Women in tech all too often feel lonely, undervalued and, worst of all, excluded. It’s time to change the way we treat them so that everybody benefits.By Penny Herscher (CEO, FirstRain)
It’s an ugly fact: Women are leaving tech in droves. And even though the conversation about women in tech and engineering continues to gain momentum, it is worth noting that the reasons women give for leaving often come back to them feeling isolated in such a male-dominated field.
Cisco’s Kathy Mulvaney recently wrote an op-ed on The Huffington Post that said one-third of women in private-sector STEM jobs said they felt “extremely isolated” at work, and many stories like Fast Company’s Ciara Byrne’s have come to light supporting that claim. Ciara cites examples of male employees making crude jokes, leaving her out of group functions or talking openly about their fantasies.
Whether they’re intending to offend or not, it becomes clear that some men have no idea how to behave around a female coder or how to support someone who is different and alone in the group. As a female CEO, I experience that sense of being the odd one out all the time. It takes experience to just shrug it off.
Whether it’s awkwardness or just plain ignorance, the intention does not matter in the slightest when the outcome is that nearly one-quarter of technical female employees (23 percent) feel a women could never get a top position at their company and feel their leadership does not endorse (62 percent) or implement (75 percent) ideas from technical women.
So how do we solve this problem? I have four key suggestions.
1. Make Sure Everyone Feels Valued, Especially Women
We need to ensure women both feel like they have – and I mean actually have – a seat at the table and that we, as companies, value their participation and leadership. The benefit to both innovation and the bottom line of having diverse teams has been reiterated over and over.
It’s not enough anymore to have all-male tech teams, nor teams that include one “token female” – as I’ve just discussed, it’s likely she will leave if that’s the case and then you’re back to square one.
2. Hire More Women at Once
So when you look to expand your engineering team, depending on the size and circumstances of the team, consider hiring two or three women at once. You will no doubt see that this change in dynamics will drive collaboration within the group. Women will feel less isolated and the group as a whole will therefore function much more creatively and productively.
Make these new hires truly part of a team, and it’s likely that you’ll keep all of your developers around longer – and even open up your company to interest from other women technologists.
3. Facilitate Mentorship Schemes
Hiring proactively is important, but to keep them you’ll need to also support the women you already employ by giving them mentors who will coach them as they work their way up in the company. Your future female technologists will be more confident if they understand and clearly see that their careers matter.
You can also participate in programs designed to support the development of technical women in your company – like the Anita Borg Institute’s programs and events. Once you have a solid and diverse team in place, make sure to highlight the innovation as a result of the creativity of the team.
And, of course, don’t forget to consider your technical women as the future leaders on your executive team just as much as you consider the men.
And, finally, train your male employees to understand that female coders are not “mythical creatures,” as Ciara writes. They’re out there, and if your company wants the best products they can build, they’ll be joining the team soon enough.
What else do you think employers could be doing to better support women in tech in the workplace?
About the guest blogger: Penny Herscher is the CEO of FirstRain, a personal business analytics company in Silicon Valley. Originally a mathematician from Cambridge University in England, Penny worked in software engineering, marketing, business development and general management on her path to CEO. She’s a big believer in diversity – both in building careers paths and in building teams – to bring richer experience into leadership and decision making.