Women in tech: What good practice should look like

Woman working on laptop in a cafe with coffee and cake
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Wayhome Studio)

Recruiting and retaining women in tech has been an ongoing concern for the industry and those it serves. But the ‘Great Resignation’ that began following the COVID lockdowns has further upset the gender balance for many organizations, as women reconsidered their options and made significant life and career choices.

With talent in short supply and women exiting the workplace for a variety of reasons – caring responsibilities, lack of pay parity, and so forth – organizations are waking up to the need to rethink their workplace practices with the needs of women in mind.

Indeed, issues like the gender pay gap and the importance of supporting women in the workplace are a key policy focus for the UK government. The most recent spring budget outlined plans to give all working parents with children under the age of five access to 30 hours of free childcare a week by 2025. Meanwhile, recognition is growing that menopause policies, featuring more flexible working conditions for women during this time, are needed to prevent the UK economy from hemorrhaging female talent.

For organizations that take their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) responsibilities seriously, addressing the female talent shortfall is seen as a top priority that benefits both the enterprise and society as a whole. Plus, there are sound commercial reasons for making a concerted effort to tip the gender balance and unlock better opportunities for women in tech.

Why gender diversity matters: the enterprise performance equation

Over the years, research reports have again and again highlighted how there is a direct correlation between the pursuit of wider inclusivity and elevated business performance.

According to Gartner, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform competitors, while those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to do so.

Meanwhile, research by Deloitte found that inclusive organizations are twice as likely to exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high performing, six times more likely to be agile and innovative, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.

For too long now the tech industry has paid lip service to the concept of inclusivity. With 95% of UK organizations looking for tech talent encountering a skills shortfall, organizations will need to go beyond simply tipping a nod to the value of diversity and inclusion.

Creating a modern and supportive environment that will attract and retain female talent for the long term requires impactful actions and the pursuit of good practices that make it possible to fill current workforce gaps and keep pace with evolving employee demands.

Lindsay Gallard

Lindsay Gallard is Chief People Officer at Six Degrees.

What good practice looks like: a checklist for sustained success

Curating a more equitable environment that enables organizations to recover and retain female talent requires applied commitment and an honest appraisal of the organization from the board down to the shop floor. A critical starting point is understanding what barriers female employees encounter. These could include inequalities in pay or access to development and training, limited or poor flexible working options, unsupportive co-worker attitudes, or a toxic workplace culture where sexist or inappropriate behaviors are tolerated and women are fearful of whistle blowing.

Let’s take a look at some of the top best practices organizations should be looking to pursue:

Benchmarking the employer brand

Turning aspirations into reality begins with having open and frank conversations with women that already work in the organization today and assessing where the gender diversity gaps lie. Alongside asking about the barriers that prevent women from committing for the long term, business leaders need to understand how well female employees are supported when undertaking their day-to-day roles or what happens when they want to pursue future career ambitions.

Armed with these insights, business leaders can next determine their priorities for enabling gender diversity goals.

Set up for success from day one

Building a strong employer brand requires a deep understanding of the long-term aspirations and expectations of female workers from day one of employment. These insights will set the scene in terms of the planned development and support they will need to feel included and valued. Similarly, organizations are coming to realize that changing life demands means that re-skilling and upskilling programs need to be in place to support female employees looking to re-enter the workforce after having a career break, an extended illness, or elder care-giving responsibilities. That goes for male employees too.

Retaining experienced tech workforce employees is now a must have, but organizations will benefit from cascading these approaches across the wider workforce. At Six Degrees, we can’t emphasize enough: we want our people to have regular conversations about where they are in their career, where they want to be, how they’re going to bridge that gap – and how we can help. From day one, we encourage our people to start the conversation.

Initiate networking and mentoring programs

At Six Degrees we’ve created a female-led networking program that enables women within our organization to interact and exchange ideas, share their experiences, and tap into one-to-one support. We’ve also initiated an outreach program that connects our female talent with good external mentors. This ensures they can tap into new and different perspectives that will help them identify and achieve career goals.

Make menopause a workplace issue

With women of menopausal age now the fastest growing demographic in the UK, organizations need to ensure that everyone understands why female colleagues need empathy and support when they experience symptoms like short term memory loss and shortened attention spans, or are simply feeling unwell.

Organisations like Unison have recognised that women are being driven from the workplace because adapting problematic symptoms around inflexible work expectations is just too difficult. Others find that managing symptoms means they miss out on promotions and training, have to reduce their hours, and subsequently see their pay levels drop.

Unfortunately, considerable ignorance and misunderstanding about the menopause can cause difficulties both in and out of the workplace. The menopause is often viewed as a taboo topic or an excuse to vilify and make fun of women when they experience noticeable symptoms.

To address this issue, at Six Degrees we’ve initiated agile working options for women experiencing menopause symptoms, and appointed menopause champions who are available to speak to people when they have concerns and run information and advisory sessions that are open to all our employees.

Final thoughts

Expecting women to just ‘drop into tech’ is wishful thinking. Achieving real results and real change starts from the inside out by asking female employees about their experiences and what could be done better. As a study by Deloitte found, when employees “think their organization is committed to and supportive of diversity, and they feel included” then innovation revenue increases by 83%.

To redress the gender imbalance, organizations will need to evaluate their current workplace models and enable agile working practices that support women to handle their out-of-work responsibilities.

Similarly, enabling female-led initiatives within the organisation will be crucial as will giving women in technical roles a more visible presence on panels, interviews, and shortlists. Creating or getting involved with STEM programs will also help break the stereotypes around girls in tech and provide a springboard for spotting and nurturing the next generation of female tech talent.

We've featured the best hybrid working tech.

Lindsay Gallard is Chief People Officer at Six Degrees.