IT leadership: 5 ways to hire and retain women in your IT organization

Want to foster more gender diversity in your IT team? Consider these key tactics, which address some common barriers to women in tech
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I recently spoke to an audience of students and graduates in the Women in IT Management WITM community of Ryerson University’s IT Management degree program about my experience as a woman in the business world.

The students' questions stayed in my mind after the event: “I’m a young mother of three – what do I put on my resume to show that I’m capable of doing a role [even if I] lack the formal work experience?” “How do I overcome the stigma of being a mother and entering the IT workforce for the first time?”

These same questions could come from a broader audience – from women not enrolled in degree programs, for example, or women re-entering the workforce after a period of leave.

IT organizations have predominantly male leadership; organizations with female leadership are in the minority.

What can IT leaders do to attract and retain women in their organizations? What opportunities can we give them to nurture their own journeys while remaining respectful of all the other roles they hold in their lives? How can we help them be inspired and motivated in an environment where they will be in the minority?

5 tips for hiring and retaining women in IT 

Consider these five steps to embrace women as key advocates for change in your organization:

1. Knock down silos and prioritize EQ

Evaluate what your organization's culture looks like today. Is it siloed? Find out if people are motivated or encouraged to work with others outside their team. Is there a top-down management style?

Inspire people to create open communities of practice to work with others and empower them to contribute and make decisions. Create a culture that welcomes people from different backgrounds. Keep culture front of mind when you talk with individuals in the networking and hiring process.

In today’s environment, more and more organizations are focusing on emotional intelligence (EQ). Companies specifically look for individuals with strong soft skills like communication, project management, collaboration, and positive energy. 

[ How strong is your EQ? See our related article: Emotional intelligence test: 5 self-evaluation tools for leaders. ] 

Look for people who love to collaborate, have an open mindset, and are willing to learn and grow. Explain how your organization handles situations such as when an employee must take a family member to the doctor, the daycare closes unexpectedly, or they face an unplanned emergency. Do you expect them to make up the time, or is there an implicit trust that they will manage their time responsibly and get the work done?

These are the kinds of questions interviewees may be thinking about but are unlikely to ask. Put yourself in their shoes and view them as a whole person. Their life achievements and accomplishments could make them valuable team members.

2. Encourage employees to network internally and externally

Ask your employees – any gender – from across the organization to participate in women’s groups and forums. Encourage everyone, yourself included, to learn about the challenges women face and to focus on understanding their perspective. This will help your organization overcome any false perceptions or prejudices that may exist.

Invite employees to participate in panels and workshops and encourage them to be visible and accessible so that outside candidates understand that your company is open to hiring women. Some may even be willing to reach out and discuss their roles. Explain what your organization is like from the inside. Ask potential candidates if they would like to connect with someone in a role of interest to help them learn more and inspire them to join your organization. This is a great way for your organization to learn about a potential new hire prior to the interview process. It helps connect the whole person to the interviewee and the person behind the resume.

In addition, organizations like Women Back to WorkSheCanCodeWomen 2.0, and Moms at Work can be helpful resources for women just entering or reentering the workplace.

If a candidate comes from another culture or is adjusting to unfamiliar circumstances, connect them with someone who has been in a similar situation – especially if they are struggling to balance family and workplace responsibilities. If you don’t have an appropriate role available, keep the candidate’s details on file and follow up when one comes available.

3. Be open to non-traditional career paths

Start with a growth mindset. This comes naturally to some people; for others, it’s a learned skill. If you notice gaps in a candidate’s profile, consider what new skills they might have acquired during that time. Remember that people are more complex than what’s reflected on their resume: The more diverse their interests, hobbies, and activities, the broader your organization’s perspective will be.

Work to present your organization as a place that is open to working with people from different backgrounds. Ask candidates lots of questions and stay curious.

People are more complex than what's reflected on their resume: The more diverse their interests, hobbies, and activities, the broader your organization’s perspective will be.

As you work to create a more open culture within your organization, encourage teams to work together on goals and projects where the sum of the project is greater than the whole. This helps foster a sense of belonging and reflects a higher purpose than what’s listed in a job description. People will be excited to come to work if they feel that their contributions are valued and that their voices are heard and respected.

4. Be flexible with work/life boundaries

Understand that the individual you’re interviewing may have important priorities outside of the role you are discussing. For example, they might need to bring a child or a parent to a medical appointment, prepare a mid-day meal, or even manage remote learning. Or perhaps one of your team members likes to squeeze in a lunchtime run or meditation session while it’s quiet.

Life demands don’t stop between 9 am and 5 pm, so try to accommodate individuals’ needs. Be flexible about scheduling meetings and other work commitments, and understand that a happy, balanced employee is a productive employee.

5. Find allies to support new hires

If someone is new or rejoining the IT workforce after a leave of absence, things might look a bit different since they left. (Think about how you navigated any moves and changes throughout your own career.) They may feel vulnerable or at a disadvantage. Pair them with someone who has navigated a similar journey for support and encouragement.

It might take more time for these candidates to secure a job and the gap on their resume may widen. Resist being judgmental and keep in mind that the IT landscape is more competitive than ever these days. With IT certifications more readily available, many candidates are well-qualified even if they have limited experience. Help someone stand out from the crowd.

Embrace a positive mindset. Look for opportunities to bring women into your organization and help them thrive. Women can be key advocates for change in your organization, so build your network of women leaders and help them blaze their trail.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

sarah_ilife_red-hat
Sarah Iliffe is a Senior Solutions Architect at Red Hat. Her journey in the global technology field over the last 25 years has led her to live in four countries and experience life and work from different perspectives.

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