Company Culture
COVID-19 / Women in tech / Workplace culture

What the pandemic can teach us about narrowing the gender gap in tech

Family-supporting policies, employee resource groups: The strategies these Philly companies used during the challenging past year could propel equity in workplaces moving forward.

At work. (Photo by CoWomen from Pexels)

In the last year, more than 2.3 million women have left the U.S. labor force, reaching lows the country hasn’t seen since 1988, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The pandemic has forced women to evaluate their relationship with work and how to manage the household, childcare and emotional labor that most often falls to them. With a full year of remote work or balancing all responsibilities at home, there’s a lot to learn about what companies can do to make their workplaces — whether online or IRL — more equitable for women.

It was the topic of conversation Tuesday morning during a virtual event hosted by the Future Works Alliance PHL and co-sponsored by Chariot Solutions, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and The Philadelphia Citizen called “Women, Work and COVID: The Future is Still Female.” Leadership at local companies shared how the strategies at their company used during the pandemic could propel equity in workplaces moving forward.

Marissa Gilbert, managing director of Accenture’s strategy, talent and organization, said the professional services corporation has been operating with three major rules in mind. First, if a company as big as Accenture (which currently employs about 500,000) wants to implement change, it must happen from the top.

“It has to be built into your over-arching business strategy and work its way down through several levels of leadership to really make that change,” she said.

Second is a focus on community building. Accenture has hundreds of employee resource groups, Gilbert said, and they can make an employee feel like they have a home at such a huge company. And third, it uses a framework that makes people feel safe, seen, heard and “courageous.”

Accenture is using these strategies to address the pandemic, as it’s used them in the past with equity-focused initiatives — like a goal it set in 2017 to be a gender-balanced workforce by 2025.

“The more women we can have in leadership positions, the easier we can blaze the trail for other women to follow,” Gilbert said. “It’s important for people to see people that look like them above them. With that comes the diversity of thought and diversity of leadership.”

That representation at a company was of clear importance to Tiffany Fields, the people, culture and employee experience leader at Exyn Technologies. Fields is the robotics company’s first HR hire, and she joined last summer, as Exyn was still grappling with how to form a culture during a pandemic.

“They are amazing at the tech and skillsets that push the product forward, but in terms of people and culture, they realized there was a gap,” Fields said of her joining the team. “They didn’t necessarily know how to go about it, but there was an openness and willingness to support initiatives that support families and the workforce in general.”

Tiffany Fields. (Photo via LinkedIn)

She’s since lead the creation of employee resource groups and helped establish core working hours that cater to parents or employees with other responsibilities. Flexibility wasn’t something that necessarily happened at Exyn before the pandemic, but since, company leadership have embraced it, and the CEO and CTO have positioned themselves in favor of extending parental leave or flex time for families.

On the other side of the coin was Chariot Solutions, where founding member and CMO Tracey Welson-Rossman was a mother to young kids when she was helping to build the company. The remote or flex working culture was ingrained in the company from the start, she said. And while now, the majority of Chariot’s workforce are men, the family-supporting policies in place are directly effecting the working women they often live with.

“It’s an important point to get across: We’re still having impact even though our offices are male dominated,” she said. “Our policies are affecting their families. They are family-oriented policies.”

And when it comes to bringing more women into tech during the pandemic and beyond, Welson-Rossman said the work she does with nonprofit TechGirlz, which encourages young girls to consider and pursue careers in tech, can reach beyond just students.

TechGirlz got $17,500 to deploy its TechShopz in a Box classes at nine branches of the Free Library.

At a TechGirlz workshop. (Courtesy photo)

It begins with expanding the definition of a technologist, she said. Tech careers reach beyond just software development, and include hardware development, game development, data scientists, engineers, analysts and more, she said.

“At its core, the field is about looking at problems and how we approach them,” Welson-Rossman said. “We need to think broader, from a cultural standpoint. We need to continue to believe and promote that woman are smart, that they can like science and math, and throw out old ways of thinking.”

Companies: Exyn Technologies / Philadelphia Citizen / Accenture / Chariot Solutions / Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia / TechGirlz

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