Yes, We Still Need to Focus on Women in Tech

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Adjusting the gender tilt in the tech workforce requires more than just filling vacancies.

Bringing up gender again—really? That may be the response one gets in the year 2019, after all, we are heading into 20 years of the 21st century. We are in the age of “The Cognitive Revolution, ” our technology grows by leaps and bounds and yet, we still see a gender tilt in our technology corridors. Why do we slide back to the middle ages when it comes to our women and minorities?

Today, while women make up 59% of the total workforce, their number is only 30% across major tech companies. This includes both tech and non-tech jobs, like marketing and human resources. As we go up the leadership chain that number dwindles even further with only five women CEOs among the top Fortune 500 companies. I have been in the corporate world for over 18 years now and have spent a lot of time working to increase the numbers of women in technology and the sciences. Working with various nonprofit organizations, ranging from the Society of Women Engineers, The Grace Hopper Foundation, IEEE Women in Engineering and various resource groups within large corporations, have made me realize that this issue requires a multi-faceted approach. As organizations appreciate the benefit of having a diverse workforce, they need to first comprehend the issue and then focus their energies on conquering the problem simultaneously in order to solve the entire puzzle. The goal should be to ensure that women and minorities are not just entering the technology workforce but are growing and fostering there as well. The three-pronged requires:

Inspiration

The first step here is to confirm our base of supply. In order to do that we need to inspire our young girls and inculcate their interest in science and technology at a very early age. A 1996 study suggested that girls begin to lose self-confidence in middle school. Our middle schools are our first battlegrounds. Technology day visits to corporate labs, science workshops, scholarships and open-ended creative competitions are some ways that we can cultivate the interest of our young girls and minorities. There needs to be direct and more real involvement of technology companies to drive STEM education across the nation.

Preservation

It is not enough to inspire our women into fields of science and technology, we need to be able to preserve the numbers through well-balanced recruiting and retention policies. A 2013 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that men are twice as likely to be hired for a job in mathematics than women. Nearly 40% of women with engineering degrees either don't enter the field at all or quit soon after. In order to be able to preserve the numbers of women in technology, organizations need to focus on conquering unconscious bias, building strong internal women’s networks and mentoring models and create a culture where work-life balance is encouraged through active measures, not just passive messaging.

Innovation

The last piece of this puzzle is innovation and growth. When we think of technology companies, we think of cutting-edge innovations and new inventions. We need to use this genius to build imaginative and pioneering mentorship models where we not only encourage women to enter the field and stay but to grow, innovate and lead. We see the largest drop in the number of women at the middle management level, not just due to lack of flexible work options but due to a lack of growth options. As they are passed up for promotion, looked aside for raises and been told that “doing your job is not enough,” we need to actively engage them by creating executive coaching and eminence building programs for our high performing women. 

Gender parity across the fields of science and technology has been a long-standing battle. It needs to be fought at multiple fronts simultaneously to ultimately achieve our goal. As we shape the workforce of the future, let us ensure that we build organizations that inspire, preserve and grow our women and minorities.

Geetika Tandon is a senior director with Booz Allen Hamilton leading their IT modernization practice within the financial, energy and economic development sector. She is also the author of “Reinventing Myself: Inspiration, Perspiration and Innovation.”