What’s Working Today to Attract and Retain Women in Technology

Liz Alton

As part of Women’s History Month, we’re taking a closer look at how leading companies are attracting and retaining women employees. According to a recent piece by Built In, women account for around 34% of the workforce at today’s largest technology companies. Despite advances in recent years, there’s still a gender gap in today’s technology employment landscape. If you’re interested in making your hiring or employee retention strategies more inclusive, here are seven ideas to consider.

Eliminate Biased Language from Job Descriptions

Attracting great candidates—and making technology jobs and companies welcoming to female candidates—starts with the very language companies use to fill their opportunities. Experts on the topic recommend removing gendered words—even terms such as “guru” and “rock star” can have an impact on applications. Describing your culture as competitive, dominant, or cutthroat may also drive away female candidates. Some other solutions to consider include:

  • Check your pronouns and use gender-neutral terms.
  • Use tools use as Textio or The Gender Decoder (which is free) to find gendered language in your job descriptions and find more inclusive alternatives.
  • Include your diversity and equality objectives, commitments, and statements in your job advertisements (and on your employer brand site) to help candidates better understand your culture.
  • Evaluate your qualifications. The Harvard Business Review has discussed that women often won’t apply for a job unless they’re totally qualified. Using broader experience ranges, highlighting the soft skills needed to success in a role, and eliminating arbitrary degree requirements from roles that don’t require them can all help you attract a more diverse candidate base.

Address Bias in the Interview Process

Once you’ve considered how you’re positioning your open job requisitions, it’s important to consider how you’re sourcing and interviewing talent. Often, bias in the sourcing and interviewing process can be implicit. For example, an employee referral program relies largely on the personal networks of your team; if you’re already struggling with diversity challenges, you may be less likely to recruit women and other diverse candidates for technology roles or to any role within a technology firm.

It’s also important to look at your interview process. Risk Management Magazine reports that half of women who went through interview processes for technology roles have had a bad interview experience—or know someone who did. For employers interested in developing more women-friendly sourcing and interview strategies, here are a few options:

  • Diversity your sourcing channels. Partnering with organizations such as The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) can help you reach into a broader candidate base.
  • Embrace software that anonymizes incoming applications so details such as name and gender are obscured for the first round of reviews. The Harvard Business Review reports, “We recommend that they implement anonymized recruitment where possible, especially at the early stages of applicant screening. When you have evidence that gender, race, age, or other differences are affecting your selection process, despite their not being relevant selection criteria, you have error in your processIn other words, extraneous information about one’s identity is causing you to make less accurate decisions.”
  • Incorporate objective measures of a candidate’s qualifications, such as skills testing, score cards, and structured interviews to help eliminate bias and ensure that hiring decisions are about a candidate’s ability to deliver outcomes rather than first impressions.
  • Offer bias training to all your interviewers to help raise awareness of these issues and how they manifest during the interview process. Develop diverse interview committees to incorporate a variety of perspectives and help female candidates feel comfortable during the process.

Attract Women in Technology: A woman at a server rack running diagnostics.

Build an Inclusive Employer Brand

The power of the employer brand is on the rise. Workers evaluate a company’s values, workplace, and culture before taking interviews and accepting offers. Promoting diversity and inclusion in all ways, including promoting more gender diversity, begins with being aware. Deloitte Insights recently highlighted the dearth of women speakers at technology conferences, noting that one speaker audit found that from 2016 to 2018, just 27% of keynote or standalone speakers at technology conferences were women. With concerted effort, the numbers are changing, but it raises an important question: How visible are the women at your company? Building an inclusive employer brand to help attract more women candidates and employees can include:

  • Feature successful women executives and employees as part of your worker profiles. Highlight their career paths, why they chose your company, and how they’re growing there over time.
  • Promote women speakers and participation in industry events to highlight the female talent at your company and reinforce your employer brand.
  • Highlight relevant benefits and cultural context, from female-focused employee resource groups to parental leave policies. This can help women determine that your company is a good fit for their long-term goals and interests.

Focus on an Inclusive Day-to-Day Work Culture

According to The MIT Sloan Management Review, “New research from Accenture and Girls Who Code (GWC) shows that, when taken as a percentage of the total U.S. workforce, there are fewer women in tech today than there were in 1984. Incredibly, 50% of women who take a tech role drop it by the age of 35.” Often, the changes that make a significant difference center on your day-to-day culture. If you’re looking to take steps to improve this, some options include:

  • Determine whether you have implicit systems or cultures that could be limiting inclusiveness. One common example within tech is the “brogrammer” stereotype. Understanding where that’s at play—and taking steps to address it—can help your culture feel more welcoming to a wide variety of candidates.
  • Align benefits and incentives around policies that reward everyone and support the unique challenges some women face. Generous parental leave programs can help equalize the impact of parenting on careers, for example.
  • Make space for women’s unique needs when they arise. One topic that’s come up at technology companies where I’ve worked is having a dedicated space for mothers who need to pump. Proactively addressing these issues can help women maximize productivity and feel like their needs are recognized in the culture.

