What leaders can do to hire more women in tech

It’s almost 2022, and companies still aren’t getting it right for women in tech. Sure, they’re dangling high pay and remote work. And those are important. But they simply aren’t enough. 

With peak hiring and job hunting season right around the corner, here’s how to stand out from the crowd and solve one of the top challenges companies continue to come to my company, InHerSight, with—attracting and winning over women in tech through the competitive interview process. 

Use what we know about women’s experiences at work to create systems that foster belonging 

The number of women in tech remains remarkably low—about 29% in 2020, according to the AnitaB.org Institute. Within teams and departments, women in tech are often “the only”—a shorthand term used to refer to a person who is the sole representative of one aspect of identity in their workplace. It also can refer to being the only person of color, person with disabilities, person who identifies as LGBTQ, and so on. As “inclusive” as offices might seem, the experience of “the only” demonstrates how differently employees navigate workplaces, simply because of who they are.

To make matters worse, bro culture is rife in tech companies, according to the 2021 Women in Tech Report by TrustRadius. Some 72% of women in tech reported having “worked at a company where bro culture is pervasive,” manifesting in a variety of ways from an uncomfortable work environment to sexual harassment and assault, the report found.

For these reasons, it can be difficult for women in tech to cultivate a sense of belonging in their workplace—that feeling that they can bring their whole self to work each day because they feel included and welcome, no matter who they are. 

A sense of belonging is a metric we track at InHerSight. And when we surveyed women, asking them how satisfied they are with their ability to bring their whole self to work each day, just 47% said they could. 

Some tech companies are getting this right. Intuit, known for software applications TurboTax, QuickBooks, Mint, and Credit Karma, is among them. Here are some of the steps this company takes to create a culture of belonging:

  •  Intuit surveys employees to better understand their perception of belonging and to uncover gaps that need addressing.
  • The company has established demographic-specific employee resource groups where colleagues can find common ground and aid in Intuit’s internal and external diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. The ERGs also partner with talent acquisition to ensure prospective new hires see people who look like them during the interview process.
  • Intuit holds space for diverse experiences through town hall meetings and groups dedicated to meaningful conversations. Tia Bradley, a staff program manager, even started a natural hair Slack channel where coworkers can share their experiences.  

“I appreciate Intuit allowing us that space and making it possible for us to have those conversations and feel safe,” Bradley told us. “I feel very supported, not only with my leadership team but with the network and community that we’ve built as a company.”

Highlight learning opportunities 

The demand for workplace training and learning grew during COVID-19, according to LinkedIn’s 5th annual Workplace Learning Report. But skills development has always been front and center for tech workers. The seemingly endless opportunities for growth from learning new programming languages to solving new challenges and taking advantage of peer programming is one of the things that draws many women into the field of engineering.

Companies that want to appeal to women in tech must provide formal and informal learning and development opportunities, including conference stipends, tuition reimbursement and on-site learning, and proactively promote them during the hiring process. 

At InHerSight, we ask women workers how satisfied they are with their access to learning and development opportunities. Alley Interactive, an information technology and services company, stands out. The company encourages learning and provides a development budget of $1,000 for every team member with more than a year of service and $2,500 for some roles, including coaches, directors, and software developers. 

Jaimie Olmstead, a senior agile process leader at Alley, used her professional development budget during COVID to become a certified product owner through Scrum. More recently, she attended a peer-to-peer coaching program with a group of co-workers to boost their coaching skills. 

“Being able to access my professional development budget throughout my time at Alley has allowed me to attend conferences, increase my library of professional resources, complete training, and obtain certifications,” she told us.

Demonstrate equal access for all

Women leave their tech jobs at a 45 % higher rate than men, according to data from Accenture and Girls Who Code, which aims to close the tech gender gap. And within the biggest 1,000 tech companies, less than one in five CIOs or CTOs are women.

“Everyone thinks [women leave their tech jobs] because they want to have a family or kids,” Lisa Smith, the director of the Raleigh/Durham chapter of Women Who Code and an engineering manager, told us. “That is untrue. It’s because they lack opportunities for advancement.”

If you’re not a woman in tech, imagine, for instance, that you walk into work every day knowing you’ll never be promoted and your ideas will never be respected and that you’ll always be doing the same work you did the day before.

And, because of bro culture and the dearth of other women around them, women in tech often have experienced unequal treatment firsthand. That’s why, when they are looking for a job, women prioritize having the same access to promotions, leadership roles, and development opportunities as their male counterparts. It’s a key driver to happiness at work, according to our research and it’s incumbent on employers to provide it because it’s the right thing to do. 

To authentically and meaningfully demonstrate that their culture supports equal access, leaders must: 

  • Be transparent about the representation of women at different levels of the organization. 
  • Talk about their advancement goals and how they use support structures like mentorship and sponsorship to ensure the equal advancement of women and other marginalized groups. 
  • Track the pace of promotions by gender in order to address bias and problem areas early on. 

And they should remember that women want to see other women doing the same work they are doing (to be exact, 78% of women find this important or very important) and in leadership roles. An organization’s employees are its biggest asset here. Companies should ensure that prospective talent hears directly from its women employees and leaders. And they should seek out opportunities to showcase them as NetApp, Palo Alto Networks, and frame.io have done. 

Starting at a very young age, girls are steered away from future tech careers, no thanks to cultural stereotypes that they aren’t good at math, science, and engineering. To close the tech gender gap, there certainly are plenty of systemic issues to tackle. But when employers start addressing what matters most to women who are jumping over those hurdles now, they’ll begin to bring more women on board and have the right strategies in place to help them grow and thrive.

Ursula Mead is cofounder and CEO of InHerSight