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How organizations can support women In Tech during the Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on the working population throughout the world. The pandemic has affected our health, our work, and people’s livelihood. Several people have lost jobs, reduced their incomes, had schools closed, shifted in work modalities to include remote working, faced immense pressure and anxiety. As much as people are facing the challenges that came up with the pandemic, the impact on women has been arduous especially those in Tech. There is evidence that women and minorities such as people of color have borne the brunt of the pandemic socially, mentally, and economically. However, while everyone was affected, the more significant impact has been on women. 

Improving Women In Tech Experiences During the Pandemic

As it is, women form the minority in the tech workplace. Furthermore, the number of women in leadership in the Tech industry has been decreasing over the last couple of years. Women face even harsher standards than their counterparts in the industry, as they often must prove themselves more guilt-laden when taking on company opportunities. A new report from Kaspersky (2021) reveals that even though companies are investing in gender diversity, male majority teams still prevail over female-majority teams. This is at a ratio of five to one. At the same time, 44% of women admitted that men progress in their careers at a higher rate than women. A report by TrustRadius (2021) a software review company, indicated that women are more likely to be laid off than men and that they face more barriers to promotion.  Additionally, the survey which was conducted for over 450 tech professionals of which 66% identified themselves as women, indicated that women in tech have to work harder to prove their worth and that gender inequality is still a major issue in the tech industry.

Remote working has been a determinant in the retention and attrition of women in Tech jobs. A lot of women have experienced work overload and therefore might be going through mental health issues and other challenges that came up as a result.  While the entire industry has been coerced into the new dynamic of remote working, women’s growth progression has slowed down due to reduced access to top management and hence limited opportunities. This brings to light the importance of support initiatives to promote women currently working in the industry. The pandemic can be a catalyst for a re-imagination of how organizations drive diversity and inclusion and help their employees flourish as much as possible. When they leave the workforce, the goals of gender and racial diversity take on a lower gear.

How have Women in Tech been affected?

The report by TrustRadius (2021) indicated that 57% of women in Tech feel burned out at work compared to 36% of men and are nearly twice as likely to lose their job during this pandemic. About 78% of women in Tech felt that they needed to work twice as hard as men to prove their worth. Even in our modern society, more women bear the more significant load of childcare. As it had been with school closures almost everywhere, this left a huge burden for the women to juggle between full-time work, housework, and childcare. Interestingly, more than 70% of fathers think they split work equally with their partners, but only 44% of mothers say the same. This is according to a 2021 Women in Workplace report by McKinsey (2021). Due to changing social conditions and balancing of work and family life, women have had challenges creating boundaries. Most of them have had to work long hours without any social interaction in some cases. Research shows that women mainly leave their careers if they feel that there has been a lack of support from their managers, lack of career growth opportunities, and the need for work-life balance.

The increased pressure to be seen as productive all the time, especially those working remotely, has led to burnout and anxiety. Many women tech workers reported being worried about being laid off or furloughed and being financially insecure. Due to these concerns, the number of reported mental health concerns has shot up. Women of color are less confident than white women about their promotion prospects—and that gap has increased by three times over the past year. 37% of women of color in Tech feel that racial bias is a barrier to promotion. (TrustRadius.com, n.d.).

A survey unraveled that women feel quite insecure about fitting in the male-dominated IT sector. Unfortunately, most women hardly make it to the managerial level as the societal norm has pushed them to a slowdown in progressing to top positions. Women are sparsely represented in senior management roles and are worse in the C-Suite level.  The ladder to the top level is nearly insurmountable in comparison to joining at an entry-level. Consequently, increasing the number of women in the tech space has been an uphill task for organizations. To cross this hurdle and make room for diversity and inclusion, organizations need to listen differently and curb obstacles to promoting women.

The pandemic changed the way people worked and hence putting greater pressure on the emphasis on upskilling and reskilling to adapt to new technology or strategies that will ensure business continuity. For several organizations, the learning burden was placed on employees as they were required to take time off their day-to-day activities to adopt new skills. According to a study on the impact of Women in the STEM workforce in the Asia Pacific (Australian Academy of Science, 2021), the workload increased due to the expectation from management to upskill and deliver content within a short period. Development and assessments were marked as a priority and urgent to ensure people are up to speed with the new technology so that they can adapt to the new way of working. With the rising expectations, women experienced the pressure to learn and at the same time support their families as well as perform their day-to-day obligations.

A platform for change?

Understanding the impacts of the pandemic is crucial and needed. A lot of people, regardless of their gender, have been affected. Over and above diversity issues, the pandemic is bringing to light what is happening out there and a platform to develop solutions for these challenges since it is impossible to craft development without understanding your current situation. It is crucial now more than ever that organizations take a grip on the issue of gender disparity in the workplace. Numerous studies have demonstrated the need for a balanced workforce even though many organizations strive to get here. As researchers try to understand the impact of the new workplace, it has been clear there has been a significant disparity. Covid-19 pandemic brought to light issues women in Tech had been struggling with for many years, but it is only now that these issues are recognized.

