We all know how difficult it is to find top talent for IT roles. Even with a looming recession, the demand for qualified tech workers remains significant. An early 2022 study found that 1 in 5 organizations worldwide are having trouble finding skilled tech talent and 34% of hiring managers say that not enough candidates have the correct technical skills.
And, yet, large pools of qualified candidates remain untapped. An in-depth study by Accenture takes a look at “hidden workers” – reportedly 27.4 million Americans who are keen to work and possess (or could develop) the required skills for a role but are often overlooked by recruiters and hiring managers. Those hidden workers include people who have:
- Health issues;
- Gaps in employment histories;
- Family care responsibilities;
- Few or no formal qualifications;
- Frequent relocations; and
- Disadvantaged backgrounds.
Women may, of course, face any of those issues, but gaps in employment histories (due to maternity leave and childcare) as well as family care responsibilities (including elder care) are particularly prevalent among women.
For those and three other main reasons, women as a group have long had trouble obtaining tech roles even if they’re highly qualified. First, despite an employer’s best intentions and DEI policies, the hiring process often remains rife with barriers for women in tech, from androcentric language in job postings to interview committees without a female presence. Second, women are more likely to have difficulty juggling long and rigid in-office hours. Third, the lack of female colleagues and role models makes it challenging and stressful for women to fit in – and to imagine their place within the company. As articulated in a blog piece at McKinsey & Company, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
It’s an oft-quoted stat that women earn about half of all science and engineering degrees but only comprise about 20% of the workforce in those fields. There is huge potential for companies who take a close look at their recruitment, hiring, and retention strategies. With a few tweaks, they can be more welcoming to female candidates, ultimately creating more chances for themselves to tap into that vast talent pool.
Commit to Gender Diversity in the Hiring Process
Even with clear diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies, many companies in the tech sector struggle to achieve their DEI goals.
A common issue is that the “hidden workers” discussed above do not apply for positions at all, or do not self-identify when they do so. Companies can’t hire women if none apply.
But implementing DEI policies actually goes against human nature. As explained in a white paper from the Harvard Kennedy School, “Humans tend to be most comfortable with others who look like them and tend to prefer people who conform to their stereotypical beliefs. We expect engineers to be men and nurses to be women …:” It’s difficult to work against our own ingrained biases.
As well, organizational practices and company culture usually need to be changed in order for DEI to be successful. It is a large and complex undertaking.
But beyond opening up an incredible talent pool, a commitment to DEI has long-term benefits for companies, including increased profitability as well as a shift towards a more creative approach to problem-solving, more objective decision-making, and more innovation.
If your company is struggling to achieve your DEI hiring quotas, consider setting specific hiring goals, such as interviewing a minimum number of qualified female applicants. Make the goals challenging since people are more apt to strive towards achieving ambitious goals. As well, it’s helpful to incentivize goal attainment since financial incentives go a long way towards motivating behavioral changes.
Create a Culture of Support and Flexibility
As white collar workers shifted to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to work from home and to work with flexible hours seemed to be a boon to women, allowing them to more easily juggle caregiving responsibilities with paid work.
But, according to a study done by Deloitte in 2021, women who worked in technology, media, and telecommunications (TMT) during the pandemic experienced significant drops in motivation and productivity at work, job satisfaction, work/life balance, and feelings of loyalty to their employers. In fact, within the female segment of the TMT workforce,
- 83% reported that their workloads increased;
- Only 38% felt that their companies offered sufficient support to remote workers;
- Only 30% reported increased access to flextime;
- Only 22% said that their employers made it clear that they can “switch off” work;
- Satisfaction with their work/life balance dropped by 38 points; and
- The ability to “switch off” work dropped by 19 points.
Despite these challenges, a remote-first model still holds promise for women. The key is to ensure that appropriate supports are offered. Make sure that communication is adjusted to include those working outside of the office. Whether you develop scheduled check-ins or maintain casual conversations, touching base with all members of your team regularly shows that you value them.
And, for those women who chose (or are required) to work at the office, family-friendly policies can encourage women to apply for positions with your company and can assist with retention. Flextime arrangements, nursing spaces, and subsidized daycare are perks that demonstrate to women that they will have the support they need to get their jobs done.
Consider Applicants From Outside Tech
Many jobs in the tech sector are not strictly coding jobs. The perception that they are deters qualified candidates from applying. As Velia Carboni points out in a piece at Forbes: “As our industry puts increasing focus on enhancing the consumer journey throughout the path to purchase, we are seeing a growing need for additional talent and different perspectives.” Carboni goes on to explain that, with the right support and training, it’s possible for people currently working in various fields to transition to tech, which widens the talent pipeline.
Use Gender-Neutral Language
It’s become trendy for companies to use fun, hip language in their job postings, indicating, for instance, that they are seeking a “guru”, “ninja”, “rockstar”, or “superhero” to fill the role. What’s meant to draw attention to the ad and shine a positive light on company culture is actually problematic for a few different reasons. First, this kind of language might unintentionally infer a preference for male applicants. The word “ninja,” for example, specifically refers to male practitioners of ninjutsu (female practitioners are called “kunoichis”).
