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Reader Sharing on the Topic of Women in Tech

One of the most popular posts on VantageShift Insights is Bias Against Women - How You Can Help. I was motivated to research and write about the topic from my past experiences as a woman in tech, as a female leader, by what I witnessed happening to other professional women, and by the stories shared with me by other women.

A reader was moved to share an article with me on the topic of women in tech that I'm now sharing with all of you along with some commentary. I hope that you will find the piece thought-provoking and that it leads to discussion and positive changes. I also find that many of the points mentioned likely apply to all underrepresented groups and not just women, as the author mentions in closing.

I agree that...

...Sparking interest in tech, or not, can happen at an earlier age.

Several jobs ago, my research into how to attract more women into tech in general, and to the company I worked for, specifically, revealed that societal expectations and the educational system combined to turn girls away from STEM.

Anecdotally, I can say that even as a top student, engineering and technology were never encouraged by the adults in my life as a possible course of study for me. The author makes a point that we should all heed: "But efforts need to expand beyond the classroom. A single comment by an adult, even a neighbor or family member, can encourage (or discourage) a girl from going into a STEM field."

...Paying attention to the statistics and examining hiring practices are key.

Companies should absolutely be aware of the number of women at all levels of the company and how that compares to the workforce in general. They should also recruit and hire in ways that provide equal chances for qualified applicants to shine.

I worked for a company that had a policy to set salary ranges for roles based on their job market research. There were no questions about your past compensation (which is illegal in California now), no requirements to negotiate to try to get the best deal. Thus, each person hired was paid fairly based on the market for their role regardless of how they identified.

As a hiring manager, I looked for people who rounded out my and the team's skill sets and had experience that was different from mine and the rest of the team's. Essentially, I made it a point to hire the "not-me." That was a very different take on hiring from what I had experienced as a candidate, where hiring managers usually have a bias, whether conscious or unconscious, to hire people with whom they're comfortable, usually people like them. That leads to homogeneity, not diversity.

It's also very important to have a structured interview process reviewed by a diverse set of people. Ensure that each candidate is asked the same questions and that the questions stay on point to the role and company and don't veer off into the questionable or illegal, such as, "Are you planning to start a family soon?". In addition, the process followed should be the same for each candidate with interviewers who are trained to examine the quality and depth of the responses and not how the candidate looks.

...Improving workplace benefits can help.

There's no question that improved benefits attracts great employees to a company regardless of their gender identity. Interestingly, the concerns that are often labeled as women's issues are really people issues. Many employees want and need flexible hours, the option to work remotely, quality healthcare, and the opportunity to refresh with some time off.

The author cites maternity leave practices as an issue and I agree on this specific point, too. Among troubling practices are mothers being pressured to return to work early, losing their spots on high profile projects or even their whole job while on leave, and little to no thought given to the return-to-work experience. I personally experienced having my job held open while on leave only to be laid off the first day that I returned to work. That is, unfortunately, following the letter of the law, but not the spirit. I also know someone who was being pressured to come back to work early to take responsibility for a project.

I am in agreement with offering all parents leave, whether after a birth or adoption. Some companies also offer leave for employees who have a new pet in the home. For all of us who have experienced puppyhood, I say kudos to those companies.

...Corporate culture can be problematic.

This is a huge topic worthy of a whole book on its own. There are so many reasons why certain biases dominate in a particular company's culture, from societal norms to the backgrounds of the founders and executive committee to implicit bias around gender, ethnicity, race, and other traits. For more on implicit bias, see my Lessons in Leadership from a Rottie Chapter 3: Implicit Bias on Medium.

It's important for companies to strive for inclusivity. With inclusivity as an overarching goal, company personnel have to think about, and overcome, many of the issues that the author mentions such as outings that are based solely on one gender's preferences or grappling with how to handle informal socializing without being misunderstood or harassed.

While the article focuses on women and looks at a female vs male viewpoint, it's important to note that gender is how someone identifies. Truly inclusive corporate environments take that point into account.

Point to ponder

There is one point that particularly intrigued me, that "Women are more effective leaders than men." The findings from the study cited is at odds with stereotypes. Implicit bias is likely at work here along with other factors, such as women self-selecting out of promotions or the workforce.

It's my hope that we reach a place in which leadership capabilities are judged based on skills and accomplishments and not just on perceptions of leadership qualities.

Thanks again to the reader who shared the article and their thoughts.

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