Way to improve the workplace experience for women 

Because these are exceptional times, organizations embrace strategies and initiatives to support women in tech to tackle inequities and barriers which have always existed at the workplace. Research has provided several methods to address the challenges that women are going through. Some tech organizations have taken on these steps in stride, whereas others have a long way to go.  The following three key themes point out to ways in supporting and retain women the especially during the pandemic.

Providing mentorship opportunities

Many women have felt that they would miss out on promotions after working in isolation for an extended time. Creating opportunities where senior management checks in with the employees will serve as mentorship sessions and open communication. Providing required tools such as seminar sponsorships and leadership training will equip the women to take on more high-ranking assignments. Reassessing the criteria used for performance reviews will lighten the burden on women who feel they must work to prove themselves continually. The requirements should be precise even before the review process begins. Female mentorship fosters career development opportunities development of skills that will get them into the promotion pipeline.  

Mentoring positively impacts employee experiences and engagements as employees can make a personal contribution and forge connections through networking. Consequently, create visibility and help establish a pathway for promotion. In the tech industry, inclusive mentoring and networking can open doors to new perspectives, a diverse range of people in tech who can offer career opportunities to these women.  Women who support each other are key in increasing diversity and equality in the tech industry. 

Flexible Work Schedules

An alternative to the traditional way of working is the introduction of work-from-home programs. Flexibility to take work hours that will suit female employees. Since women are the primary caregivers in most households, they may need to start their work later and carry on till the evening. Flexibility to work at a suitable time is highly dependent on the work policies and programs in the organizations. For women to be successful working from home, there is a need to plan their meetings by blocking time schedules when there is a need to attend childcare. If they need to take time off for other appointments, organizations should provide that accommodation. The benefit for organizations that value or introduce flexible workplace programs is that it helps increase job satisfaction and productivity. Nevertheless, HR should consider rolling out schedules that not only consider the employee's perspective but are also aligned to the needs of the workplace.

Organization’s Culture

Does the organization have a culture that encourages and inspires the career growth of women in tech?  By creating a culture of diverse leadership is key in including women in the workplace.  Bold leadership is defining culture and boundaries as it has an impact on the career growth and thriving of all employees in tech. 

Communication plays a significant role in an organization’s culture. As companies invest in diversity and inclusion, they build a positive image of supporting women in tech.  As an example, setting targets or metrics for diversity to encourage women in leadership positions. By publicly communicating this to the entire organization, it becomes a rule and not an exception. Reporting on the gender statistics annually facilitates accountability and ensures that the leadership is on track in demonstrating progress. A culture that considers individual employee challenges over sweeping stereotypes is inclusive and offers a conducive environment for women to thrive.

Creating a supportive and inclusive work culture in the tech sector means helping women reach their full potential at the workplace. This calls for rolling out initiatives to attract more women into the sector and making sure their progress. Such initiatives include health and wellness coaching, return to work support, support groups among others. By actively uplifting women at work, organizations will move a step closer to closing the gender gap in technology.

Measure the Perception gap

Companies are still losing talented women as they still do not understand what women want and need to be successful in the tech world. The absence of experience data to capture the plight of women becomes a challenge for organizations to find the root cause of the high attrition rate in the industry.  Consequently, assumptions are made on what it takes to retain women and these lead to the design of initiatives that have little to no impact on the retention or career progression of women in tech. Organizations should open channels to receive feedback from the employees without fear. This can be done via pulse surveys as a means of capturing feedback on employee experiences in the company. 

A positive culture that listens to employee concerns and feedback, encourages employees to be productive at work as they feel valued in the organization. Women leave if they feel that the company there are working for isn’t putting an effort to support their career advancement in the long term. The long-term commitment to their career growth encourages women to be loyal and facilitates commitment to the organization. It is still a long way ahead to see any significant changes, and it will take enormous dedication and effort to put these recommendations into practice. Building tomorrow’s female tech pipeline means reimagining their experiences today.

Author: Juliet Shambi

Bibliography

Australian Academy of Science. (2021, November 21st). Impact of COVID-19 on women in the STEM workforce | Asia-Pacific. Retrieved from Australina Academy of Science: https://www.science.org.au/supporting-science/diversity-and-inclusion/impact-covid-19-women-stem-workforce-asia-pacific

Elizabeth Sullivan-Hasson. (2021, March 8th). TrustRadius 2021 Women in Tech Report. Retrieved from TrustRadius: https://www.trustradius.com/buyer-blog/women-in-tech-report

Kaspererskky. (2021, February 21st ). Media Kaspersky Daily. Retrieved from Kaspersky.com: https://media.kasperskydaily.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/92/2021/02/15054851/Kaspersky-Women-in-tech-Report_UPD_Regional-Stories.pdf

Women in the Workplace 2020. (2021). Retrieved 16 October 2021, fromhttps://wiw-report.s3.amazonaws.com/Women_in_the_Workplace_2020.pdf

3 Ways the Pandemic has Impacted Women in Tech - Women in Technology. Retrieved 3 November 2021, from  https://www.womenintech.co.uk/3-ways-the-pandemic-has-impacted-women-in-tec

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