Bridging the IT gender divide: 3 key considerations

How can IT leaders help address the industry’s gender diversity problem? Here are three factors to address, starting with job descriptions
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The lack of diversity in the technology industry is a persistent structural issue. Despite companies’ increasing investment in diversity efforts, the number of women in technical roles sits at 26 percent globally.

This number becomes even more concerning in light of the tens of thousands of tech layoffs in recent months. Though an estimated 45 percent of those who lost their jobs are women, this seemingly equitable split is alarming when women account for less than one-third of the tech workforce.

Glass ceilings aren’t the only challenge women face in the workforce. A variety of barriers arise earlier and are present along the way. Adequately addressing them requires reevaluating an organizational culture we’ve allowed to exist in the technology industry for far too long.

For the tech industry to reap the benefits of diverse perspectives and skill sets, IT leaders and employers must adapt their practices. Below are three considerations for making the IT field more inclusive for women – starting with the job postings.

1. An inclusive workforce begins with the job description

You may have heard the statistic that men apply for a job when meeting only 60 percent of the qualifications, while women only apply if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications. This stat comes up repeatedly across industries and is often minimized with the statement “women should have more confidence in their abilities.”

[ Also read 4 tips to broaden and diversify your tech talent pool. ]

In reality, women’s confidence has nothing to do with it. According to a survey conducted by Tara Sophia Mohr, the reason most women provide for not applying is simple: “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications, and I didn’t want to waste my time and energy.”

This finding is critical for hiring teams to understand, as the job posting is an entry point that launches careers. When women don’t believe their qualifications meet the requirements, they assume they won’t be hired and don’t apply. This results in lower percentages of female applicants and ultimately, a smaller pool of women in leadership roles.

Rather than blaming applicants, organizations must rethink their approach to job descriptions, outlining precisely what they are looking for in successful candidates: Which qualities are difficult or time-consuming to learn? Hire for those. Then invest in a meaningful onboarding for your industry or tech stack.

2. Women need more mentors

Mentorship is fundamental to women early in their careers as they navigate personal and professional development, often impacting their career trajectory. Women are less likely than men to have a mentor. Without access to mentorship, women miss out on essential opportunities for development and growth.

I’ve been fortunate to have an outstanding mentor who has been critical in helping me overcome challenges as I worked my way to my current leadership role. As more women enter the IT space, we must consider how we can support them in increasing their opportunities for leadership roles and internal growth.

It’s important to note that mentoring women cannot fall solely on other women, especially in an industry where females hold only 28 percent of leadership positions. While becoming a mentor is often mutually rewarding, it requires significant time and energy and should be a shared responsibility between men and women in leadership roles.

3. Mind the pay gap

It’s estimated that it will take 135 years to close the economic gender gap, with companies continuing to offer women less than men for the same role. The difference in income between men and women graduating with the same degree remains, persisting into remote IT roles. Moreover, this gap compounds yearly with percentage-based salary increases and new job offers, considering what applicants currently earn.

Closing the gender pay gap is a core component of hiring and retaining women in IT roles. Not only does income demonstrate the value employers place on the individuals in their company, but it can also drastically affect retention. When external priorities such as childcare compete with career plans, women are more likely to assume the role of primary caregiver and let their career take a back seat if their salary is less than their partner’s. As we saw throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, an alarming number of women left the workforce for this reason.

While many believe the lack of women in IT roles has to do with getting more women interested or involved in IT programs earlier, an equal focus should be placed on retaining female employees through equitable compensation.

Without the inclusion of women in the IT field, we miss out on a wealth of unique perspectives and skills that affect the entire industry. While no company will have the same solution to fostering a more diverse staff, there are steps every IT leader can take to make tech a more inclusive and diverse industry.

[ Want more expert insights on leadership, strategy, career development, and more? Download the Ebook: 37 award-winning CIOs share essential IT career advice. ]

Nicole Helmer is Global Head of Development Learning at SAP. She is currently using advanced analytics to understand the rational and emotional drivers of human decision-making to drive early-stage startup development and growth.