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IWD 2024: Investing in women in tech IS the accelerator for progress
Fri, 8th Mar 2024

As we approach another International Women’s Day (March 8), it’s an important time to recognize both sides of the same coin: the tremendous progress women have made in the modern tech sector and the great distance we still have to go. The United Nations’ theme for 2024’s International Women’s Day “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress,” and that concept is crucial to building on the gains women have made so far in tech and IT to create a stronger foundation for the future.

While we have seen a much stronger emphasis on and access to STEM learning for women and girls over the past decade, the truth is those changes have not yet fully taken root at the workplace level. Regardless of how you slice statistics, women are still very underrepresented in tech and computing, hovering at around 25-35% of all roles at tech firms and around 20% of all new degrees in computer science. This figure holds true even at today’s tech titans – among the famous “GAMMA Five” (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Meta, Amazon), women represent only 25% of the workforce, numbers that may even be somewhat propped up by Amazon’s larger workforce and near-gender balance ratio.

Against those numbers, further consider that even back in 2016, the non-profit Girls Who Code found that almost three-fourths of young girls expressed interest in STEM fields and computer science. Which points to less of an issue with opportunities for learning, and more about how we nurture and support those learners both in school and in the workplace to ensure they are welcomed, made to feel like they belong and believe that these spaces are going to be places where they want to spend their lives and careers. And that’s where we can do more than just inspire – it’s on us also to dedicate resources toward inclusion, which will not only accelerate progress for women in tech, but the sector overall.

The good news is there are lots of actions that will have lasting effects and that go beyond simply endorsing a social media post or holding a one-off event. And these are things we can do both at the business level and as individuals.

First, integrate, create and support as many opportunities as possible for networking and support for women at your organization because connections, peer support and mentorship make a massive difference on both the emotional and industry knowledge side of the ledger. These can be informal, like coffees or sharing sessions, or you can partner with a number of larger groups for women in tech (here’s a good starting list) – the main thing is make them regular, accessible and visible. Regular is because these opportunities need to become part of your organization’s culture and operations, not just a special occasion. Accessible because not everyone can join an afterwork happy hour at a bar, so you need to look for ways that your team members can participate whether working flexible shifts, remotely or at company HQ. And visible is also crucial (more in a minute on that) because it speaks to how your organization prioritizes inclusion and what messages it sends to the rest of your team.

Second, be willing to really look at your organization and understand your areas for improvement while building in opportunities for discussion. For example, according to a recent Trust Radius survey, there was a distinct gender disparity between how employees saw their tech firm prioritizing diversity – almost two-thirds of men believed their employer was doing enough but less than half of women saw it that way. It’s important to have open dialogues to understand these gaps in not just perception but also understanding, and crucially important to include men in those open discussions if you’re trying to create more inclusion at your organization. These also include conversations amongst your teams to better understand what everyone is seeing, what their challenges might be and where they want to go with their careers.

Finally, expand your vision. For many people, if you say, “board of directors,” our brains will unconsciously go to tropes and stereotypes – men in suits around a table. That’s a vision that has been honed not just from years of reality but also the many TV shows and films we’ve seen in our lifetimes. But in truth, as the workforce becomes more diverse and more inclusive, the boardroom of 2034 or even 2054 will not look like it does today. So, it’s important for us to envision the future, rather than the present, in everything we do and try to reflect that inclusion everywhere – from the examples and images we use on the website to how we communicate internally. By making that vision more tangible, you not only better define what you want your workplace’s diversity to look like, you also send a clear message to employees about what your organization prioritizes.

Widening your vision is about more than just inclusion, however. As the tech sector continues to grow and stretch deeper and deeper into almost every aspect of our economy, bringing more women into the sector is going to be crucial to continue that growth and to counteract the shortage of programmers, designers, developers and project leaders that the tech industry feels year after year. By additively improving gender diversity, we can both bolster the sector and create a more equitable environment at the same time.

Every March 8 is a great opportunity to discuss, evaluate and chart a course for the year to come. By building and maintaining more spaces for women in tech, we can ensure that the pipeline of talent and interest we are seeing at the school level has a place to blossom and grow and, most crucially, continue with a career in tech. These investments will have to be in the form of sincere organizational commitments throughout the year, not just for a day or month in the Spring. But by working together, we can build a more inclusive tech sector so that by next March 8, we can see more progress.