How to retain women in tech?

Expert talks about how to build a culture that suits women

How to retain women in tech?

Many tech companies opened the year 2024 with mass layoffs, and women, unfortunately, are disproportionately represented in these numbers, according to a recent report.

Women are 1.6x more likely to experience layoffs in the tech industry than men, noted NTT Data, citing statistics from the WomenTech Network.

There’s an explanation: Companies that overhired, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, are now letting go of the excesses in their workforce, says Jennifer Henderson, senior VP of talent acquisition, NTT Data. Unfortunately, women are the more dispensable ones in this situation, she says.

“Companies were overwhelmed with IT projects that needed to be done, and they needed talent. So they hired and hired recruiters and other support functions to help build up their technologists,” she says.

In the tech sector, women are more likely to hold the supporting roles while men are more likely to be the “technologists,” she says.

“If the female population is in a lot of those support functions, that's the first place that companies will look to cut.”

The number of women in the technology space has been dropping over the past years. At 32 per cent, the share of women working in tech is now lower than it was in 1984, when it was 35 per cent, according to a report by Techopedia.

Why are women leaving tech?

Not only are women being laid off, they themselves are also choosing to leave. Nearly six in 10 (57 per cent) of women in Technology, Media, and Telecom (TMT) plan to leave their jobs within two years, citing poor work/life balance, according to WomenTech.

Part of the reason behind that is the return-to-the-workplace movement and women continuing to hold “traditional gender roles,” says Henderson.

Women consider this question, she says: “Am I going to stay home and take care of my kids or am I going to pay for childcare?” 

“And sometimes the job doesn't necessarily get you that great return if you're paying for childcare, and it's much easier to stay home.”

Also, “if they're not getting the support that they need as an employee and they don't feel engaged with that company, then they would be looking for a company that is going to engage them and be with an employer that has similar core values,” says Henderson.

Nearly half of mothers report dissatisfaction with their organizations' support during maternity leave, according to a previous report.

How to retain women in tech?

NTT Data suggests the following to help employers in the tech space retain women:

1. Encourage mothers back into the workforce.

“There's a lot of untouched talent out in the market that companies should put more focus into, and make sure that there's accommodation for those individuals that need it,” says Henderson, noting that mothers are included in those talents.

And there are ways to accommodate mothers into the workforce, she says.

“People talk about the war on talent, and especially in the tech industry, we need to get creative. We need to think about the non-traditional pathway, whether it's emerging talent or folks who are restarting their career, or [people who] just want to get to part-time employment so they have more of that flexibility. Be open to those things. When we're not open to those things, we exclude such a huge amount of talent.”

2. Use an “employee first” strategy to fill the skills gap in the labour crisis.

Employers should offer training opportunities to help workers grow, says Henderson. If employers would do that, people will feel “like they really can grow their career within an organization,” she says.

“Companies miss out on talent because they're just so focused on how to attract talent and how to hire more people. We need to take time out and focus on the internal first. And where you have gaps, that's when you go to the external market.”

3. Creating a gender-inclusive environment in the workplace.

“Having a diverse group of people on your team – as your leaders, as your colleagues – brings different ideas, different ways of thinking about how to solve a challenge,” says Henderson.

To do that, employers must start with their hiring practices, she says.

“Whether it's through your emerging talent, whether it's campus hiring, developing programs of folks returning to the workforce after taking time off, make sure that you're pulling all these levers, all the strategies.”

It’s also important for employers to look internally to see whether there are people who deserve to rise through the ranks, she says.

“Take a hard look at some of the folks on your team and find those people who you want to bring up and help them grow their career. Where are those female voices that aren't being heard that are potential leaders and how do you get them there? 

“There's so many strategies and levers that companies should be pulling.”

It has been the widely accepted view, supported by research, that women are more risk-averse than men when it comes to decision-making. But a study from the University of Alberta suggests that might not be the case.

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