Second, words like this imply that applicants need to be experts in the field. It is widely known that women will only apply for a job if they have 100% of the stated qualifications. Women who feel under-qualified for a role simply won’t apply.
In addition to avoiding descriptors that can be construed as favoring male candidates, avoid using pronouns like “he”, “she”, or even “he/she.” Instead, use gender-neutral terms like, “the successful candidate” or “the incumbent” or even, simply, “you.”
While fixes like these may be relatively easy to effect, it’s important to realize that gendered language goes deeper than pronouns and superlative descriptors. Many common words and phrases exert a bias. A study by Danielle Gaucher and Justin Friesen gives this example:
the masculinely worded advertisement for a registered nurse stated, “We are determined to deliver superior medical treatment tailored to each individual patient,” whereas the femininely worded advertisement stated, “We are committed to providing top quality health care that is sympathetic to the needs of our patients” (emphasis added).
It may be a bit eye-opening to realize which words have a gender bias. According to a blog at Ongig, the most commonly-used masculine words in job descriptions include:
- Lead (including leader(s));
- Analysis (as well as analyze and analytical);
- Objectives; and
Clearly, some gender-biased language is quite subtle and can be difficult to spot. Automated tools like Textio and Gender Decoder can help build more inclusive job postings. The effort is worth it. The study by Gaucher and Friesen found that “masculine wording in job advertisements leads to less anticipated belongingness and job interest among women, which, we propose, likely perpetuates gender inequality in male-dominated fields.” As a blog piece at Harver points out, “Job listings with gender-neutral wording attract as much as 42% more responses.”
Be Aware of AI Bias
Because AI uses data to determine results, and because historic data has a hiring bias towards men in the tech sector, it’s possible new AI results will contain the same bias. If you’re receiving applications from women but your ATS is not including women on shortlists, it may be a sign to scrutinize your AI and the data it’s being fed.
Conduct Blind Interviews
Completely anonymizing interviews can be tough, if not impossible. While you will need to meet candidates at some point in the interview process, the initial screening interviews can be done anonymously. Consider, for example, emailing candidates a Q & A form to fill out or using online chat instead of the phone. While AI-powered interview software is gaining some traction, the technology is not yet perfect. However, as long as AI bias is considered (as discussed above), these tools show promise for the future.
Close the Pay Gap
The gendered pay gap doesn’t just exist – it is widening. A study by Hired shows that although some gains were made in closing the gap previously, it widened again during the pandemic. Another report shows that almost 78% of large organizations in the tech sector admit to having a gendered pay gap.
Equal pay for equal work is the best way for your company to show that it values women, and thus encourage women to apply.
While it may be commonplace to ask a candidate’s salary expectations and frame your offer around those expectations, the Hired study shows that male candidates have higher salary expectations and the offers extended to them match their expectations. The reasons why women have lower salary expectations are complex and varied, but a large factor is that, without pay transparency, women don’t understand their value.
You can take a large step towards closing the pay gap in tech by being transparent about salary during the application process rather than negotiating salaries based on the expectations of candidates. Transparency can encourage more women to apply as well – the Hired study shows that women are more interested in working at companies where salaries are openly shared.
Provide Female Role Models, Mentors, and Leaders
Female mentors and role models have a powerful role to play in the tech sector. With women underrepresented in the field, it can be stressful and challenging for women to fit into a male-dominated workplace. Mentorship can help women achieve their career goals, gain access to opportunities and advancement, and cultivate their confidence as they navigate a male-dominated environment. A formal mentorship program can signal to female candidates that you value their contributions and are committed to their success.
If you currently have few female employees, and especially few women in leadership roles, it may be difficult to start an internal mentorship program. In that case, encourage your female employees to seek external mentors at other companies or through mentorship programs. As well, providing opportunities and compensation for external professional development opportunities can help women widen their networks and find external mentors.
Seeing women in leadership roles in your company is another way that female candidates can gauge your commitment to gender diversity, their own success, and their potential for advancement. Female leaders benefit your business in other ways as well. As Maryann Bruce explains in a piece at Forbes, “When more women lead, it creates a diversified leadership team open to discussing multiple perspectives that improves decision-making and strengthens the organization to face the challenges of the future.” Ensuring that your leadership team has female representation makes good business sense.
Invest in the Talent Pipeline Through Training and Reskilling
It’s widely acknowledged that one of the best ways to address the shortage of skilled tech workers is to offer training and reskilling opportunities. While training programs can benefit all people, they are particularly valuable for women. With the constant transformation in tech, it can be difficult for women who have left work for an extended period of time to return to the workplace.
While there are many tech training programs available to women, providing in-house training or supporting an external program is a terrific way to show that you care enough about women’s success to invest in it.