Cybele Negris is CEO & Co-Founder of Webnames Corporate and Webnames.ca, leaders in enterprise domain name and SSL management services.
The persistent gender and diversity gap in technology has been widely known, discussed and worked on for years, yet we remain far from closing it. This is despite a growing body of research showing that diverse teams increase financial results, innovation and job satisfaction. The problem is systemic and daunting, and since the pandemic, it has become appreciably worse.
When I founded my company 21 years ago with three male partners, I was often one of just a handful of women or diverse people in the room. While this is no longer the case, women still make up only 15%-20% of the tech workforce in British Columbia where my company is based, and 30% nationwide, according to recent data. In two concerning findings from a 2021 Canadian study on women in the tech sector, 41% of women in tech roles said their careers had been negatively impacted by the pandemic, compared to just 29% of women in non-tech roles. Adding to this, 44% believed that tech employers don’t really want to hire women. It’s a devastating finding that speaks to far deeper issues than the overly simplistic “pipeline problem” that is regularly cited as the root cause.
The reality is that women and people of color who work in technology are still incredibly impacted by bias in recruiting methods, insufficiently supportive workplace cultures and HR policies, a deficit of representative mentorship and equal access to education. The lack of representation will only improve when tech companies, including small ones like mine, assume responsibility for their roles in perpetuating the status quo, get curious about the structural and systemic roots of the problem and commit to implementing practical solutions. Now, let’s examine how to start implementing beneficial changes, whether you’re a five-person startup or a 500-strong tech company.
First, get curious about the problem.
For decades we’ve heard that the gender gap in technology is a pipeline problem, but the pandemic has blown up the simplicity of this explanation for all to see. From the wealth gap contributing to unequal educational access to gatekeeping caused by restrictive credential requirements, gender bias in recruitment practices to unsupportive schedules and unhealthy workplace cultures, there are many factors blocking women’s entry, advancement and retention in tech. Take responsibility for learning about the diversity of issues.
Assume accountability for your own workplace culture.
Ensure inclusivity is reflected in your values and incorporate education around unconscious bias, inclusion and intersectionality in respectful workplace training. Articulate clearly that diversity is a priority in your organization and, together as a company, that you will be taking steps to nurture an inclusive culture. Then follow through on it. Don’t over-explain. Don’t justify your motives. Just get to work.
Look inward for opportunities to improve.
Unpack HR, hiring and salary data, and critically examine it. Does it align with your diversity values? Are hiring salaries, pay increases, performance bonus formulas, vacation allotments equitable? Does the team have equitable access to educational, career development or promotion opportunities? Level your home playing field by addressing historical or lingering inequities, and set targets for improvement and transparently report on your progress.
Make recruiting and hiring processes less gendered.
As a woman CEO who has always been hands-on with recruiting, it has been challenging to achieve gender parity in candidates for certain technology roles. As a small tech business, some of the steps we have taken include: ensuring our job descriptions, application processes and interview questions are gender-neutral; asking current or previous women employees for candidate referrals; and taking extra initiative to share job openings with women’s organizations, community groups and women leaders in our network. If you use recruiters, make gender-balanced candidate lists a requirement.
Cultivate a work environment that nurtures women and families.
When I launched my company more than 20 years ago, tech companies of that era followed a similar script: foosball tables, a beer fridge, video game lounges and so on, all in the name of boosting team cohesion. It was often the embodiment of “bro culture,” and I saw firsthand how it alienated and turned off women candidates. As I grew as a leader, I became much more conscious of the importance of culture. We expressly cultivated a child-friendly office where employees could bring their kids if they needed, created a dedicated space for nursing and pumping, offered more flexibility to work from home and started organizing family-friendly events instead of after-hour outings. Over time, I realized these decisions were a big factor in retaining not only our women employees but all those with young families because it helped to eliminate friction in their personal lives and increased the well-being of their families.
Actively support women’s advancement at work.
Representation is extremely important to female candidates. Women want to work for organizations that have women in leadership roles. They use this as a criterion for assessing whether they will have sufficient opportunities for growth and advancement. A survey of 500 women in tech conducted by ISACA found that 48% of respondents regarded a lack of women mentors to be a major obstacle in their career advancement. Providing women professional development through mentorship, coaching, skills training and promotions helps to not only level the playing field in the short term but also over time. If you are unable to provide impactful mentorship from within your organization, support women employees by partnering with an established tech mentorship program.
In Canada, 97.9% of employer businesses are small businesses. If more small tech companies and startups commit to improving gender diversity in their operations, it could help winnow the detrimental social and economic gender gap that continues to hold women back from parity in the technology sector. As employers, owning our responsibility to make the tech industry more supportive, empathetic, rewarding and fundamentally fair to women needs to become a priority now. The root issues are clearer than ever. Now, let’s be the change together.