This article originally appeared in Forbes Technology Council
As I write this article on a sunny afternoon in October 2023, I am reminded that it will take another 132 years, 155 days, 11 hours, 33 minutes, and 56 seconds until the economic gender gap is closed. This is according to data from the Womentech Network, a global community for women working in technology fields spanning 172 countries.
Take a moment to let that figure sink in. For women, the year is 1891, not 2023.
While we have seen an uptick in the number of women working in technology fields (women held a paltry 9% of jobs in computer and mathematical occupations in the early 2000s, which went up to 28% in 2023), women nevertheless continue to face gender bias, stereotyping, unequal pay and limited progression all the way up the corporate ladder—all of which not only halts their advancement but often causes them to leave the tech workforce altogether. Women of color face even greater obstacles; their representation dropped over a tenth from 2016 to 2022.
We need to accelerate progress in recruiting and retaining women in tech—and this must happen today.
Taking Concrete Steps
What can be done to bridge these gender gaps? Far from simply wringing their hands and declaring it a broad social problem, there are meaningful steps tech leaders can take to ensure they are recruiting and retaining talented women. Below are some concrete measures.
1. Look critically at your hiring, retention and promotion processes.
Do these processes offer equal opportunities to elevate and retain women, not just at senior levels, but also in early stages of their careers—leading to a larger pool of qualified female candidates for leadership positions down the line? Are women empowered in technical roles and given opportunities to build new skills? Are they made aware of senior position vacancies and encouraged to apply? If you aren’t sure if these things are happening in your organization, that’s a problem.
2. Provide mentors and sponsors.
Mentors and sponsors are subtly different. Mentors are individuals who share knowledge, experience and advice, offering guidance to employees on a similar trajectory. Sponsors actively promote individuals, advocate for them, offer opportunities and help eliminate barriers to success. Consider increasing the number of mentors and sponsors in your organization.
3. Promote inclusion at all levels.
Organizations that truly embrace inclusion enable innovation from all corners. Inclusion demands awareness of our own implicit biases first and foremost. It then requires resolve and commitment to address those biases, including being open to different ways of doing work, which may entail, for example, flexibility around work schedules, improvements to parental and family leave policies and being intentional in how we reflect an inclusive work environment in our everyday work. The gender gap in our industry is palpable, and we must work hard to dismantle not only the gender stereotypes that keep women out of the industry but also the policies that prevent them from advancing to senior leadership roles.
4. Make space for women’s voices.
Women need their voices and perspectives heard at the table. Are women being heard in your organization? Are they given equal opportunities to share their ideas—and receive credit for them? Or, are they subject to constant “mansplaining” and “hepeating?” Take an honest look at your meetings and observe what happens. Are women getting the same chance to speak like others are? And when they do, are people listening?
5. Review compensation.
Is compensation fair in your organization? Pay inequity is unfortunately common—and it is a top concern for women in all fields, particularly in tech, where these disparities are glaring. Consider conducting a pay equity study within your organization with the help of an outside consultant to ensure your practices are fair and equitable and that your assessment is perceived as credible.
6. Create a community.
There are many industry networks that emphasize mentoring opportunities, promote professional growth and facilitate strong working relationships for women. If there aren’t resources available in your immediate area, or for your industry, create them. Offer pathways for women to gain more visibility within your organization and the tech industry as a whole. Create speaking, networking and business opportunities that empower women to showcase and hone their skills and ideas.
A Global Accountability
Tech companies that do not take steps to diversify their applicant pools and create culture change that counters gender biases in tech are setting themselves up for failure. Tech companies need women because they think differently, which leads to greater innovation and higher revenue. Moreover, a lack of female representation is a self-perpetuating cycle; the fewer women in leadership roles, the more challenging it becomes to recruit the best people.
Everyone—not just female leaders—is accountable for determining the future role of women. It is imperative that we remain focused on solving this problem and not just decrying the sorry state of the industry. Tech leaders must take meaningful, tangible actions to create inclusive cultures where talented women want to work. As leaders, we need to implement comprehensive talent management and development strategies to address these concerns, because when we fail to address the barriers keeping women out of tech, we limit our entire industry’s growth.
132 years, 154 days, 2 hours, 19 minutes and counting…