Women in IT roles are 45 percent more likely than men to leave in their first year, according to a 2014 US study. The study found that retention was a problem after the first year as well. Potential issues beyond pay and promotion include a hostile or sexist ‘bro-grammar’ culture, as well as workplace policies not suited to women, such as marathon coding sessions, expectations around not having children, and lack of childcare.
In my travels and conversations with women in IT I see this as one of the most challenging concerns that few are focused on. We continue to talk about small numbers of women choosing IT related fields in college and the unconscious bias that impacts the low numbers of women being recruited and promoted, but what about the women already in the field?
How are we ensuring that women in technology positions continue to feel valued, respected and worthy of leadership positions? It is one thing to recruit and engage women in IT related roles, but how long do they last?
Kieran Snyder talks about the importance of retaining women in IT in the article Why Women Leave Tech Culture. Kieran talked to over 700 women who had left the tech field to learn more about why they left.
One-hundred-ninety-two women cited discomfort working in environments that felt overtly or implicitly discriminatory as a primary factor in their decision to leave tech. That’s just over a quarter of the women surveyed. Several of them mention discrimination related to their age, race, or sexuality in addition to gender and motherhood.
There is a common theme throughout her article of women who do not feel valued, feel alone in terms of being the only woman and/or do not see opportunities for growth in their career. When these women leave a tech position, they don’t seek another opportunity with a different tech company, they leave the industry altogether.
Kieran goes on to say this:
Women are leaving tech because they’re unhappy with the work environment, not because they have lost interest in the work.
As cultural issues go, this is an incredibly expensive problem. Like my friend Sandhya, these women are educated, highly trained, and weren’t planning to quit. We’re losing them anyway. And once we’ve lost them, we almost never get them back.
The number of girls and women interested in STEM related field at the onset of their education and career are growing, however, once employed a new challenge arises; the ability to retain them.
As Kieran says, this is an expensive problem and one in which I hope business leaders begin to focus.
We need to first recognize the challenge and then begin to put programs in place to address the concerns women in tech express. I believe a great place to start is a mentorship program. Women who can connect with other women who have laid the groundwork for success is a great way for women to feel included.
JJ DiGeronimo, a speaker, author and thought-leader for Women in Tech and Girls and STEM, empowers professional women and consults with senior executives on strategies to retain and attract Women in Technology to increase thought and leadership diversity within organizations.
Check out JJ’s new book Accelerate Your Impact by downloading three free chapters.