Three ways of plugging the gender gap

During 2017, two events put gender diversity at the top of corporate agendas around the world. At Uber, a sexist culture was revealed and Google fired an employee who had published a controversial memo, criticizing the company’s equality policies. The fact that two of the world’s leading tech companies had to tackle these issues head-on shows the need to turn gender equality ‘talk’ into action across the industry.

To help make this happen, we have summarized three ways in which companies can take positive steps towards building a more gender-diverse workplace. But before we get to the solutions, let’s take a closer look at the problem. Roughly half of the world’s population is female, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the technology sector. Recent public diversity reports reveal a 70/30 male/female split in leadership. It doesn’t end there; in Silicon Valley women only hold an 11 percent of executive positions, and trust us, it’s not because they aren’t built for the job.

The gender gap starts in school

In fact, the reasons for this are complex and many-fold. The gender gap in technology starts at an early age and carries on through every stage of women’s lives. When Youtube CEO Susan Wojcicki’s 10-year old daughter told her that “liking computers was super lame,” she was shocked – but, reflecting over the comment, admitted she shouldn’t have been surprised.

“Today this pattern is playing out with girls throughout America,” she said at a women-in-tech event. “They are led to think that tech is insular and antisocial. And they are never given a chance to correct those perceptions.”

“Liking computers was super lame”

On the other hand, double standards and unconscious bias towards gender are often so embedded in our culture – we often don’t recognize when we’re reinforcing them. To address this, companies have started to include diversity quotas into their HR policies. However, the solution doesn’t just lie in hiring our way out of a lack of gender diversity – it’s also about addressing low retention rates. According to a Reuters study 56 percent of women leave their jobs at the highlight of their career, which is twice the exit rate for men.

High returns on diversity

Despite these challenges, many companies are capitalizing on the direct benefits of fostering a diverse work environment. Consulting firms Catalyst and McKinsey each studied the financial performance of major organizations according to gender diversity at senior levels. Both reported that high returns on equity correlate with greater diversity. In essence, companies with women board directors and women in senior leadership are 15 percent more likely to outperform others. There are other obvious benefits of having women in tech at all levels – half of the tech users out there are women. Without a doubt, they have some needs that other women can detect and turn into business opportunities.

The good news is that there are things we can do at our workplaces today to help construct a sustainable ecosystem that will impulse gender equality practices in the long run. So, for those of you looking to push forward the diversity agenda in your own organizations, here is a list of industry best practices that can serve as inspiration:

Coaching and soft skill development

Recognizing the unconscious differences and bias between men and women in the workplace and providing training open to all to help create equality in the organization is essential. Focus on providing coaching and development for “non-technical” soft skills such as communication, networking, negotiation, emotional intelligence and confidence are important factors to ensure that women are able to progress in their careers.

Women Network and mentorship programs

Creating a network for women by women aimed at building networking opportunities, mentorship relationships and pushing general career development is a strategy that over 30 global companies have adopted to achieve higher diversity levels across all levels of their organization (see Google, Facebook, or Ebay).

Data-driven approach to diversity

What gets measured gets managed. Measuring and understanding diversity within your organization will help you draw a heat map of topics to address and needs to focus on. It’s wrong to assume that focusing on the current percentages is enough; the most powerful metric is retention over time.