It’s conference season and at Ultimate Software, we are excited that preparations for our participation in the HR Technology Conference & Expo and the Grace Hopper Celebration—the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, produced by AnitaB.org—are in full swing. I am honored to be part of the Women in Technology track at HR Tech again this year, and to be working with so many dedicated women and men who are committed to elevating the role of women in tech. All this activity gives me an opportunity to share some thoughts on the state of women in technology in a broader context. Being a woman in today’s male-dominated technology industry (with persistently inequitable salaries, limited leadership opportunities, and all-too-frequent harassment) can be an exhausting challenge. I find myself reflecting on how women come to be leaders in their organizations—and on the barriers that keep them from doing so. Despite many of my peers in the tech sector sharing our stories and readily offering sponsorship and advice to other women through informal and more formal programs like Ultimate Software’s Women in Leadership program, we have work to do.
The statistics on this subject paint a vivid—and troubling—picture of these barriers. While women make up 46.8 percent of the American workforce, fewer than five percent of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. According to McKinsey & Company, women are 18 percent less likely than men to get promoted to management positions. This percentage drops even further for women of color and women in tech: as of 2015, the proportions of Black and Latina women in computing occupations were 3 and 1 percent, respectively.
Even though these numbers have been widely circulated in HR circles, I continue to come across corporate annual reports that feature a variety of diverse employees on the cover page. The subtext of this imagery, inferring that the organization behind the report champions diversity and inclusion, could not be more clearly at odds with the difficult reality the above statistics reveal. How do the distressing stories and statistics on women in tech (and in business as a whole) keep coming at a fever pace, when virtually every company today claims D&I as an important issue or initiative?
Interestingly, many companies appear to be downplaying their D&I initiatives of late, according to a recent report by software provider Atlassian. The report chalks up the backpedaling to what it calls ‘diversity fatigue’. A key factor in this inactivity is an over-focus on increasing diversity statistics, instead of creating truly inclusive workplaces, the report concludes.
“People are tired of talking about diversity and inclusion, frustrated by talk not turning into impactful action, and overwhelmed by the number of issues to address and the scope of what must change,” the report states. “While respondents continue to say that they care about diversity and inclusion, action declined across the board.”
As a woman whose work involves helping companies design superior experiences for employees to achieve purposeful and productive jobs, I am committed to finding ways to break down the barriers that keep women from rising to the ranks of tech industry leadership. This task will not be easy, but I do have a few suggestions:
- An employer that offers competitive compensation packages and great benefits to all new employees, does not always have a truly diverse and inclusive work culture.
- Enviable diversity statistics are positive but don’t mean the company is also inclusive. Ask the recruitment officer for evidence of inclusion—real examples demonstrating that the contributions of all people are valued and that women and other under-represented groups are staying.
- Ask for promotion statistics across different job types and demographics. If they can’t offer up the goods when asked, proceed with caution.
Companies that hope to weaken the glass ceiling must make inclusion more than a priority, it must become the fabric of their business’ success. They must take bold action now to promote women and men of all ethnic and racial backgrounds at similar rates, ensure that incidences of discrimination are met with real consequences, and create simple and confidential processes to empower their people to report evidence of unfair treatment and harassment.
What’s in it for businesses that take these steps? That’s easy. They will become employers of choice, successful companies composed of workforces that are the envy of their competitors. They will foster within their organizations the sense of disarming comfort that I experienced when I first went to the Grace Hopper Celebration—and realized I was not a minority in the tech ranks. Now is the time for all companies to turn the statistics around and reap the benefits of truly diverse and inclusive leadership… because at the end of the day, putting all people first is the key to business success.