A growing body of research corroborates the link between gender balance in the work place and substantial business growth. The studies confirm that companies with more diverse and gender balanced boards generate higher market returns, and C-suites with greater gender parity report higher profitability and return on equity. Ventures with more women in management also show lower market volatility.
Gender balance isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s an economic driver that CEOs in the technology sector aren’t tapping into. In large part, the issue is cultural. In a male dominated arena, even enlightened CEOs struggle to adjust. But there are steps you can take to initiate change.
Get the Board Onboard
“You do need a champion at board level in an organization or it’s not going to work,” said UK government adviser, technology evangelist and digital skills expert Dr. Sue Black OBE. “It’s the same with anything. If you want to make change, you need support higher up.”
It’s essential that you’re able to impart that gender balance means reaching your organisation’s full market potential. According to Black, to convince your executives and managers to back gender and diversity issues, it’s critical that the board be committed to a culture of inclusion. And, to send a value driven message, the board should be diverse as well.
C-suite’s Business Objectives
Gillian Armstrong, managing director at Tectre, a Huddersfield based recruitment, training and diversity consultancy, says that C-suite can increase the number of qualified women in a company by making gender initiatives strategic business plans. “All management from the top down should have measurable objectives or key performance indicators (KPIs) for a diversity project,” Armstrong said, “and these should be related to the remuneration plans as any other business project would be.”
Armstrong also suggests using cultural audit tools, being attentive to the results and ready to act on its findings.
Recruit and Hire Without Bias
Unconscious bias and a lack of imagination can derail hiring initiatives. While much has changed since Dame Stephanie Shirley sent out CVs as Steve Shirley, there’s still an implicit message that women are ill-suited to many roles.
Blind recruitment policies may work early in the process but interviews aren’t unseeing. Armstrong proposes hiring managers undertake Unconscious Bias training. By having a forum to challenge preconceived notions, they’ll be able to recognize the influence of bias and alter their behavior.
Black recommends managers go where the talent is. “You have to come up with some creative thinking to reach the people that you’re looking for,” she said. “There are lots of groups; women in technology groups and mothers in technology groups, (Black founded TechMums). These are places where you can approach women technologists who have skills that are specific to the needs of your company.”
Retain and Promote Talent
According to the European Center for Women in Technology, (ECWT), only 19 percent of ICT workers in the EU have female bosses and only nine percent of women over 45 with ICT related degrees remain in the sector.
Several studies estimate that the 56 percent of women, who leave mid-career, create the dearth in management. The evidence suggests that workplace culture, feeling as if their career has stalled, and taking leave for family, are the significant reasons for departure.
There are however, several paths companies can take to mitigate the loss, including: Applying a proactive “gender lens” to all pay, promotion and performance processes, supporting mentorships, and offering flex-time and family leave programmes that benefit all employees.
Armstrong notes that in the UK, awareness of the “wasted” female workforce is making an impact. She’s observed the growth of organisations devoted to training and refreshing the tech skills of women re-entering the workforce after a break in employment. These candidates, who already have considerable experience, could fill middle-management roles and promote rapidly.
Bet on Women
Business should heed the research and bet on women technologists. “Have role models in the company who demonstrate that this is the culture you want and get everyone else on board with it,” urged Black. “It’s very hard to do from the bottom up or even the middle out, so all the messaging has to come from the top. And it’s not just about what you say, it’s about your actions and how you behave as well.”