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More Women in High Tech: How to Create More Balance in the Workplace

Five things employers should do, and one thing women must do, to promote a true equal opportunity strategy.

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How Gender Equality Can Help a Business Grow

“Gender segregation” is a term used to describe women’s tendency to work in different occupations and industries than men do. Researchers have demonstrated that approximately half of the pay gap between men and women (women earn about 20% less) is due to gender segregation. While young women now graduate in high-level math and the sciences in numbers almost equal to young men, they are still under-represented in many high-paying sectors, particularly in the high-tech industry.

Affirmative action has its uses, but recruiting women for technical roles in high-tech doesn’t have to stem from philanthropy. Rather, it’s a tenet for creating better companies – companies that are more creative and balanced, that offer a more heterogeneous work environment and a more sophisticated set of human skills. To compete on the global market, companies need different perspectives to spark creativity–something diversity works well at providing.

And if these reasons aren’t enough of an incentive, consider the fact that, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report, a scenario in which women participate in the economy identically to men would add up to $28 trillion, or 26% of annual global GDP by 2025, compared with a business-as-usual scenario. This impact is roughly equivalent to the size of the combined Chinese and US economies today. 

Five Changes For Better Gender Equality

Here are some things executives need to think about in order to promote this change:

  1. Create a better work-life balance – “Masculine norms in the workplace” are often quoted as a hindrance to women’s integration in high-tech. Women tend to leave positions when they work for a boss who is insensitive to balancing work and family demands, and this was found to be especially true in engineering jobs. A good manager knows that his employees – men and women alike – need to maintain an empowering work-life balance. This can be accomplished by promoting flexible work schedules, offering the ability to occasionally work from home, providing access to daycare and even promoting a Results-Only Work Environment. This will benefit every employee, and eventually the company as a whole. Women in particular – perhaps in order to prove themselves as equals – tend to carry their weight in the workplace without any concessions, sometimes even more so than men, so it’s important that they understand they can thrive even without giving themselves over entirely to their jobs.
  2. Lead by example – When we had our first child, my wife and I quickly realized that our degree of freedom had diminished dramatically. A short time later, my wife – an actress – shot a TV series for several weeks, every day from early in the morning until noon. I stayed home with our son and came into the office after my wife got home. I worked late, sometimes well into the night after office hours from my desk at home, to stay on top of it all. Was my work negatively affected? No. Had I become a better person and manager? Yes.
  3. Fear not the elephant in the room – There is no denying that the elephant in the room is the issue of childbirth and maternity leave. No employer cherishes the prospect of one of his most significant employees leaving the company for months at a time. Even though someone has to take responsibility for the continuity of the human race, this can be an organizational and bureaucratic headache. However, these periods are really no more than a temporary inconvenience, of no consequence in the grand scheme of things. In the long run, women veer towards the long-term and tend to be more loyal employees. Perhaps the “forced” time off immunizes women somewhat against the human need for change in the work portion of their lives.
  4. Create role models – Every person needs something to aspire to. Promoting women in your company creates role models for everyone, and propels everybody forward. Studies have shown time and time again that men get promoted more often and more quickly than women. Not only that, but tall men get more opportunities than short men, proving that there’s a clear, unacknowledged and often subconscious bias at work when promoting employees in the workplace. As an employer, it’s important to ask yourself if you are falling victim to this bias, and to push back against it. If women in your company see that other women are getting the same opportunities for advancement as their male counterparts, they are more likely to feel motivated and engaged.
  5. Recruit more women – The number of women candidates for technical roles (development, QA, devops, data scientists) is usually lower than that of men, because there are simply fewer of them around. With all other things being equal – invite women for interviews. Sponsoring women in tech groups and creating an active mentoring program for women can also help to boost women’s presence and careers. This can be achieved either through internal initiatives, or by joining one of many women-in-tech mentoring and sponsoring programs, such as WEST.

One Thing Women Need to Do for Gender Equality

And then, there is one thing that women need to do:

  1. Demand equal pay – There is really no reason for pay inequality in the high-tech ecosystem. Every employer wants the best professionals and is willing to pay for the value they bring. But the compensation ball is often in the woman’s court: during recruitment, every interviewee has to have in mind the compensation level they expect and are willing to accept. Women have to name their price for the compensation that expresses the value they’re bringing to the company. Even when employers are all for equal pay, they will often not pay more than they need to. It is the woman’s responsibility to know and demand the compensation she deserves.

A few days after International Women’s Day, the head of one of our technical teams posted this on Facebook: “A friend just asked me why I didn’t post on Women’s Day that 85% of my team are women. Honestly – I didn’t think it was worth mentioning. It’s not about feminism, empowerment or affirmative action. They are not at Optimove because they are women, or despite that they’re women. They’re simply absolutely great. And that, I think, is definitely worth mentioning.”

I think that that about sums it up.

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