The demand for digital talent is currently very high and growing rapidly, so much so that companies are embarking on a desperate race to recruit the best talent. However, they are missing a great opportunity by not reaching women more effectively. Women make up 36% of university graduates in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, but they represent only 25% of the STEM workforce and only 9% of the leadership profiles in companies that recruit STEM profiles.
Adding more women to the digital workforce will do more than just meet a growing need for talent. BCG’s research has shown that there are real benefits, both operational and financial, in building more gender-balanced teams and leadership teams. Companies where women are equally represented are more innovative, and women working in them have higher levels of commitment.
As part of Boston Consulting Group’s research, reflected in the article Winning the Race for Women in Digital, a framework for analysing gender diversity issues has been developed that looks at different stages of career paths: recruitment, retention, promotion and representation of women in leadership positions. These four stages are interrelated: companies are unlikely to hire more women for digital roles if they cannot retain and promote those already in the organisation. Furthermore, it will be more difficult to retain talent if there are no female roles in leadership positions within companies. Therefore, companies need an approach that addresses all four stages, starting with a clear statement of intent that gender diversity is a priority.
The good news is that digital technology is at a turning point in terms of growth, which means there is time for companies to catch up. Companies that actively seek out the right talent and launch specific initiatives to attract those candidates will improve the company’s talent pool. And those that succeed in keeping and promoting women to higher positions will truly win the race for digital talent.
WOMEN, CRUCIAL IN DIGITAL
Digitisation is transforming businesses in all industries, and companies are investing heavily to implement new systems and tools. However, talent remains a limiting factor for many organizations. The US Department of Labor estimates that there will be more than 1.1 million technology-related job openings in the US by 2024, but more than two-thirds of these positions could become vacant given the insufficient number of university graduates with industry-related degrees.
Women could help meet this demand, but cultural and social influences have kept them away from STEM-related jobs in the past. Since the group of women graduates is smaller in this area, it is not surprising that they are under-represented in enterprises.
Some of the women who have the necessary education often choose to work outside traditional companies. Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau, CEO and editor of the MIT Technology Review, says: “Even when women graduate with a technology-related degree, they are more likely to engage in research or apply their skills to a personal project.
In addition, women who are hired by companies often don’t stay. They are few in number and have no role models in companies, so they often feel isolated. For this reason, simply focusing on recruiting does not work.
“Many large technology companies focus on diversity in hiring women, but once they’re in the company, the culture still sets in for men in a privileged way,” says Ryan Clarke, director of research and evaluation for Girls Who Code, an organization that teaches programming to school girls. Cultures are difficult to change, he says, and have a disproportionate impact because they not only affect current employees, but also affect the company’s reputation with potential candidates. Women who hear about these corporate cultures simply choose to go out and look for work elsewhere.
In essence, all companies will soon be technology companies, there is a greater variety of end products and services that incorporate the digital, which means that women have a vital perspective to offer. Companies need programmers and designers who think about the different types of offers, from online shopping to the development of websites and mobile applications for personalised medical care. Companies also need diverse perspectives on how to channel and use artificial intelligence and the vast amount of data in a fair and equitable way, rather than simply perpetuating existing biases.
HOW TO WIN: ADDRESSING THE EMPLOYEE CYCLE COMPREHENSIVELY
For companies to win the competition for women in digital format, they must not only recruit more effectively, but also address the entire life cycle of employees, including retention and promotion.
Firstly, companies must ensure that they are looking for as many talented women as possible.
- Identify potential candidates. There are not enough women studying STEM-related subjects, but at the very least, companies should try to reach as many women as possible in that category.
To that end, companies create advertising and marketing campaigns with the message that they are actively seeking candidates. LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media platforms are valuable tools for launching more targeted outreach. There is a strong networking effect among women millennials in technology. “When you find one, you find many, because they all follow each other on social networks,” says Bramson-Boudreau of MIT Technology Review. Companies can also target schools or women-only organizations. When using head-hunters for positions, short lists of candidates are required to include equal proportions of men and women.
Companies that cannot find enough qualified women candidates can expand the pool by offering training programmes on the skills they need. For example, the craft site Etsy could not find enough programming candidates through the traditional channels, so it launched a 12-week program with free courses on open source software and coding. The company ended up hiring more than a third of the first group of attendees.
