Why tech leaders must hold the ladder for women

Written by Leigh Smyth, Founder & CEO, Impact Match

I find it so sad that the very same week I planned to celebrate women in tech with the 2024 International Women in Engineering Day, the CEO of TechTalent, Debbie Forster, for good reason, announced the closing of Tech Talent Charter. 

With progress plateauing, in some cases even reversing, and a reported gender pay gap in tech that could take 300 years to fix, how do we move forward?

In tech, women’s journey to the top is often challenging, requiring not only hard work and talent but also support from those already in positions of power. Yet, a troubling trend persists and I hear it myself through our work, where individuals, once they have climbed the ladder of success, often pull it up behind them, preventing others from following. 

This behaviour undermines the collective progress and stifles potential talent.

Here are some of the latest numbers.

The number of women working in engineering and tech has dropped by 38,000 – from 16.5% of the 2022 workforce to 15.7% of the 2023 workforce. In contrast, women made up 56.1% of all other occupations combined. The decrease in the number of women in engineering and tech is largely due to a loss of 66,000 women aged 35 to 64, highlighting retention issues in this age group.2

The TechTalent Charter’s final Diversity in Tech 2023 report, indicated that 1 in 3 women in tech were planning to leave their current jobs. 

The report also revealed that diversity and inclusion strategies are becoming increasingly insular with initiatives being sidelined to focus on other business goals. D&I budgets are being squeezed – and in some cases, cut entirely – whilst the demands of those in D&I roles are constantly expanding to include non-related work.

The British Computer Society has warned that, without intervention, it could take nearly 300 years to close the gender pay gap in tech.

For me this is a wake up call to re-energise our efforts to improve gender diversity in tech and achieve faster progress.

I believe that one key way to boost retention and create more opportunities for women in engineering is for leaders to hire people ‘better’ than you. To clarify, this does not necessarily mean those who you believe could do your job right now, but instead hiring those who possess skills in areas you don’t and to increase your team’s diversity. 

As a leader, it is not your job to be ‘better’ than the rest of your team, in fact, it is the opposite. The best leaders surround themselves with the strongest and smartest they can find. Employees greater expertise and specialised knowledge will not only help business progression but your individual growth. 

These colleagues are a fountain of knowledge, and a good diversity of perspectives can support your continuous learning. They can open your eyes to new approaches and ways of thinking that you would not have been exposed to otherwise. 

Also, In terms of retention, your reliance and appreciation of them as team members allows individuals to feel heard, appreciated and feel they are making a substantial difference in the company. As Steve Jobs said It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

An environment where employees are encouraged to challenge and learn from each other appeals to women in my opinion and will be a key element of the push for greater workplace equality and inclusiveness. 

On top of this good leadership practice, all the evidence clearly shows that organisations with higher gender, socio-economic, disability and ethnic diversity consistently outperform their competitors. 

These orgainsations better reflect social diversity, reach a wider range of potential customers, and incorporate a broader spectrum of perspectives into their strategy and decision making. Inviting more people to the table and ensuring their voices are heard benefits everyone.

If there are so many benefits, then why don’t more employers look to hire ‘better’ and more women? As Cameron Jacox argued in Forbes, the reason is likely rooted in millions of years of evolution. Humans have been programmed to resist threats and protect their own means of survival, in this case their jobs. 

The fear that opening your company’s eyes to the strength of the talent pool will lead to your replacement is very common. For if a new hire could do your job, why would the company keep you? It is perhaps worth remembering that only in a toxic and dishonest organisation would a well-intentioned hire lead to your replacement? 

In a merit-based, capitalist society, self preservation often requires less “defence” and more “offence”? Leaders need to out-compete and innovate rather than simply defend their own position and this alone is a good reason to diversify your team given the evidence. 

In reality, the chances are that hiring smart, diverse and hardworking people will only be a credit to you if you are in the right company – a reflection of your good judgment so please go for it and remind others you work with to lift as you climb.

So support me in highlighting the current worrying trend for D&I initiatives and join me in encouraging leaders to do the right thing for sound business reasons.

Originally posted here

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