International Women’s Day: Why Tech Companies Should Do More
Are you committed to creating an equal workplace but unsure how to attract female applicants? Are you struggling to engage with and support the women within your business? The need for a well-balanced workforce is more pressing than ever – but it’s important to understand the effort and resources needed to make this happen, because such change can only be achieved over the long-term.
International Women’s Day is a perfect time to discuss how we tackle levelling the playing field, and an opportunity to actively broadcast the progress that has been made towards true inclusion. For most of the United Kingdom, however, there’s still a way to go.
In 2018, government legislation compelled over 10,000 companies and public-sector bodies to report the extent of their gender pay gap.
The data collected revealed that women were being paid a median hourly rate that was 18.4% less on average than that of their male co-workers – with more than 3,000 organisations reporting an even greater pay gap. The figures also showcased that women were underrepresented in top-paid jobs in 82% of British companies.
Understandably, companies are now under constant public pressure to proactively work towards improving these figures, but why is this equality so important? There are multiple reasons.
On the whole, tech companies produce products and services aimed at an end market broader than just the tech community. So, if your internal team under-represents 50% of the market, how can you hope to empathise with the end user?
In order to tackle the Law of Diffusion of Innovation and ‘cross the chasm’ to achieve majority market penetration, you need team members who can understand and offer perspective to the different demographics that make up your audience. An equal gender balance in the workplace helps ensure that your organisation doesn’t overlook both subtle (and in some cases, glaringly obvious) social nuances that an unbalanced team may result in.
This perspective is important within an organisation as well. A balanced workforce can contribute to more holistic meetings, a wider breadth of ideas, and new approaches to processes ranging from hiring to team building.
With the uncertainty brought by Brexit coupled with the shortage of tech talent in general, it is more crucial than ever that your company is able to attract and retain female employees. After all, the number of degree-qualified female workers continues to grow – UCAS revealed that over 367,000 women applied to university just last year, nearly 98,000 more than male applicants (an interesting but unfortunate side note: the Department of Education and the Institute for Fiscal Studies determined that university-educated women still only earn at a similar income level to male non-graduates).
And don’t be fooled – job candidates are definitely scoping out your company for signs of an imbalance. Two-thirds of female workers confirmed that they take a company’s gender pay gap into consideration when deciding on a place to work, according to research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In addition to this, 58% of women admitted that they would be less likely to recommend their present employer as a place to work if they had a gender pay gap.
It’s no surprise then that Fortune's "most admired" companies have twice as many women at the senior management level than others, as discovered by the GFP Index. They’re also more likely to innovate – producing an average of 20% more patents than teams with just male leaders.
The above segues directly into our next reason for actively working toward workplace equality: it directly impacts your business’s profitability! The Equality and Humans Rights Commission study also revealed that 50% of women say that a gender pay gap would reduce their motivation in their role, and 60% of them shared that it would make them feel less proud to work for such an employer.
In addition to this, it’s a well-documented fact that companies with more diverse representation in senior management often see more success, as proven by institutions such as McKinsey & Company as well as the Peterson Institute for International Economics. As analysed by Forbes, findings reported by McKinsey confirm that gender diverse companies are increasingly more likely to perform better – with the likelihood of them experiencing above-average profits growing from 15% in 2014 to 21% just three years later (also worth noting: companies with executive teams that were also culturally and ethnically diverse saw that number rise further, to 33%).
Supporting this, the Peterson Institute for International Economics determined that having women at the C-Suite level significantly increases net profit margins:
"A profitable firm at which 30 percent of leaders are women could expect to add more than 1 percentage point to its net margin compared with an otherwise similar firm with no female leaders," the report notes. "By way of comparison, the typical profitable firm in our sample had a net profit margin of 6.4 percent, so a 1 percentage point increase represents a 15 percent boost to profitability."
Given all this evidence, it would be irresponsible (and also just very silly) to not actively and consistently work towards achieving gender equality within your business. However, it can admittedly be overwhelming trying to figure out where to start. While there’s no definite step-by-step procedure (every company is different, after all!) there are some key areas to consider.
Talking about ‘attracting women’ or ‘diversity quotas’ feels inherently uncomfortable and treads a fine line between discriminating against anyone who is not on your ‘quota’ checklist. Taking steps to address a diversity imbalance essentially admits that there’s a shortcoming in your company’s workforce, but it’s important to understand that the vast majority of tech companies suffer from excluding certain jobseeker demographics, and take pride in the fact that yours is aiming to do better. So, how can you show the outside world that you're an inclusive enterprise, ready to welcome the best talent from every walk of life?
Cast a more critical eye over the language your company uses on adverts, blogs, and social media. Do your choice of words or phrases cater predominantly to male readers? Even nuances like this could make the difference between landing a fantastic female employee and being passed over for a competitor.
