By Megan McCann
In all likelihood, you’ve heard the saying “actions speak louder than words.” My parents raised me on this motto, and it’s a gift that has shaped both the person and the professional I am today. One of the best examples of its life-shaping influence on me is my response to the challenge of increasing gender diversity across the tech sector. It’s a difficult issue and, as a woman who owns a tech talent business, this is not an abstract problem. It’s something I come face-to-face with every day. So I try to do exactly what I was taught: I act.
Three plus years ago that action took the shape of a new venture. I co-founded ARA, an organization which aspires to attract, retain and advance women throughout their careers in technology. What started out as a dinner between friends turned into a shared mission to help address the gender gap in technology head-on.
Fast forward to today and we at ARA have learned that we can only achieve our vision of a more diverse technology sector with the help of others. We’ve also learned that building a better environment globally for women in IT will take time. Three years of data and engagement with businesses and technology professionals has given us a very clear picture of the challenges the entire industry is up against:
- Too few women are in technology today and not enough are choosing to go into IT
- The lack of diversity and inclusion across the industry is widespread
- The IT talent pipeline is limited and stretched due to high demand
- There is minimal support for mentorship programs for diverse talent
These are not easy challenges, but there is a way forward: to take action. The more of us, from senior business leaders and managers to individual contributors, who play a role in helping fix the problem, the faster we will see progress in the form of rising ranks of women in IT workplaces nationwide. Do you aspire to help your company attract and retain diverse tech talent? Do you want to see more women and minorities in technology?
Here are some ideas for taking action that can and will help:
Get Executive Sponsors. If senior leaders aren’t convinced that the gender gap in tech is an issue, you have a problem. But you can fix it with some sound arguments and data. For example, for the last five years, women have made up only 21% of technical roles despite earning more college degrees (of all levels!) and representing half of the world’s intellectual capital.
Few leaders are going to agree that “half of the world’s intellectual capital” and boatloads of college-degreed candidates are something they are willing to pass up at a time when businesses desperately need skilled, smart and technology-minded talent in order to innovate and compete.
Action to take: Host a discussion with senior leaders on the technology gender gap and share the statistics. It’s hard to argue with facts (by 2020 there will be 1.4 million available tech jobs but just 400,000 computer science graduates), so it shouldn’t be hard to convince these leaders that focusing on recruiting and retaining women is important. But don’t just point out the problem—be sure to bring to the table ideas, solutions and resources, such as mentoring programs and targeted recruiting programs.
Inform & Engage Your Talent Acquisition Team. To get more women in the door, you need the enthusiastic help of your recruiting and HR teams. Once you have leadership buy-in to bolster efforts to recruit and retain more women for the tech organization, HR and recruiters are likely to get behind the effort and become powerful partners in the effort to increase numbers of women in tech.
Action to take: Ensure that HR/talent acquisition teams are:
- well aware of the leadership-sponsored effort to recruit more women for technology roles and teams
- invited to be key partners in devising plans and tools for success
Recruiters may have a lot of recruiting demands on them but they also have invaluable insight into job seekers and the employment market. They can and should be a key partner in any effort to strengthen workforce diversity. Consider working with talent acquisition teams to host a series of networking events, whereby you bring fresh talent through your company’s doors and put the spotlight on all the work you are doing as an organization to support women in tech.
Encourage Diversity Discussions. Like any diversity discussion, the conversation about advancing women in tech cannot be held in a vacuum. Men and women alike need to be part of the dialogue, as does your diversity and inclusion group. At Women@INI, an organization at the Information Networking Institute (INI) at Carnegie Mellon University, for example, male students are encouraged to participate because many of them may simply not be aware of the gender-based challenges that their female peers face.
Action to take: Does your organization have a diversity leader, team or SIG (special interest group)? Talk with them about ways to take the discussion out into the broader organization. Work together to look at how “women in tech” or “getting more women in tech” can be a bigger conversation for the company. Are there “lunch and learn” events? roundtable opportunities? internal newsletters or forums? If more people are hearing, reading and talking about the need to increase diversity, more people will get excited about it and commit to taken action themselves.
Get Serious about Mentorship. Mentorship is an important career development tool, but women in tech do not benefit from it the way that men have. Much of this can be attributed to more a relaxed approach to mentoring that happens after work, over dinner/drinks and informal, after work settings. To welcome women into technology’s mentoring mix, formal programs can help.
Action to take: Work with tech teams, HR and leadership to identify mentors who can guide and coach women tech professionals and consider formalizing the program by sponsoring learning lunches or mentor/mentee workshops. Internal or external, a mentor can be a powerful guide in helping employees navigate challenging career situations and/or choices.
Despite the many words I have put on the page here, I will end this article still certain that “actions speak louder than words.” My hope is that we do keep the discussion on women in tech going. At the same time, I hope we put even more effort into taking bold actions that lead to big changes. Big bold change is what we are working toward at ARA, and the more people who act today, the more successful we will be at building a tech force of tomorrow where diversity thrives.
About Megan McCann
Megan is an established IT recruitment and technology services leader known for building and leading highly successful IT services firms and for the work she does to advance diversity and cultivate talent across the technology industry.