There is a road to parity for women in tech

My daughter is in her first year of college. She’ll be charting her career path in today’s workforce in just a few short years. My advice is finally hitting home as I’ve spent my professional life creating opportunity for people through career success. At TEKsystems, a global provider of business, technology and talent solutions, I lead our human resources team and corporate social responsibility strategy.

We’ve prioritized diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives because we believe they will continue to have a positive impact on the work experience. In fact, our recent study found that 96% of IT workers say their leadership makes it clear that DEI initiatives are a critical impact of company strategy.

It is critical to examine the impact of these initiatives and the difference they’ve made in the workplace for women. I’ve seen the impact organizations can make when they intentionally build pathways for opportunity, create a sense of belonging, and advocate for women in the workplace. Something I hope my daughter will experience—no matter her career path. But with women currently making up just 25% of the IT workforce, it is no time to slow down.

Finding job growth in a volatile labor market

The labor market continues to fluctuate: Between an ongoing shortage of labor with the right skillsets for IT, to tech layoffs from the biggest names in the industry, to the lingering impact of the pandemic, it is hard to ascertain where the job market is headed and what that means for IT workers. Our study showed that while more than half of women in IT feel they have growth opportunities at their current workplace, it pales in comparison to the 89% of men who feel they have the same ability to grow at their jobs. It will be challenging to see dramatic changes in IT hiring given the high demand for and low supply of talent, coupled with how quickly companies move through the hiring process given immediate needs.

As an industry facing a shortage of talent, it is imperative for IT teams to foster diverse environments where people feel they belong, especially for talent who are new to the workforce (like my daughter will be) or from less traditional backgrounds. Companies need to create cultures that help women overcome obstacles. Employee networks establish systems where workers can feel seen, heard and supported by creating forums for conversation where people can commiserate with those who understand what they are going through, and for others to learn, listen and empathize. There’s nothing better than being able to connect with someone who understands what you’re going through.

DEI is effective, but there’s more work to be done

DEI programs will continue to spur progress and create new pathways, expanding the pool of talent to make IT hiring easier. Per Scholas is an example of a program that is making a difference for women and minorities in IT. By providing rigorous free training for individuals often excluded from technology careers, it is helping to train and connect skilled talent to leading businesses with the right professional skills and technical instruction for high demand jobs.

A few years ago, we had an incredible a graduate from our Per Scholas customized tech training partnership—a mom of four who had been away from learning for many years and had no IT background. She admittedly was scared that she would not succeed as she entered the 15-week, full-time training. She has those competing forces in her mind. But she overcame them, worked tirelessly with the support of her family and instructors, and graduated valedictorian of her class, now a confident, certified IT professional at TEKsystems.

Opening doors for women to succeed in IT, like this mom of four, is critical. Building alternative pathways to gain the skills they need with the coaching and development they deserve. And frankly traditional forms of education, such as bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, are not producing enough people to meet the demand of the IT job market, and these programs may not be accessible to everyone. The more pathways for women in IT, the better.

Speak for the woman not in the room (or get her in there) 

The sponsorship component of a woman’s career in IT can accelerate and enrich her journey. If you’re an early professional, find a sponsor who will speak on your behalf when you’re not in the room, and embrace being the only room woman in the room if that’s the case. If you are further in your career, look for opportunities to help other women.

Sponsorship is critical because you can’t put yourself in front of every executive or every person that you want that might have an impact on your career. Having sponsors who talk about you when you’re not in the room is critical.

The mom of four starting her IT career—I remember seeing the impact she had when we first met her—from the second people interacted with her, they started talking about her in a very positive way and encouraging others to meet her and bring her into the company without ever being her mentor in any way. Having sponsors, being a sponsor—no matter what role, the pay-off is real for women making their way in IT.

Hitting the bottom line with DEI

Not to mention, DEI makes business sense. Companies are reporting more diverse workforces (63%), improved company performance (58%) and better employee retention (55%) as the biggest successes of their DEI-related initiatives. A key component to encouraging retention is creating a sense of safety and security for employees, which can be measured by their sense of belonging. While a majority (58%) of women in IT surveyed say they feel they have a sense of belonging at work, 85% of men responded that they felt a sense of belonging. By increasing focus on sponsorship and mentorship, these figures will increase for women.

Make progress for parity

DEI programs help set organizations on the right trajectory to attract and retain talented women in essential IT roles. By committing to DEI, encouraging sponsorship, and working with programs like Per Scholas to recruit diverse talent with the right skills, IT organizations will be better equipped to nurture, retain and promote diverse talent within their ranks. Organizations can influence and shape the experience of women in IT—from creating the access and opportunity from day one to instilling that belonging and encouraging sponsorship. It’s no time to slow down making progress for parity—for my daughter and for all the talented young women out there.

Faith Rottmann Johnson believes in the power of people—their ability to create lasting, positive change in their workplace and in their communities. She currently oversees strategic human resources and corporate social responsibility programs globally at TEKsystems. She has over 26 years of experience as a human resources professional.

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