Empowering Women in Tech: A Guide for HR Support

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How can HR support and champion women in the tech industry?

The growth in the digital sector has been exponential over the last five years, with an increase in the digitalisation of business, however, despite this growth, gender disparity remains an issue and women are disproportionally missing out on the ongoing boom in IT jobs. While there has been a concerted effort to encourage more women to take roles within STEM (Science/ Technology/ Engineering/ Mathematics) industries, they are still largely underrepresented across the board from entry-level positions to C-Suite roles.

The STEM Women’s website reports that the latest government census figures show that women now make up 26% of the STEM workforce. Despite the gradual inroads, at the current rate of change, equal representation will not be reached until the year 2070.

More concerning still, is that the poor representation doesn’t stem from a lack of talent or interest; instead, it reveals the systemic barriers that exist, and which are blocking women’s progress within an increasingly buoyant industry that desperately needs greater diversity.

Sectors such as computer science and engineering and technology, have the largest gender imbalances, from current students to graduates and positions held within the workforce itself. These sectors are also the most financially lucrative which means that women are being further prevented from high-paying jobs. In direct contrast, lower-paying roles – such as those in healthcare and education – are dominated by women.

This is where HR can be instrumental. As the gatekeepers of an organisation’s culture and policy, people professionals can help foster a more inclusive workforce and increase the opportunities for women in the technology sector.

Addressing bias in recruitment

Ensuring fairness begins in the recruitment process. In the US, women make up 47% of all employed adults yet they hold only 28% of computing and mathematical roles. Those identifying as Asian or Pacific Islanders make up just 7% of the IT workforce, while Black and Hispanic women account for just 3% and 2%, respectively. And the story is the same in the UK. A recent tech industry report revealed that 77% of tech director roles are filled by men and just 26% of the tech workforce are women. Recruiters can help encourage more women into these roles by creating job postings using gender-neutral language to attract a more diverse pool of candidates. Other techniques such as blind recruitment where information that could identify individuals’ gender and ethnicity is removed during the initial screening process, is a good way to mitigate unconscious bias.

Helping to beat imposter syndrome

Once hired, women often face feelings of isolation, especially in male-dominated tech environments. They can experience high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, lowered self-esteem, and self-sabotaging behaviours stemming from feelings of ‘imposter syndrome’.

These women face a variety of challenges from normalised sexual harassment to the societal expectations and beliefs that question women’s leadership and managerial abilities. This can lead to pervasive stereotypes, where women end up taking on ‘office housework’ or menial roles that male peers would never feel obliged to do.

There are ways that HR can counter this and help women build their confidence in the workplace. Unfortunately, instances of gender-based discrimination and harassment still occur in the tech industry therefore HR has a duty of care and establish clear reporting channels for any unacceptable behaviours, ensuring that any claims are investigated promptly and impartially. Taking a zero-tolerance for harassment stance provides women with the confidence that their workplace is a truly inclusive environment where they can thrive.

Designing onboarding programmes that encompass mentoring opportunities or affinity groups can be incredibly supportive for women and can foster a sense of belonging for new and existing employees. Similarly, creating learning and development (L&D) courses that can plug the skills gap is another tool that HR can put in place to help women ease into new employment while addressing continuous learning requirements. This can empower women to excel in their roles.

A focus on flexible working

Since women are typically the predominant caregivers in families, taking time off to care for loved ones in industries commonly lacking paid sick leave, can mean they are looked on unfavourably. That makes balancing career advancement with personal responsibilities a common challenge for women.
A report by Tech Talent Charter found that nearly 40% of women agreed that caring commitments influenced their decision to leave their tech job, however, companies that accommodate flexible and remote working practices see a significantly higher retention rate.

HR can champion remote work options, flexible hours, and parental leave policies to accommodate diverse needs. By promoting work-life balance, organisations not only attract top female talent but also retain them in the long run.

Promoting Diversity in Leadership

HR representation matters, especially in leadership positions. Good people professionals should be actively advocating for gender diversity across the organisation, especially within underrepresented areas like leadership. One way is by implementing succession planning programmes that identify and nurture high-potential female talent. Senior leaders can also help to foster a culture of sponsorship by supporting their female colleagues in their career journeys. This is a great way to erode the barriers to leadership positions and normalise executive advancement routes for women.

HR can facilitate the creation of strong professional networks via networking events, conferences and industry panels, showcasing the achievements of women in tech and providing opportunities for mentorship and collaboration. Having strong identifiable female role models within the leadership in an organisation – and using internal comms to inspire others, can help women pursue leadership positions.

Performance management, feedback and appraisal

Being fully aware of the state of play for women in organisations is one of the priorities for HR in tech organisations. This means ensuring fair and constructive performance management practices. Using HR software to facilitate objective performance evaluations via data metrics and feedback mechanisms promotes fairness. This can encompass regular check-ins between managers and employees to allow for open dialogue and provide support for women in their company. This also means undertaking regular reviews of the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion initiatives and adjusting as needed.