We all know gender inequality in tech is a tough nut to crack. Women throughout the economy face persistent wage inequality. Seventy-six percent of STEM jobs are held by men. Among those women who do make their way into the STEM workforce, as many as 50 percent are expected to eventually leave because of unwelcoming work environments, limited promotion opportunities or a lack of sponsors.
But that doesn’t mean good people aren’t trying to solve the problem. Yesterday, in partnership with Symantec, we brought together a number of smart women and men for a roundtable discussion on gender inequality in tech. In attendance were Code 2040 and Girls Who Code, two non-profits that are trying to address one root of the problem -- girls leaving STEM education as early as middle school. We also had representatives of companies including Facebook, Edelman and of course Symantec. These organizations and others are actively looking to improve their diversity record and foster a culture of diversity. Finally we had organizations that are committed to diversity from the core: the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Net Impact, Global Fund for Women, and the National Center for Women and Information Technology.
This mix of bright women and men chattered away discussing not just the problem but micro and macro solutions that could be embedded in any organization. Here are some of our key takeaways.
Our roundtable participants didn’t dwell on sad statistics, though. They were quick to provide practical solutions for moving women along the pipeline. The key, the group concluded, is a mix of mentorship and sponsorship. Mentorship comes from employee resource groups, based for example on gender, race or sexuality. These groups give employees a safe space to air their feelings with their peers. According to Kunbi Adeyemo of Facebook, these are one of the most effective tools for improving retention rates among minority staff members. But a place to kvech isn’t enough. Entry and mid-level employees also need sponsorship from executives to help ensure they gain the skills required to move up in the organization. Amy Lazarus of Inclusion Ventures called the two tools “bonding capital and bridging capital.” The bonding capital gets you friends and supporters while the bridging capital gets you to the next level of the organization.
All the participants agreed that tech’s “myth of meritocracy” was important to challenge during bias training. While intelligence and skill go a long way toward being successful in STEM work, “cultural fit,” helps applicants seal the deal. “Culture fit” is a potential minefield best avoided by hiring managers -- it can easily mean “has an accent I don’t understand” or “difficult to make small talk with,” signifiers of diversity that don’t have much to do with someone’s ability to do the job.
At the end of the day, no one can fix gender inequality, but we can all do our part -- by being a little bit mindful and a little bit sensitive to the fact that those around us might have a different set of experiences.
Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.