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How to retain female talent in technology

What she really wants – according to gender-based researches and my perspective as a woman in technology

As an advocate for women in technology and being a woman in technology myself, I have been approached a few times by companies and leaders on ideas and best practices for retaining and promoting female talent in the industry. Yes, I have also been asked about attracting them and how to create a healthy pipeline of female talent, but that deserves a separate article so I will be focusing on retaining and promoting female talent in this article.

In my opinion, most women want the same things, regardless of the industry that they are in. I spoke to a friend of mine who works in Human Resources (HR). HR is well-known for having the most female talent. She wants the same things as I want, but she said she doesn’t have many difficulties in getting what she wants to thrive in her career. Then, why do many women in technology say they face a lot of setbacks and struggles to grow their career and stay in the workforce, happy and motivated?

When I thought about it more, I came up with a possible reason. It is probably because there are not many women in technology; when we are making requests, talking about what we need or being heard, we have to work harder because we are not the norm, we don’t represent the majority of the workforce, and we are often seen as wanting different things than what most our colleagues, who are male, would want. There is also harsh expectations and standards imposed on us by society. A classic example of a double standard is when a female is being assertive, she is called bossy and when a male is being assertive, he is considered to be a leader.

Many technology leaders and companies don’t know how to accommodate and handle issues and requests from female employees simply because they don’t experience them often.

Today, I’d like to share with you 6 things that will make a difference in retaining and promoting female talent. And I can say this with absolute confidence because I am backed by gender-based researches, my personal experience as a woman in technology, a working mother and being a manager and mentor of female talent in the industry.

Inspired by Male Allies Bingo Card, I will also include a question at the end of each heading to make you think about what you can do at your company to make a difference.

1. Flexibility

According to a comprehensive research done by The Wall Street Journal on How Men & Women See the Workplace Differently, 36% of women said they do more work at home, as opposed to 7% of men who said they do more. On the flip side, 7% of women said they do less at home, and 30% of men said they do less.

What this statistics says is that if something comes up at home or with her family, she is more likely to drop her work and go home to sort it out, unless she is 7% of the women population whose partners do more at home. This statistics aligns with the reason why there are fewer women at the top.

Here is my personal experience — I often see a lot more mums than dads helping out and being present at my daughter’s school events. I can also say this for sure, my family is the most important to me and I am more than happy to show my commitment to my family by putting it at the top of my priority list and being available for them at any time. Even for someone who is known for being career-driven and motivated, I will choose flexibility over a promotion or a higher pay or a more interesting role if I had to make a choice.

Question: Does your company provide flexible hours and an option to work from home if necessary?

2. Access to senior management

From the same research, it was revealed that more men than women say they interact with senior leaders about their work at least once a week. In all levels of their careers, from entry, to mid all the way to senior level.

For a woman, access to senior management means access to valuable insights and an opportunity to talk about her work and get feedback on it. It also increases visibility and opens up opportunities that she may not have if she is just putting her heads down and working hard. Unfortunately, access to leadership and informal mentorship are not happening quite often enough for her.

For me, I really noticed what this access to senior management did to my career when I became a manager from an individual contributor. When I was an individual contributor, I had great ideas and capabilities too, but because I was never asked and I felt like senior management would not be interested in what I had to offer, I just kept my heads down and did a good job at my role but nothing else. There was no avenue for me to share my thoughts and ideas with senior management — but if I did, I could have contributed a lot more to the business or stayed longer at certain organisations. My average tenure at any place of employment early in my career was 2 years.

Question: Does your company have a mentor-mentee program that actively helps female employees find suitable mentors?

3. Recognition

According to the study, Gender based differences in compliment and compliment response behaviour in American talk show “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, it was found that females (18.9%) give more Explicit Compliment than males (3.3%) do.

And this means she expects the same when she is at the other end; a thoughtful compliment, praise or recognition instead of a generic one will go a long way for her.

Regular recognition and praise means her work is being recognised, and when they are specific and not a general comment like “You’re doing well!” or “Fantastic work!”, it means the other person has really noticed and appreciates the value that she brings to the organisation.

She also sees promotion as a recognition and acknowledgment of her work instead of fast-tracking her career and getting a corner office. In general, the feeling of being valued is more important to her than the feeling of winning.

And last but not least, she tends to deflect/evade positive comment from others but this does not mean she doesn’t need nor want them. So if you are a manager of a female employee, don’t take this the wrong way and keep giving on thoughtful compliment, praise and recognition and you’ll have an engaged and happy employee.

I used to think recognition didn’t matter to me; I was always driven by my own internal desires, to do well, to be good, and to be at service of others. However, I only realised the effect of recognition at one point in my career when I wasn’t being recognised. Yes, I was still as driven as before, but I was starting to doubt if my work was making any impact anymore and as a result, I started looking elsewhere, where my work would be valued.

Question: Does your company have an inclusive recognition system that is well thought of?

4. Purpose

The women we spoke to took great pleasure in the quality of their work, whether that meant pride in the elegance and clarity of a piece of research or reorganising an administrative system in a way that actively contributed to the effectiveness of a department.

Women take great pride in their work, and this is not to say men don’t, but the source of pride can be quite different between men and women.

For a woman, when she understands how her work is making a positive impact to others, be it community, customers, other people in the organisation or her team, she is more motivated to stay in the workforce and even at the same workplace. According to studies, she is often driven by her purpose instead of external factors such as fame and money.

When I started looking for a job after my maternity break, I looked for places with a clear purpose, because if I had to leave a few-months-old baby at a daycare to go to work, it better be a purposeful one! Especially in technology industry where good female talent are far and few and every company would like to employ us, we have a lot of choices.

Question: Does your company have a purpose and do all employees especially senior management live and breathe that purpose everyday?

5. Support network

Women need a support network at work, one she can count on and be herself without being judged. She is not very good at just reaching out to people and forming her own network because she is often not as vocal.

She wants to succeed but she doesn’t want to be seen in a negative light by asking for what she needs and wants, being rational, achievement-oriented or ambitious as opposed to how women are stereotypically meant to behave, friendly, sensitive and appreciative.

She is relationship focused with strong interpersonal skills and collaboration skills and having a support network where she can leverage these skills will really help her shine.

I have always worked with male colleagues and I have no problem communicating with my male counterparts. When I started participating in female oriented groups, both at work and in the community, such as Girls Geek Sydney, I noticed the differences in how male and female approach different issues and communicate with each other. This should be no surprise as men and women differ psychologically, and my only advice is to reach and influence women, empathise with and think like us.

Question: Does your company have internal initiatives or groups especially for female employees?

6. Coaching

I once spoke to a male colleague at work who joking said, “Isabel, tell me what you see above my head,”,and when I said nothing, he went, “Did you not see the same glass ceiling that you saw above your own head?

It is true that women have a lot of limiting beliefs and perceived barriers. One of the main barriers or beliefs that has a negative impact on having a gender equality in workplace is that she doesn’t realise that she can have both — family & career. She is worried that if she gets promoted to a senior role, she will be expected to work longer hours and she might not be able to with her family as much. The same worry exists for getting paid more, and this is one reason why there is a gender pay gap. She fears that she won’t be able to juggle both and become a disappointment to either her work or her family.

Question: Does your company provide coaching workshops or sessions where female employees can talk about their worries and concerns openly and then provide frameworks, tools and action plans to break those limiting beliefs and perceived barriers?

References:

Stock photos from pexels.com

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