more and more companies taking actions to encourage and promote diversity within their organisation. As much as companies can say all the right things, people want to see what activities and initiatives are actually under way, and that these are commitments which will be seen through in the long-term.
One of the world’s leading digital infrastructure companies and APCO client, Equinix, set up its Equinix Women’s Leadership Network (EWLN) to promote gender diversity and female leadership across its workforce. Established in 2012, it now has more than 1,700 members who are consistently striving to connect and empower the company’s community of women around the world, and is a great example of a global technology company taking strides to tackle the gender divide in this sector.
But the technology industry, as a whole, still has a long way to go; the gender pay gap remains stubbornly wide. According to a Women in Technology Survey last year, around 78% of large organisations admitted to having a gender pay gap in tech, with additional claims women earn up to 28% less than their male colleagues in similar roles. By putting a stop to this huge gender discrepancy, organisations can signify their lack of tolerance for such structural inequalities, while proving they value everyone for their talents and experience, regardless of gender or background. This is the type of organisation people want to work for.
Looking at thought leadership in the technology sector, there’s been a significant change in female representation. We’re now finally seeing a little more parity on event speaker line-ups and roundtable panels where, until relatively recently, it was very male-dominated. And, when companies are deciding who they want to ‘front’ their communications campaigns and pitch for executive profiling opportunities, we’re no longer seeing all-male line-ups as we once did.
There’s also progress being seen in talent development too. Many technology companies are running initiatives that see their female leaders being more engaged with schools and universities, to inspire women to choose STEM-related subjects at school and beyond. Cloud-based software company and APCO client, Salesforce, for example, support women and girls in STEM education through volunteering and mentoring programs. There are also more internal initiatives being run, such as role rotation for women on graduate schemes, providing them with insight into the different disciplines within technology companies and ensuring there is a clear pathway into every possible role.
Transparency is key
When it comes to communicating initiatives around diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, transparency is vital. Regardless of an organisation’s progress in this space, failing to be transparent, or choosing not to talk about these topics completely, can be hugely detrimental to brand and reputation.
Companies have to communicate honestly and openly about what they are doing and why they are doing it. This includes talking about what hasn’t worked, as well as what’s been successful, and being clear about the various objectives they are seeking to achieve. It’s by confidently communicating the things people are often tempted to shy away from—such as the gender pay gap—that companies can show their intent to create a culture where people feel valued in the place they’re choosing to build their career.
By creating a workplace where women feel heard, respected and championed, companies will be helping to cultivate a more diverse, and therefore stronger, technology workforce of the future. It will benefit companies themselves, the technology industry and, most importantly, employees.