Establish Women-Focused Success Programs

Once you’ve hired fantastic female talent, it’s important to take steps to retain them. The MIT Sloan Management Review notes, “Women-specific support programs are also an important part of inclusivity… targeted support from mentors, sponsors, and employee resource networks can help level an uneven playing field.” Establishing women-focused success programs, support structures, and infrastructure can help support long-term success. Some options to consider include:

  • Pair new women hires with mentors or sponsors who can help answer questions and provide guidance on questions, challenges, and career advancement opportunities.
  • Establish a women’s employee resource group (ERG) with a clear mission and business-aligned goals to promote the success of women company-wide. Here’s a guide to creating ERGs that work.
  • Network with organizations that champion women in technology, such as National Center for Women & Information Technology and the League of Women Coders. Looking for more ideas? Here’s a great list from CIO.

How to Attract Women in Technology: a diverse group of women gathered around a monitor focused on their work.

Consider Establishing Flexible Work Schedules

As MIT Sloan noted in the above referenced sample, many women in tech leave their jobs before age 35. A whole host of reasons apply, but BCG Consulting offers employers one option to stem the tide: “Our research shows that flexible-work options—giving employees a say in when, where, and how much they work—is a key lever in retaining female employees.” They go on to note that women at companies without flexible work policies are more likely to seek other employment. However, the authors also emphasize that this can be a valuable asset to your holistic employment planning.

Yet they also underscore the reality that many women face disproportionate responsibilities around childcare, elder care, and other family responsibilities. Flexible work can help mitigate this. Some best practices to keep in mind include:

  • Ensure that flexible work arrangements don’t limit an employee’s ability to advance within the company.
  • Embrace the idea that there’s no single approach to flexible work; what works for one employee’s situation may not work for another’s needs.
  • Keep programs “reason-neutral.” BCG advises, “Flex-work programs need to be available to and utilized by both women and men. They should not be gender-specific or designed to support one particular situation (such as a woman’s return to the workforce) to the exclusion of other.”
  • Address internal culture and concerns to build and support day-to-day culture and manager/employee relationships that set flexible workers up for success.

Promote Women to Management and Leadership Roles

The final principle of retaining female talent is having a clear priority of promoting women in management and leadership roles. CIO tackled the gender divide in technology, noting that “Providing clear pathways for women to be promoted to management and leadership roles is a key element of retaining female tech talent. If you fail to have any women in management or leadership positions, then incoming talent may feel career growth within your company is only afforded to their male colleagues.”

The initiative becomes critical on two levels. First, high-caliber talent that can’t advance will go elsewhere to find new opportunities. Second, when job hunters are evaluating your work culture, a lack of women in management or executive roles can give pause.

There are a number of strategies companies can explore here, including:

  • Perform a baseline analysis to understand how you’re currently doing with regard to gender diversity and leadership roles. Are women significantly represented?
  • If women aren’t represented, what steps can you take to set benchmarks and goals to address the gap?
  • Consider tapping internal talent for promotional opportunities and executive roles before bringing in outside talent. This can expand the opportunities that women leadership has within the company, while also promoting an overall sense that career growth is possible within your organization.
  • Include female leaders in the hiring process. Representation—and diverse perspectives—are key.
  • Explore the future growth aspirations and plans of the candidates you’re hiring. Take time to understand the growth they’re interested in, and make an effort to understand how you can position women for that success even before you make an offer.

Attracting and retaining more women talent is an important step toward growing the diverse, successful employee base that can help your company achieve its goals. By raising awareness of how each step of the process can impact gender diversity, your organization will create the culture, benefits, and recruiting process that bring women to your teams.

If you’re still working on your own processes, sometimes working with an outside partner for recruiting the best IT talent outside of your own framework can help. Connection has a robust program for helping you find the right IT talent and will work with you to meet your diversity goals.

Learn more about Connection’s IT Staffing Augmentation Solutions.

Liz Alton is a B2B technology and digital marketing writer and content strategist. She has worked with a variety of brands including Google, Twitter, Adobe, Oracle, and HP, and written for publications including Forbes. She is a regular contributor to Connected, Connection’s official blog.