This is not another article detailing the shortage of women in IT. This is an article about solving for it.
If you’re looking for a magic bullet, there isn’t one. Across the industry, highly skilled IT candidates are scarce, and women make up only a small percentage of that qualified pool. And within that very small pool, we need to not only consider gender, but also look at generational, cultural and lifestyle differences to find the right hire.
According to an Indeed survey, tech workers place high value on diversity in the workplace (87%) and culture (85%). Though pay and advancement top the values list across generations, millennials are more concerned with things like culture and work/life balance. And while a Harris Poll found that 39% of the general workforce population values acceptance and the freedom to be their true selves, that number jumps to 48% among millennials.
In the long run, focusing on gender-independent preferences will take your recruiting efforts further. Just like their counterparts, women in IT want to be seen for their work, their work ethic and their work abilities. As recruiters, it’s our job to hire for skill sets and passion, not to fill a seat with a woman.
A commitment to these employee values needs to flow from the recruiting process through to retention. In 2019, iCIMS reported that it took an average of 80 days to fill an application developer position. That’s up from 55 days in 2016, and that number is projected to keep rising. Further, iCIMS reported that tech positions in general take twice as long to fill as other roles. These are often pivotal roles required for executing on crucial business priorities, like cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), edge computing and IoT — initiatives that generate revenue and drive innovation.
Your goal is to be a destination employer — a place to build a career, not just a stop on a resume. And this presents another obstacle to the representation of women in IT: retaining hires. The Indeed survey mentioned above reveals that women leave the industry at a 45% higher rate than men, in an industry with an above-average turnover rate of 13.7%.
Not surprisingly, women leave for the same reasons as men. Both identify lack of career growth and advancement opportunities as the top reason for leaving. However, nearly half of women in tech report that they leave because they don’t believe that they have the same advancement opportunities as men. Millennial women, in particular, are more likely to leave a job because of a lack of diversity or an absence of female leadership. As recruiters, our jobs don’t stop at the signed offer letter. The same amount of effort that we put into finding the right initial fit for these highly skilled professionals needs to be applied toward creating an environment in which they want to stay and grow — whether the employee is male or female.
What recruiters can do
We can’t flip a switch and instantly increase diversity on tech teams, but recruiters as a group can work towards diversity by embracing a variety of strategies and tactics. Diversity and inclusion efforts must be holistic. The approach will vary from business to business, but should include pieces of the following elements:
- Establish commitment in the form of executive sponsorship: Leadership involvement is a critical success factor in championing and nurturing a culture of diversity. We can point to many high-profile cases like Uber and Away, where the attitude of leadership impacted the actions and reputation of an entire company. Whether it means pushing leadership to take a position or prioritizing an existing commitment to diversifying the workplace, have a statement beyond EEOC guidelines that is clear, documented and backed by action.
- Be a proactive ally: Don’t just go looking for diverse candidates when you need a CIO or DevOps engineer. Get involved with gender and other diversity-focused groups early and often. Start early with code camps and internships directed at women and girls — and not just in STEM classes. IT touches everything, including the kids in art class and the kids in music class who might pioneer the next technological breakthrough in creative expression.
- Review your pitch: When you get candidates into the interview room, challenge hiring managers to present interview panels that represent a diversity of thought. In tech, concern about being “the only one” (e.g., the only woman, the only person of color, the only young person) may be the differentiator between accepting a position and taking a similar job at a similar salary elsewhere. When discussing benefits, say the same things to both genders. Sell work-life balance efforts, free daycare and the softball team to female candidates just like you would to male candidates. Don’t craft your sales pitch based on gender stereotypes.
- Lay an anchor: Fostering a culture of true inclusion and diversity is a long-term commitment spanning a range of activities. You can start by sponsoring internal communities and events focused on women and other underrepresented groups. These communities help reduce turnover by providing a welcoming space for mentorship, networking and the discussion of career roadblocks. In addition, these groups provide valuable feedback on how to improve the culture. Mandatory sensitivity training is another way to help your existing team support diversity and show underrepresented groups your commitment to their inclusion.
Solid career pathing and development opportunities are also essential to growing talent and maintaining morale. Demonstrating your dedication helps to anchor the right professionals in your organization, encouraging them to stay and ride out what can be a rocky road in the ever-changing world of IT.
Diversity impacts your bottom line. Getting the best fit for critical IT roles helps you lay the foundation for your future success. A Boston Consulting Group study found that on average, startups that were founded or co-founded by women raised less than half as much funding as male-led companies. However, while male-led companies only brought back 31 cents per dollar invested, female-led companies more than doubled that at 78 cents per dollar invested. When the Wall Street Journal dug into the S&P 500, they found that the top 20 most-diverse companies had an average annual return of 10% with a 12% profit margin over five years, compared to 4.2% return and 8% margin for the 20 least-diverse companies.
That higher financial return is credited to the diversity of thought, life experience and professional history that diverse voices bring to discussions around usability, product features and consumer preferences. In another Boston Consulting Group study, organizations with highly diverse management teams reported their innovation revenue as 45% of total revenue, versus just 26% in companies with below-average leadership diversity.
And the biggest payback? Less effort going forward. Women want to be around strong women — all of us do. The previously mentioned Harris Poll also reports that half of surveyed workers prefer to work at a female-led company. These companies are seen as more purpose-driven and likely to offer better benefits and opportunities for advancement. The street cred that comes from having women in positions of leadership and highly represented in your workforce helps you organically attract more women and candidates with diverse backgrounds. As potential candidates — male and female — research your organization on LinkedIn, search your brand, and browse your employee pages, they’ll naturally be attracted to working with and being mentored by fulfilled, thriving professionals that represent a kaleidoscope of experience.
In summary, stop looking for women candidates and start creating environments and opportunities that bring women and other diverse candidates knocking on your door.