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4 ways to encourage a diverse IT workforce
As we face a war for tech talent, we also face gender disparities. These strategies can help address both problems
Finding technical talent is a major issue for IT leaders. As digital technology disrupts organizations, the demand for data scientists, coders and software engineers continues to increase. Of technology leaders and managers, 65 percent say they find it challenging to hire people, and that a lack of talent is hurting the industry, according to recent rsearch by Harvey Nash and KPMG. Moreover, research by the Harvard Business Review finds that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million jobs requiring technical skills in the United States, but there will be only 400,000 computer science graduates in the country.
As we face this war for talent, we are also faced with gender disparities. Many tech firms consist of a predominantly male workforce. By increasing the diversity of the workforce, particularly in tech, can we solve two problems at once?
Various issues continue to hinder women from thriving in IT-related careers. In the United States, women hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs, and they earn 86 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The majority of women who receive a STEM degree work in physical and life sciences, while men mostly focus on engineering. According to Susan Davis-Ali of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, around half of women drop tech programs by mid-career, which is double the rate of men. Other studies show that across the European Union only 20 percent of women with an information communication technology degree remain working in the field, and by age 45, only 9 percent are left.
The business case for improving diversity in the industry is clear. Diverse groups possess diverse insights, perspectives, information and experiences. When people who come from different backgrounds unite to build a software solution or any other product, they become more creative and effective as they have a wider spectrum of approaches and intellectual wealth. We’ve seen this lack of diversity impact tech resources we use daily, such as image search image results that perpetuate stereotypes. This happens because we all have biases, even if we don’t realize them - and this includes the programmers who build algorithms.
[See our related article: 4 ways leaders can combat unconscious bias. ]
Four strategies to attract and encourage female talent
If we aim to close the gender gap, we have to take into account several factors. Research indicates that gender challenges are related to the lack of female role models, gender bias, and unequal wages. Research by Google found that women who choose computer science degrees are influenced in their choice by four key factors: social encouragement, self-perception, academic exposure, and career perception. Let’s look at each of these, along with some specific actions companies can take to encourage more women to start and keep technical careers.
1. Social encouragement
What makes people choose the careers they do? Research has shown that one of the key factors is the peer group and family of the individual. Here at Belatrix we make sure the success of female role models is visible both inside and outside the company, to help influence this decision. We’ve created profiles of women who have built careers at the company, so that people can get a sense of what a career in technology entails. Successful companies make sure their communications do not just target and educate individuals, but also their parents and friends.
It is essential to use inclusive language because subtle changes can make a big difference in who responds to job postings. Hire More Women In Tech provides some great examples of how this can be done.
Whether people think they are good at problem-solving, for instance, plays a key role in determining if they will study computer science. At Belatrix, we regularly hold “tech days” to introduce young people to programming and computer science, using programming languages that are specifically designed for young people to familiarize themselves with the topic. These kinds of events help enforce an individual's perception that she can build a successful career in the sector.
3. Academic exposure
The availability of relevant and interesting academic courses, in both schools and universities, plays a crucial role. Here, organizations can influence the curriculum that is being taught, and create links between educational institutions. For example, many Belatrix executives also work as university professors, bringing their industry knowledge into the classroom. There are two main benefits: It provides students with a clear path into the industry, and executives can ensure students are learning material that will help them in their careers.
4. Career perception
Some women feel uncertain about pursuing a job in technology because of what is often said about working conditions and gender bias. However, hearing stories of women who thrive can inspire them to pursue their goals in the tech field. Successful organizations have used events and open-door sessions to share those stories. At Belatrix, we also created a scholarship to support promising engineers who want to start a tech career.
Encouraging women to stay
Implementing these changes have helped Belatrix increase the number of female employees to 25 percent, but the proportion in technology leadership roles is higher, with one third being women. We recognize there is still a lot of work to do, in order to further improve these percentages.
Working to build a more gender-balanced workforce doesn’t just make good business sense, it is essential to overcome the shortage of talent the industry currently faces. In addition, it’s a key part of the kind of company we want to be – a company that is open, inclusive, and provides equal opportunities for people to build careers in the thriving technology sector.
It’s easy to blame the smaller number of female technology graduates as the key reason for a male-dominated workforce, but the above actions highlight how much more technology companies can be doing to help encourage more women to enter, and then stay, in the industry. In turn, this ensures we have enough people to overcome the shortage of talent.
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