It’s a well-documented fact that the tech industry has a serious gender imbalance. Despite efforts to drive young women into STEM fields and establish VC funds for female founders, women still make up just 26 percent of the computing workforce and 11 percent of tech executives at privately held venture-backed companies.
This is downright problematic when you consider that women make up the majority of gamers, spend the most time on social media and mobile apps, and make the most in-app purchases. When women aren’t involved in the decision-making process, companies risk missing the crucial female perspective.
Hiring women isn’t just about diversity — it’s good for the bottom line, too. Research shows that gender-diverse teams outperform male-dominated teams in terms of productivity, organizational effectiveness and financial health.
Considering these benefits, why aren’t there more women in tech?
For one thing, surviving in a fast-paced, male-dominated field as a woman requires a thick skin. When I started my career in aerospace engineering, I, like many other women, worked with men who were prone to locker room talk and inappropriate jokes. Unfortunately, innuendo and sexual harassment are still fixtures of the tech industry. In addition to blatant discrimination and harassment, women struggle to overcome the confidence gap, a lack of support from their peers, and the challenge of building a career while raising a family.
As CEO of my own company, I now have a bird’s-eye view of how these issues hold women back and what leaders can do to make the road a little smoother for the next generation of female leaders.
- Work with female employees to develop confidence. Studies show that men feel comfortable applying for jobs when they only meet 60 percent of the qualifications, but women won’t apply unless they meet all of them. Women also tend to underestimate their capabilities — especially when it comes to asking for a promotion. As a leader, you can help your female employees gain confidence by soliciting their opinions in meetings and encouraging them to apply for promotions.
- Help female employees create a road map. During my time as CEO, I’ve noticed a stark difference in how men and women communicate their career plans. One male employee I was mentoring came to me with an outline of his career plan and told me where he wanted to go without reservation, but I had to press my female employee for details on her long-term plans. If you decide to take a more active role in your employees’ career development, communicate that you want to help them get where they want to go — even if that spot doesn’t exist within your team and might mean losing them to another company in a year or two.
- Build networks of “power women.” Recently, I attended a leadership event designed to help nurture and support women in business. Being able to talk to other women directors and CEOs was incredibly valuable for me, and these types of networks can be a game changer for women at all levels.
- Support women (and men) with families. In Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg debunks the myth of “having it all” and emphasizes that for women to advance professionally, they need partners who are willing to take on at least half of the household and child-rearing responsibilities. The best thing any leader can do to help working moms is to encourage all employees to make decisions that are best for their families. Flexible schedules and the option to work remotely won’t just help the mothers on your payroll. These things will help working women everywhere by offering their partners the chance to better support them at home.
- Create a child-friendly workplace. Under the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law, employers are required to provide a time and a place for hourly workers to express milk. Many companies now have a specific room for breastfeeding moms, and some companies such as Royal Caribbean International even have a daycare on site. Despite the large number of mothers with young children in the workforce, we still view these things as progressive employee perks or markers of a good company culture when they should be the standard.
The tech industry is still woefully behind when it comes to gender equality, but there are lots of companies and individuals working to correct the imbalance. Salesforce is rolling out an aggressive plan to prioritize equal pay, and Intel Capital recently created a $125 million fund for women- and minority-led startups.
For the tide to turn in women’s favor, leaders must take an active role by championing women in tech and making their companies a safe, welcoming environment for all employees.