Co-authored by three women CEOs heading technology companies within the Redbrick portfolio: Jeanette Dorazio, CEO of Leadpages; Nadia Tatlow, CEO of Shift; and Barbara Berry, CEO of Delivra.
Despite increasing efforts to implement more inclusive workplaces, there is still a lack of representation in many industries. Most notoriously, the STEM sector has struggled to diversify its talent pool, with women only making up less than 20% of British Columbia’s tech workforce.
The industry is forecasted to continue to grow, and with the tech sector’s revenue projected to increase 22% by 2024, the outlook for the industry in the coming years is positive. However, despite this growth, there are still significant barriers for women to reach the C-suite. An alarming 50% of women are leaving the career ladder by the age of 35, at a rate 45% higher than their male colleagues. This is a concerning trend that highlights the need for more support for women to overcome these barriers and advance to leadership positions within the industry.
Many factors contribute to this attrition including having to choose between family and work. “Bro culture” is another factor that influences women’s decisions to leave. The tech sector in BC is mainly male-dominated and results in an environment where women must constantly advocate and prove themselves in leadership positions.
How can business owners in the tech sector ensure they provide opportunities for women to succeed in this booming industry and reap the same rewards as their male counterparts?
If you can see it, you can believe it
Seeing women in the C-suite demonstrates that it’s possible for non-male leadership to advance in tech. The potential for a non-traditional power structure fires up ambition in a more diverse group of young people to pursue a career in tech. And, the visibility of role models encourages them to set their sights on executive positions.
When women overcome these barriers and challenges, it allows others to envision this for themselves. It is important for everyone—especially gender and racially diverse young people—to see that there are many ways to build an exciting and rewarding career in tech.
A company could have equitable hiring and advancement practices but in this industry, many may still find themselves in situations where they are the only woman present in the room. This is where mentorship becomes essential.
Mentorship creates a network of people across the industry who can provide support and lift each other up. By connecting with women in leadership positions, junior professionals can access insights and coaching from women who have already climbed the corporate ladder. Their experience can help guide other women to succeed in their careers in tech and grow to instill the same values of mentorship for other women no matter where they end up in their careers.
The importance of self-advocacy when climbing the ladder
One of the most significant barriers in the tech sector for women and gender-diverse employees is the “bro culture” that exists at many companies. A male-dominated industry can be unthinkingly exclusive, making women feel like they must prove they deserve to be there and practice an “always-on” mentality, constantly having their experience questioned. This environment fuels feelings of imposter syndrome, which can be draining.
Being constantly silenced, questioned unfairly or excluded from the decision-making process makes the work environment hostile. Being exposed to this gender bias causes burnout and makes women more likely to leave the industry altogether.
One of the most crucial steps a person can take in this kind of workplace is advocating for themselves when they believe they deserve recognition. When women and others on the outskirts of a male power structure speak up and assert themselves, it can have a significant impact on their confidence level.
Embracing multi-directional change
Achieving change requires a multi-directional approach. If women are exposed to technical career paths, there will be a greater balance in the computer engineering and software development hiring pools. Organizations also need to conduct internal audits to ensure promotions are awarded through an equitable lens and find ways to increase minorities’ access to opportunities.
It is rare to see women holding positions like Chief of Operations, Information, or Security because that problem starts at the bottom. These executive roles generally stem from the promotion of candidates in technical positions, and the pool of candidates for these positions is overwhelmingly male. Overlooking qualified women for more challenging opportunities, like a promotion, slowly discourages them from progressing to more senior roles.
Industry-wide, organizations and businesses are doing a great job supporting young women in STEM programs, but they face bigger challenges at the end of their education. Getting hired is one hurdle and finding a route to the top is another.
Leaders are responsible for creating a path forward for women in technology through mentoring and hiring decisions. Women, especially women of colour, face significant barriers and opportunities must be created to level the playing field.
An inclusive company culture not only makes it easier to attract and retain top talent but gender diversity is also good for business. Companies displaying above-average gender diversity outperformed less diverse companies in share-price performance, and the best-performing companies display superior diversity in both the boardroom and the C-suite.
Paving the way for a more inclusive future
Studies have shown that companies with a higher representation of women in leadership roles are more successful and have better financial performance. While progress is being made in terms of representation, it is happening at a slow pace, especially at the executive level.
Leadership teams of all genders must prioritize creating an equitable path to executive positions, encouraging and supporting minorities pursuing careers in tech. By providing mentorship opportunities and holding companies accountable for diversity and inclusion efforts, leaders can help women and other underrepresented groups along their career trajectories and work together to create a more inclusive and diverse tech industry, where there are equal opportunities to succeed and lead.
Jeanette Dorazio is the CEO of Leadpages; Nadia Tatlow is the CEO of Shift; and Barbara Berry is the CEO of Delivra.
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