Worker priorities have been changing rapidly over the last few years, and it’s become particularly evident in the already fast-moving tech, IT, and cybersecurity sector. This goes double for women in the field, who have been facing unique challenges as they pursue better representation and career advancement. To continue attracting and retaining top talent in a particularly competitive market, it’s important to understand some of the top priorities for women in the workplace today.
Addressing Gender Bias
IT, cybersecurity, and other STEM fields have a long-standing reputation as a bit of a “boys’ club,” and while deliberate progress is being made, there’s still a long way to go. While the percentage of women in the U.S. workforce overall has grown to approximately 47%, tech lags behind. Across the five biggest tech companies, the percentage of women is only 34.4%, and the rest of the industry has similar numbers.
Women also are dealing with significant issues of bias as they seek to build their careers in tech and related fields:
- 66% of women in STEM report having no clear path forward at their current companies.
- 48% of women in STEM report discrimination in recruiting and hiring.
- 39% of women in STEM feel that their gender is a main reason they are not offered promotions.
It should come as no surprise that addressing ongoing gender bias and its ripple effects is a top concern for women in the current tech workforce. Hiring is wildly competitive in the tech sector, and companies that commit to addressing DEI concerns (including issues of gender, race, sexuality, and disability) will find themselves with a notable advantage. Some may brush off concerns about gender bias as a “women’s issue,” but failing to appropriately recruit, utilize, and develop talent is actually an “everyone issue.”
According to Gartner, 47% of HR leaders are prioritizing employee experience in 2023, including a renewed push for better career development options. It couldn’t come at a better moment, particularly for a tech world beset by layoffs and fast-moving trends. IT and cybersecurity are facing regular market pressures, plus a looming skills shortage, with the number of unfilled positions growing around 350% between 2013 and 2021. In this environment, organizations must commit to having clear career paths and developing talent for the long term – and that is particularly relevant for women looking to advance.
Despite high-profile initiatives from big names in tech, women are still experiencing extra hurdles en route to leadership roles. An annual study from McKinsey and LeanIn revealed the many challenges facing women with leadership aspirations
- 41% of women of color say they want to be top executives, compared with 27% of White women.
- Women are underrepresented at first-step management roles, which in turn narrows the pipeline for higher leadership. For every 100 men who are promoted to manager positions, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of color are promoted, creating a pipeline problem at higher levels.
- Women in leadership are leaving their companies at a rate of 10.5%, the highest level in years.
- Women are more likely to have colleagues imply they are unqualified for their roles and/or be mistaken for someone junior.
- These factors are exacerbated for women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities, all of whom report increased instances of microaggressions, demeaning behavior towards them, and a lack of support for their advancement.
For women in tech roles, issues of career development tend to intersect with historic biases in the field. Addressing one cannot happen without addressing the other, and women will be prioritizing companies that have taken strong actions on the entire, interconnected “network” of concerns. Whether recruiting for mid-level roles or higher-level leaders, the same holds true: a cultural transformation may be necessary to ensure that women are given adequate support, mentorship, and opportunities.
The tech world has long been at the forefront of now-popular perks like flexible and remote work. Now more than ever, though, mere work-from-home arrangements aren’t enough to remain competitive, especially when it comes to the new concerns these arrangements can raise for women.
On a basic level, more remote work is a widely popular and beneficial choice. One Gallup survey found that around 60% of remote-capable employees would prefer a long-term hybrid work arrangement, rather than returning to the office full-time. Many women also report that hybrid work arrangements reduce instances of microaggressions they face, particularly for women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities, and 71% of HR leaders report that remote work has helped their organizations diversify.
However, remote work is not without its own challenges: it can reduce feelings of team cohesion and exacerbate existing issues, such as a lack of recognition for women’s work and achievements. This is why flexibility, not just a plain remote arrangement, is key. Women with the flexibility to work how they want are 20 points more likely to be happy with their jobs (81% versus 61% of those without control over their work arrangements) and feel like they have equal opportunities (67% versus 47%).
IT and cybersecurity roles are in high demand right now, but no level of “perks” and high pay can make up for a workplace culture that fails to be welcoming and supportive, both in the long and short term. Addressing key concerns among women in the workforce can improve culture overall, transforming companies into truly forward-thinking leaders in the world at large.
By Daniel Midoneck