It takes a community to promote women in technology
It may take a village to raise a girl, but it takes a community to retain and promote women in technology. The recent focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programmes for girls, is starting to reverse the downward trend of girls studying STEM subjects. But what happens when these women enter the technology job market?
In my experience, they don’t stay for long. When I joined one of the largest international management consultancy firms the graduate intake was a 50/50 gender split. That ratio has dropped by 10% every 4-5 years I stay in the field. I didn’t notice it happening, but one day I looked up and there were no women in front of me. Sadly, my experience isn’t unique – according to the Harvard Business Review  41% of women entering technology careers leave the field (compared with 17% of men).
Time and time again, it is shown that diverse teams are higher performing teams. When women leave technology careers, they take their views and invaluable experience out of the industry. One of the ways of reversing this trend is to create a strong supportive community for women in technology.
Research shows that women prefer collaborative work environments over highly competitive ones. These are generalisations, but women have a lifetime of conditioning to not be seen as overly assertive or demanding. On top of that, there is a well-documented confidence gap that shows women do not put themselves forward for promotion as frequently as their male counterparts. Small changes to the culture and dynamics of your teams can make a big difference keeping women supported, challenged, and contributing to their maximum potential.
Women’s networks, whether internal or external to your company, are a great resource for community and networking. I have been heavily involved with the Girls in Technology Mentoring Programme, which has provided a great community and a supportive environment to encourage everyone to push beyond their comfort zone. The mentors have been generous with sharing their time and experience, and watching the changes in the mentee’s careers over the last six months has been truly inspirational. Off the back of the successes with Girls in Technology, we have started a women’s network focused on Women in Tech Consulting, and are looking forward to hosting events throughout the year.
If women leave work, whether be it for a short or long time, they should be made welcome when they want to return. Return to Work programmes should address the broadest set of needs to make the return as straightforward as possible. DMW has pioneered a Return to Work Programme in technology consulting firms and many are choosing to follow. Activities like this will help to encourage continued diversity in the work place throughout all ages.
If tech culture is going to change to help retain and promote more women, every one of us needs to play our diverse role.
 Harvard Business Review – Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering and Technology http://documents.library.nsf.gov/edocs/HD6060-.A84-2008-PDF-Athena-factor-Reversing-the-brain-drain-in-science,-engineering,-and-technology.pdf