I am a Comp Sci drop out. There I said it. I’ve come clean. However, despite my own broken rung, I still became a female founder in one of our industry’s most technical areas – cybersecurity. So, as I think about all the other experiences and support that led me to an enterprise software and an eventual cybersecurity career here on International Women’s Day, I can’t help but think about all the girls and women that don’t have that.
And it turns out the UN has been contemplating that as well. For this year’s International Women’s Day theme, the UN has proclaimed it “DigitALL: Innovation & Technology for Gender Equality” because they recognize that the broken rung in technology isn’t just a social issue, but an economic issue as the exclusion of women has caused a loss of $1 trillion from the GDP of low- and middle-income countries in the last decade—a loss projected to grow to $1.5 trillion by 2025
It’s easy to understand how that happens especially looking in our own backyard of Massachusetts, which has the highest national concentration of tech sector jobs at 12% of all jobs accounting for 44% of all MA payroll, and an average salary of $111,348 – almost twice that of the overall state average. And we might think we’re crushing it when 38% of tech jobs are held by women versus the national average of 26%, but when women hold 49% of all jobs, Millennials and Gen Z are participating in the technology workforce at a lower rate, AND 38% of women are planning to leave tech by 2024, combined with 143,000 tech workers expected to retire in MA by 2027, we’re about to see first hand how the absence of women in the technology workforce has a quantifiable impact.
So how can tech become a DigitALL workforce – not just today, but as part of our daily operating models?
- Mentor early and often
At Wabbi, we like to work with StemMATCH to create career days with our team. The team there has taught us how to make technology interesting, accessible, and aspirational to even the wildest of 3rd graders. And while that helps to fix the top of the funnel, with almost half of the women that do go into tech leaving their role before 35, we need to eliminate the broken rungs by mentoring women throughout their career. Organizations like Massachusetts’s own The Women’s Edge or MassTLC’s Board Ready Bootcamp make it easy to connect women to these opportunities.
- Change how you recruit
We agree with Billy, Joan, Ozzy, Paul, & Gary – stop calling employees rockstars! While the study is from 2014, unfortunately the data remains true as women need to feel 100% confidence to apply for a job, vs. men who will apply at about 60%. So unless you are actually looking to hire a rockstar or a ninja, do not think these words are actually going to attract top talent. The true corporate rockstars will never call themselves that. Instead, use outcome-based requirements like “able to keep calm and on course even in hectic situations.”
Who do you think is going to be able to keep the wheels on in a stressful situation: somebody that self-identifies as a rockstar or maybe an ex-military Mom with 3 kids? (If you want to know our answer, just check out our Chief of Staff).
- Talk about it
We are in the era of the #girlboss, #girldad, #girlfailure, and so forth where people are actively putting themselves out in the social arena to talk about equity, yet the dialogue isn’t happening where it needs to the most: our workplaces and homes.
We cannot come up with a solution unless we understand the problem. Massachuestts’s proposed legislation focuses on metrics reporting, and while as a female founder I appreciate any effort to level the playing field, reporting requirements doesn’t get to the root cause – implicit bias. Until we understand both sides, we’ll be stuck in Groundhog Day trying to solve this. Talk to your friends, your family, your employees and employers. Share your perspective and understand theirs. And this is not a conversation that can happen just once a year because it’s International Women’s Day.
As we celebrate another year’s progress, it is just as important is to recognize the mountains left to climb (and sometimes, the regression) and know that as women in technology, this is what we think about every day. Yet, for all the bad days and experiences, I always (try) to remember the multitude of good ones that led me here: an awesome tech #girldad (before it was a thing), amazing male and female mentors, and people that respected and celebrated me for me. So, I ask of you this International Women’s Day to take one of your experiences that made you who you are today and find a girl or a woman for whom you can do that.
Brittany Greenfield is Founder and CEO at Wabbi.