This week the Globoforce Women’s Network (GFWN) hosted a guest speaker session with Dr. Kara McGann, a senior labour market policy executive from Ireland.
The topic? Why women in tech-intensive careers don’t seem to stay.
“This isn’t a women’s issue,” said Dr. McGann. “This is a diversity issue and it’s a strategic imperative for business.”
Three typical challenges – or one vicious circle
Kara highlighted three main areas that impact women in technology the most:
There tend to be fewer women as you move up in the ranks. A lack of networks, sponsors, mentors, and role models can have a major impact on job satisfaction and engagement. This takes a toll on career progression and, as a result, women leave.
Due to culture, socialization, and economics, caring responsibilities for both child and elder care often fall to women. There tend to be two issues around care. The first is the cost of childcare, where some women step out of the workforce or go part-time temporarily. Many struggle to regain lost ground when they return. The second is organizations can have excellent flexible work policies, but often the unwritten reality is that “everyone” knows that if you’re serious about your career you don’t engage in anything other than the standard arrangement. Dr. McGann relayed the story of a finance director who’d leave work at lunch to pick his kids up from school, so he could hear their stories from the day and be present. But he never told anyone at work what he was doing – to them, he was in a meeting.
Ever hear someone say, “It’s just the way we do things around here”? This kind of thinking or fear of change only serves to strengthen stereotypes and biases. We’re “cognitive misers” – meaning we don’t make the effort for thought if we don’t have to. This can also lead to biased behavior – the acceptance of something at face value. The fewer women in an organization, the more frequently stereotypes are activated.
Another part of organizational culture centers around risk and recognition. Many organizational cultures celebrate “diving catch” behavior, where the organization encourages a state of crisis and celebrates when someone swoops in to make a risky decision and save the day. This system tends to disadvantage women who report being more risk averse in these scenarios. They often don’t have mentors or sponsors to support them if things go wrong, so the risk of failure is too great.
Five best practices – what can we do?
- Cultivate belonging
Through strong networks for women, role models, mentoring, and sponsorship, we can cultivate a sense of belonging for women.
- Engage men
Without men involved in this conversation, we’re not going to see change. Gender balance is a strategic issue that requires changing the narrative, leveraging metrics and data to show us where the gaps are, and taking accountability to move forward.
- Make work-life design elements the norm
One size doesn’t fit all. Offering flexibility, remote working, alternative schedules, and making it easier to take time off and return are different ways that both men and women can benefit. Having a structure in place that says, “I’m trusted to come and go as I need to,” can mean a huge commitment from your employees.
- Forge a path to success
Create programs to develop future leaders. Identify aspiring female leaders and match them to coaches with varied experience. Provide tangible development opportunities.
- Tackle stereotypes and bias
Go with objective measures and not gut instinct. Make sure your organization is as open and transparent as possible about what it’s looking for in leadership roles. A lot of the time, even if a man meets just 60% of the qualifications for a higher position, he’ll go for it. But a woman won’t apply unless she meets 100% of the qualifications.
“We need to instill an assumption in women that we expect them to end up as leaders, just the same as we instill the assumption in men that they’ll be leaders,” said Dr. McGann.
About the Author
Lauren is the senior copywriter at Globoforce, writing everything from emails and landing pages to the bathroom mirror decals at WorkHuman. In her free time, she writes novels, shops vintage, and throws epic dinner parties.More Content by Lauren Brown