Similarly, evaluate the visuals running on your online platforms. If they scream Lynx commercial, it’s almost certainly time for a change, but there are most likely some less obvious things that still need flagging. Do your social media graphics fail to acknowledge any women in tech? Do the photos from your last company outing essentially just depict a sea of men (potentially because none of your female employees showed up – we’ll get to that later)? While we’re not advocating that you create a false impression regarding the gender balance in your business, it’s vital that you showcase that such diversity is something being actively considered and supported.
On the subject of support, make sure to have at least one woman in your hiring process when looking to expand your team. In an analysis of unconscious bias during hiring, Forbes notes that while such biases are oftentimes difficult to avoid, adequate training and established processes set within an office can help negate them. Speaking further on the topic of unconscious bias, our Head of Talent Management Margarita Karapetkova says that good intentions alone are not always enough to ensure fairness:
“In my personal experience, affinity bias is very real when it comes to hiring (both from the point of view of me being interviewed throughout my career, and as a hiring manager within Talent Point). It is natural for people to look for like-minded people when hiring – after all our ancestors had to form tribes to survive, so it is hard-wired into our psyche that being an ‘outcast’ is not a good thing so we instinctively seek our ‘tribe’. So, if your interview panel is all-male, it is statistically more likely that they will have more in common with another male.”
It’s also important to understand (and if not, at least believe) that regardless of how welcoming you may find yourself or the other male members of your team, there are a number of sociocultural factors that could still result in female applicants feeling uncomfortable or intimidated by an all-male panel, which again could unfairly tip your process to favour male hires. Plus, as we’ve already covered, a more diverse perspective is always beneficial!
As mentioned earlier, uplifting and retaining your female employees is just as important as attracting them to work at your company in the first place. With this comes the need to shift your culture towards one that’s more dynamic, inclusive, and engaging. As our Account Manager Bethany Price explains, initiating any real progress in your organisation will prove impossible without critically re-evaluating its current systems.
“I’ve had a number of hiring managers in the past tell me ‘We’d love a woman!’ – and I think that’s actually detrimental, as most of these companies aren’t looking at the internal problems as to why they aren’t attracting women. It’s a checklist rather than an active encouragement – what companies actually need to work on is their ability to attract and retain women, because if they’re being hired to simply ‘fill a gap’, they’ll know that! If the culture doesn’t change, they typically leave. In tech the best way to ensure women reach leadership positions is to genuinely invest in them as juniors and train up.”
If you lack women in upper management, the message you implicitly broadcast is that only men get recognised enough to progress to such a level. Because of this, it’s important to set up mentors and role models, especially at C Level. The most effective way to narrow the gender pay gap is to employ more women in the higher levels of your business – and pay them equally to their male counterparts doing similar work! But remember, simply “bumping up” your average is a see-through technique that may give you a quick PR boost, but won’t actually solve your organisation’s deeper problems in the long run. Some goals to consider could be engaging a female non-executive director or business mentor, or encouraging mentorship programmes and workshops for women at all levels in your business. And on the flipside, re-evaluate how your business handles reviews and performance planning. For example, parents – of any gender – may not always want to aim for promotions, given the additional pressures that often come with them.
Look at how your “extra curriculars” might also be improved. If a Friday drink is a longstanding tradition in your office, how about including some non-alcoholic drinks (and not just boring old Coca Cola) to reward those who don't drink, aren't party animals, or are pregnant? Similarly, look at how your sports teams or other initiatives can be made to appeal to all types of people and not just become Boys Clubs – we guarantee some of your male employees will be grateful for that too! You can shout about diversity until you’re blue in the face, but if the culture is very ‘Alpha Male’, you’ll find people who sit outside that club don't hang around for long.
Be clear about your company purpose, and shout about it! We don't just mean your short-term goals or the numbers your business has racked up, but celebrating any and all progress towards fostering a more inviting workplace with both transparency and grace. If you don’t know how to start, consider speaking to the women within your team to understand how they’d like to be communicated to if they were still jobseekers. As noted by our Operations Manager Sara Satterthwaite, visibility plays a much larger role in decision-making than most people fully realise:
“I think any jobseeker, regardless of gender, wants to be able to picture themselves in that workplace. The more a potential employer can paint that picture by highlighting current employees already treading that path or specific initiatives or policies that are relevant to that individual, the more attractive the company will be. The obvious example for women is maternity policies but are there women currently in the company that can be held up as examples, or do you run a women-only event to build the levels of support between your female employees?”
Establish an active presence at networking events or social media initiatives around women in technology, and use these to fuel your own knowledge (and identify potential hires!). Think ahead to the future as well. Is there a local school who have a ‘Girls Who Code’ club? Does your local council run a kids’ coding programme? Offer to present about tech at such places! Remember, the goal is not to be instantly perfect, but to continuously improve! Dedication and being genuine to your values/goals are what will take your company far.
In the end, creating an inclusive work environment may require additional effort, but it’s also one of the most critical ways to help your business find success with each passing year. A diverse business – beyond just focusing on an increase in female employees, of course – is the only way to tackle the future, whatever it holds.