With years of inequality, gender-wage gaps, lack of understanding and even worse — sexual harassment — fair treatment of women in the workplace in all industries has been a long-fought effort. During Women’s History Month this March, we are reminded of all of the influential change agents who have served as trailblazers, as well as those among us today. As we reflect on progress to date, let’s pledge to continue the work that is left to create a world where women can enter into, grow and thrive in our nation’s workforce.
Today women only hold 20% of executive-level position within the technology industry. No matter how rattling this statistic is, it doesn’t come as a surprise to many of us in the industry. Even though women make up more than half of the U.S. college-educated workforce, only 28% of women work in science and engineering-related industries. Unfortunately, once women do make their way into the tech industry, 56% leave at the “mid-level” point — twice the rate of their male counterparts. And while 74% of women report that they “love their work,” women are leaving at a staggering rate.
Every year we reflect during Women’s History Month and ask ourselves what can be done to increase the number of women who work in the tech-related fields. The solution will require a multi-pronged strategic approach including investing in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for young girls and women, creating a sense of belonging for women in the workforce, offering bias training in the workplace, and more.
This year’s Women’s History Month theme is #ChoosetoChallenge. As such, I’m encouraging my colleagues and tech industry peers to challenge the status quo and help their organizations bolden initiatives in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) that require both individual dedication and institutional commitment.
Rising tides lift all boats
The work begins with all of us at the individual level, not just women, but with all of our colleagues and peers. In addition, organization executives must inspire, encourage and educate their workforces about the positive links between diversity and innovation and profitability. Diversity of thought and perspective drives innovation and helps mitigate risk. In fact, research shows that companies with the greatest levels of diversity are more profitable.
Regardless if your company has a formal mentorship program, taking the time to connect young professionals and experienced colleagues can be instrumental in someone’s career and beneficial for the organization as well. Not only does it empower young professionals to seek out advice to help them advance in their careers, but it also provides a sense of gratitude and satisfaction to both parties. The more experienced colleague also learns new skills and ways of doing things from their younger counterparts — often skills in the new digital era.
These intergenerational relationships help foster a collaborative work environment and provide a sense of allyship in the workplace. I invite those capable of being a mentor to offer their support and a listening ear, and for those seeking a mentor, I encourage you to take initiative and ask someone to be your mentor. When choosing a mentor, ask yourself:
- What do you want to achieve in your career?
- Who around you can guide you on how to advance to the next level?
- Does this person’s values align with yours?
As leaders in the tech industry, we should aim to build work environments that welcome and foster these kinds of interactions. It is through a community dynamic that information sharing and professional development take place. I encourage young professionals to learn, listen and be inspired by those around them. Be open to knowledge sharing and possibilities that come your way. Remember, nothing ever stays the same. The only constant is change and you never know what opportunity lies ahead. But also remember to be patient. It is among the chaos and fast pace that we lose sight of the journey we are currently on and how precious this part of our narrative contributes to who we become.
Workplace renovation: Fostering an inclusive environment
While progress in helping women enter, remain and advance in the tech industry requires individuals to play a key role such as mentorship, institutional action is necessary. Employers must establish a company culture that creates a sense of belonging for all its employees.
Offering DEI education, bias training, employee resource groups, mentoring programs and more, will not only create a highly engaged and high-performing workforce, but will also drive organizational loyalty. People stay at companies where they feel they belong and welcomed.
Even more importantly, companies must dedicate themselves to attracting and retaining diverse talent. Many women are ready and willing to work in the tech industry, if only they had the means, access, resources and encouragement to do so. Through scholarship programs at the higher education level, internship programs, and K-12 initiatives to encourage young girls, we can begin to make a difference that will have a lasting impact on this industry. In fact, the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s Kilberg Scholarship Fund offers scholarships for women pursuing education in STEM-related fields.
Choose to challenge everyday
So, please join me in celebrating Women’s History Month by being a mentor to young women in the field, as well as encourage your organization to introduce or expand its DEI initiatives. Together, we can all be change agents and create a more inclusive tech workforce.