On a broader scale, they may become advocates for attracting more school girls to STEM programmes, and possibly even sponsor or fund such programmes.
- Rethink the candidate events. In addition to organising traditional work forums, companies should organise recruiting events focused on women. These can be informal, low-profile events, where participants are encouraged to bring a friend (research shows that because there are so few women in the science and technology fields, many feel isolated and do not have strong professional networks).
- Consider candidates from non-STEM and STEM-related fields Taking advantage of the networks of alumni from the best engineering and computer science programmes is essential. But companies should also consider women in adjacent fields at the college level who have similar skills and the ability to learn the more difficult digital and analytical skills. When performing a recruiting function focused on women already in the workforce, companies should not ignore individuals who may have a technical background on site but are currently working in adjacent fields. For example, female entrepreneurs who founded new technology companies may not have done any real software coding, but they know how to manage projects and talent in that field, which makes them attractive for recruitment.
- Make fair job offers. A central challenge in gender diversity is that many women still do not receive the same salary as men in an equivalent role, and the technology field is no different. A 2017 study of 120,000 job offers by Hired, a technology job portal, indicates that two-thirds of the job offers for women have lower salary levels than those for men, for the same position in the same company. Another study found that women in technology positions receive wages that are between 18% and 22% lower than those of men. This represents a problem, but also an opportunity: by ensuring that salary levels are fair (for existing positions and in particular for new recruits) companies can differentiate themselves and be more attractive to female candidates.
- Use technology to eliminate bias. The majority of managers making recruitment decisions for digital and analytical jobs are men. Research shows that virtually all people are victims of unconscious biases that favour job applicants who share their backgrounds, which means that qualified women may go unnoticed.
To fight this trend, there is software that helps eliminate bias in job offers. Examine candidates by looking at resumes where names and other identifying details have been removed so that all candidates can be evaluated based on merit alone. Conduct first-round interviews using IA software AND use game-playing, asking candidates to play a number of neuroscience-related games and applying the results through Deep Learning algorithms for candidates to apply to the offers.
Retention and promotion
All recruiting initiatives around the world will not help if companies cannot support women once they are hired. Consequently, once women are in the company, leaders must implement appropriate measures to retain them and give them the same fair opportunity for promotion as men. These measures must be based on data. In particular, companies should focus on the following initiatives.
- Establish female leadership roles. It is important to show women leaders in the company at every opportunity. Intel has used this approach successfully. The company has set a target of 40% of all new hires being women or minorities by 2015. To support this programme, the company organised events where women or those already in Intel could meet with recruits of their own gender or race and hire them on site. The company achieved its goal within one year; 43% of new recruits in 2016 were women or minorities. Female role models are even more critical in leadership roles, says MIT Technology Review’s Bramson-Boudreau, “At this point, it’s a little embarrassing to have a leadership team made up exclusively of men.
- Promoted talent. Sponsorship of senior-profile men and women is effective in supporting mid-level women to develop a career in which they are promoted within a company, rather than simply taking a job there. Sponsors often offer career counselling to help high-potential women navigate career turning points and push for promotion and key tasks. In particular, this sponsorship should be seen as an opportunity for both men and women.
- Job flexibility. One clear measure to create an inclusive culture is flexible working arrangements. In research carried out by BCG and other organisations, women consistently rank flexible working among the most effective measures in terms of increasing gender diversity and increasing retention. Fifty-eight per cent of women workers cited flexibility as the most effective intervention to increase gender diversity in all industries worldwide. In addition, flexible work is aligned with the spirit of technological roles, whose employees are generally young people who do not have standard hours and do not worry about outdated concepts such as “expensive time”.
- Removing the affinity gap.As in recruitment, bias is present in key decisions and promotion points. Affinity bias in a predominantly male culture will naturally favour men at key moments: decisions about who should be promoted, who should attend key meetings, who should have the opportunity to lead high-demand projects. Companies must ensure that metrics are used at every decision point and that decision-making panels are diverse.
The challenges facing women at work are discussed more openly than in the past. At the same time, technology is prevailing in all industries. These two aspects are creating an imperative for companies to hire more women in digital roles and create the kind of equitable corporate culture that will allow women to prosper and move forward.