25 September 2023

Getting technical: How tech jobs can attract and retain top female talent

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Kim Williams* says retaining women in the tech field is just as important as attracting them in the first place and creating equality is key to this.

A little-known fact is that when computer programming was emerging as a field in the 1940s, women were at the forefront of this new technology.

In fact, the first programmers to work on the US Army’s enormous ENIAC computer to compute ballistic trajectories were all women.

Software was seen as less important than the male-dominated hardware field and was considered easy work, similar to typing, and so suitable for women.

Today, however, things are very different: women make up less than a fifth of technical roles in the tech industry.

The difficulties facing women in tech have been well documented, and the percentage of women with computer science degrees has actually decreased from a peak of 37 per cent in 1984 to a current rate of 19 per cent.

Of women who have degrees in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM), only 26 per cent work in technical careers, compared to 40 per cent for men.

But attracting women to tech is only part of the battle; retention is an issue as well: once women enter the tech field, they leave at a 45 per cent higher rate than men.

Of course, attaining diversity is not only the right thing to do — there is an increasing awareness that it’s also crucial to success.

We reached out to 1,000 women in the field to learn about their experiences and how tech companies might retain them.

Lack of career growth is the most common reason women leave tech jobs

So, what is the biggest issue negatively impacting talent retention among women in tech?

Lack of career growth or trajectory is a major factor — this was the most common response (28 per cent) when we asked why they left their last job.

The second most common reason was poor management, with a quarter of respondents choosing this.

Slow salary growth came in third (24 per cent) for why respondents left their last job.

By contrast, lifestyle issues, such as work–life balance (14 per cent), culture fit (12 per cent) and inadequate parental leave policies (2 per cent) were less common reasons.

Meanwhile, many women in tech believe men have more career growth opportunities — only half (53 per cent) think they have the same opportunities to enter senior leadership roles as their male counterparts.

And among women who have children or other family responsibilities, almost a third (28 per cent) believe they’ve been passed up for a promotion because of those responsibilities.

Almost half of women in tech say wage growth is their biggest challenge

When considering a job, salary topped the list as the most important factor, with one in three respondents choosing it.

But transparency is an issue — 40 per cent of women said they wished employers were “more transparent” about salary in the interview process.

When asked what challenges they face, wage growth was the top response, cited by almost half of respondents (45 per cent).

This is more than those who said bias or discrimination (23 per cent) or sexual harassment (12 per cent) had been challenges.

Women are worried about their future salaries as well — wage growth was also the most commonly cited challenge women expect to have in their career (33 per cent).

Nearly half of women in tech believe they are paid less than men

Women in tech feel they are being paid less than men — almost half (46 per cent) of respondents thought this.

Despite feeling that salary growth is a major challenge, only slightly more than half (53 per cent) of women in tech feel they can ask for a promotion or a raise.

Aside from improving salary transparency, working toward gender pay equity and empowering women to ask for promotions and raises could also help with retention.

A creative example of this can be found at The Motley Fool, a financial newsletter, which recently paid employees $200 to ask for a raise to minimise the gender pay gap.

Even if the employees got turned down, they still received the $200.

Internal mobility as a retention strategy

There is high demand for internal mobility among women in tech — 61 per cent said at some point they have wanted to switch to a different role within their organisation.

Of the women who said they wanted to switch roles internally, a whopping 80 per cent said they would be more likely to stay if there was a clear way to do it.

Employers should make sure to communicate these opportunities clearly, while managers should provide support.

What lies ahead?

It will be interesting to see how the attitudes of women in tech change as younger generations become more active in the workforce.

According to our survey, the youngest women in tech are feeling the most discrimination, but they are also the most willing to take action in response.

More than any other age group, women aged 25–34 cite the inability to break into management or leadership roles (27 per cent) and bias or discrimination (25 per cent) to be the biggest challenges they have faced in their careers.

However, this age group is also more likely than women as a whole to leave a job because the team wasn’t diverse enough (27 per cent compared to 23 per cent for all women) or there wasn’t enough female leadership representation (24 per cent compared to 20 per cent for all women).

Career growth and salary are important to women in tech, but they suspect they have less access to leadership roles and are being paid less than men.

Empowering women to find the answers they need

Of course, change will not come to the tech industry overnight.

It will take real effort from leaders to create truly inclusive workplaces where everyone feels able to bring their authentic selves to work.

However, if we are to deal with the problem of retention and benefit from truly inclusive workplaces, this work must be done.

And of course, aside from closing inequities, a great step in the right direction for all employers is to increase transparency.

As the results of this survey show, if we listen to what women are saying, we may discover that retaining them may be more straightforward than we imagined.

* Kim Williams is Senior Director of Design at Indeed.

This article first appeared at blog.indeed.com.

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