In article one of our Women in Tech Series, we discussed the progress that’s been made and work we have yet to do in rising up women in the technology field. As the pipeline of women increases, so do their opportunities. But just as critical as drawing women into tech is retaining them.
Women leave tech roles at a 45% higher rate than men, and 50% of women who take a tech role drop it by age 35, compared to 20% in other types of jobs. It’s clear that to reach gender parity, we need to do more than just encourage women to pursue tech opportunities, we need to improve the experience they have once they get there.
What’s behind the struggle to retain?
The reason women leave tech roles is multifaceted. It isn’t just one thing—unfortunately. This means retention requires us to examine and address each factor.
The pandemic led many women, and men, to reassess priorities—whether by choice or necessity. Working mothers, women in senior management positions, and Black women experienced some of the greatest challenges during the pandemic. They felt exhausted, under pressure, and burnt out.
The pandemic also knocked 54 million women out of work, and of those who lost their jobs in 2020, almost 90% exited the labor force completely. In some cases, women left to pursue other passions. In other cases, they were searching for more flexibility, better pay, or career opportunities. But the pandemic can’t be blamed for everything. Cultural barriers also play a role.
Bias, under-recognition, and bad culture
Thirty-two percent of women in technical and engineering roles are often the only woman in the room at work. As a result, their judgment is more likely to be questioned, and they are often passed over for promotions. Thirty-seven percent of women leaders have had a coworker get credit for their idea, compared to 27% of men.
Women also frequently experience microaggressions because of their role as a mother. The impact of the multitude of struggles resulted in more than twice as many women technologists leaving their company in 2022 compared to 2021. If biases and judgment remain prevalent and aren’t addressed, women will continue to leave tech roles at alarming rates.
How to retain women in tech roles
Retaining women in tech roles requires more than respect, promotions, and better pay. We need to create environments where all women can thrive. This is especially critical for women of color. Accenture found that of the 390 women of color they surveyed in 2019 who work in tech, only 8% say it’s easy for them to thrive, compared to 21% of all women.
Here are the top three things women must have in order to thrive and stay with a company.
Allies and advocates in leadership
Especially if she’s the only woman in the room, it’s critical there are allies in the company helping to advocate for increased gender diversity. It’s most impactful if those allies are members of leadership. When leadership teams advocate for marginalized groups, it signals to the rest of the company that being an ally is a priority. It’s something that’s being acted upon instead of simply talked about.
Beyond allyship, future women leaders must see themselves represented. It’s much more difficult to build leadership diversity if it doesn’t already exist. Elevate women into positions of power and encourage them to rise up the next generation behind them.
For true change and gender parity to exist, it requires an examination of company processes, policies, and benefits. Even if women rise into leadership positions, if the company infrastructure doesn’t support them, they may consider leaving.
Provide women with access to employee resource groups and equip them with a mentor or onboarding buddy so they feel less alone and more supported. Examine company benefits like paid maternity leave to ensure mothers have fair treatment.
Also, take a look at your processes for securing promotions and raises. These processes should be transparent and consistent for all employees.
Supportive and inclusive culture
Company culture plays a tremendous role in whether women stay with an organization. Inclusive workplace cultures value accountability, equality and fairness of opportunity, belonging, openness, and freedom from bias and discrimination.
In companies with more inclusive cultures, 83% of women love their jobs compared to just 35% in less-inclusive cultures. This is especially evident for lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LBT) women. LBT women in more-inclusive cultures are more than four times as likely to describe the workplace environment as “empowering”, compared with their peers in less-inclusive environments.
Supportive and inclusive cultures also provide opportunities for learning, growth, and networking that aren’t limited to those in upper management. Women at all levels should have access to resources that help further their future with the company.
Retention requires re-examination
Increasing retention rates among women in tech requires re-examination and an openness to change. It requires us to step outside of ourselves and think about the woman next to us and what they’re experiencing. It means having DEI commitments that don’t just live on paper but are acted upon.
Accenture predicts that if companies make significant strides in supporting women in tech and building inclusive cultures, we could see up to 3 million young women working in tech by 2030. That’s something to look forward to!
The third article in this series explores steps we can take to advance women in tech and create a future where there is more equitable representation.