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Tech layoffs will hinder women in tech: What’s the solution?

Female employee laid off from her job carrying a cardboard box with her belongings

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Kevin Dainty, Founder of Reed’s Women in Technology Mentoring Programme and Helen Tinnelly, Founder and CEO of Propelelo explore how the technology industry can work to close the disparity between men and women, pushing for more women in senior tech roles and more female chief technology officers (CTOs).

AN ESTIMATED 45% OF THOSE WHO LOST THEIR JOBS IN THE RECENT WAVE OF LAYOFFS WERE WOMEN.

And while the dismissals split almost evenly across genders, women account for less than a third of tech workforce and occupy less than a quarter of technical and leadership roles – meaning they have been hit harder.

The technology industry continues to struggle to even the playing field for women, and given the above, it could easily be on track to progressively worsen. What can be done to solve this?

FLEXIBILITY IS KEY, BUT NOT ENOUGH

As businesses hunt for the most talented professionals in a candidate-led market, they are increasingly offering flexibility, such as remote or hybrid working, and have been forced to increase salaries in order to stand out amongst competitors.

With a more flexible approach to working on the cards, women now have even more opportunities than ever before to progress in their technology careers, just like their male counterparts. The gender disparity in the sector – that is often widened due to lack of flexibility, especially for working mothers – at long last could be consigned to history. But more needs to be done.

‘Returnships’, for example, give women the opportunity to return to their careers after a break and build their skills to put them in a position where they can go back into their senior roles rather than having to start again from the bottom.  Offering the option for a phased return to work, for instance, is an effective way to ensure women returning to their role aren’t thrown in the deep end. Oftentimes, returning to work post-hiatus can be daunting and offering flexibility helps but certainly isn’t enough. What we’ve found works  well is an effective support system that consists of a group of people that can relate to women in the workplace.

THE CURRENT PERCEPTIONS OF WOMEN IN TECHNOLOGY

In a survey conducted by Reed of more than 500 UK parents of girls aged between five and 18 years old, half (51%) said that their daughters express a keen interest in technology both at home and in education, with three quarters (76%) reportedly feeling that technology is a good career for their daughters. Only 4% stated that they felt it was too male dominated.

This is indeed reassuring that perceptions of women in technology are changing, with the next generation having more support and guidance from their parents than the previous generation may have done. To compare with the above, of those already taking part in the Reed Women in Technology Mentoring Programme (i.e., women already working in the technology sector) nearly three quarters of them were over 18 years of age before considering a career in the sector, with 80% never thinking they’d end up working in technology.

On top of this, more than 72% say they had no technology role models growing up, while 65% of parents surveyed feel that more role models representative of their children would be a huge encouragement for their daughters to focus on a career in technology.

Women, in general, also face more barriers to promotion and career growth. A 2022 report from McKinsey found that only 86 women are promoted to manager for every 100 men across every industry. When looking at the statistics for the technology sector, that number drops to 52 women for every 100 men. Evidently, there are not enough women in senior roles, and progression toward these roles is hard. So when layoffs occur, a lot of the time, the more junior team members are let go, hence women falling being more vulnerable to losing their job.

By allowing women to advance in their career, we will prevent the technology sector from losing progress it has made when it comes to diversity, while ensuring that technology leadership teams are representative.

There is change occurring, yet some barriers still yet to overcome. Where the next generation of women aspiring to work in technology might get more support from those around them than previous generations, there still needs to be proactive effort made to ensure that the ones that do wish to pursue a career in the technology industry have all the guidance they need. It’s a never-ending cycle: we need more women at the top to provide guidance for women who aspire to specialise in the tech industry. This is why offering mentoring really helps – it allows women in tech to work with a mentor to help guide them in their career.

IMPOSTER SYNDROME

The fact women in the industry don’t see many other females of the same age or background climbing the career ladder is a big barrier to entry.

This in part can have an impact on how they feel in their working environment, contributing to imposter syndrome. This is where an individual may doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments, and believe they aren’t ‘cut out’ to do a job they are more than capable of doing. Having a mentoring programme that your employees can be involved in will go some way to preventing this from happening.

What women need is encouragement, and more importantly, support. By connecting women at any stage of their career with an external mentor – male or female – who can offer them tailored advice and direction, women in the technology sector will better realise their full potential and achieve both personal and professional goals. When tech companies and departments partner with organisations such as Propelelo and Reed’s Women in Technology Mentoring Programme, they can give tailored support to empower women to succeed in the workplace with career development programmes, while helping businesses to work toward a better gender equity strategy. It also allows for women to be able to discuss the issues they face, hopefully quietening their imposter syndrome along the way.

CHAMPIONING DIVERSITY AND SPEAKING OUT

Technology companies should be working towards creating a culture and environment where diversity is championed, and inclusion is the norm. This means opening up the floor to discussions around adversity and difficulties in the sector, for fellow women or other minority groups.

By fostering an open workplace culture and getting everybody involved – including male counterparts – women in the workplace will feel more heard and comfortable at work. Having conversations about periods or menopause may feel strange at first, but it will help people in the workplace understand each other more and allow companies to offer solutions that work for their employees. This, in turn, will allow women to be able to better balance their personal life with their work life.

It will also open up the way in which leadership teams make changes to the workplace, including offering flexible working and other benefits which may make it easier for all workers to better manage their work lifestyle.

MAINTAINING DRIVE AND FOCUS

Oftentimes, when in a professional space where there is no one to turn to, or where it feels like things, including teammates, are working against you, it can be easy to lose the passion once felt for the role.

Workshops, for example, can be designed to support female members who may have lost their direction or focus. Sharing recognised coaching tools and techniques, mentoring coaches enable the group to guide each other to overcome their challenges and build a positive mindset to achieve their desired outcomes.

This is an opportunity to not only benefit from coaching and learn some coaching techniques but also to build new friendships and alliances with the members of the group. They not only benefit from the acquired skills, but so will any team or organisation they may end up working with or for. There’s also added benefits for businesses including better employee engagement, the opportunity to bridge skills gaps and cultivating a culture of personal and professional growth.

Keeping the conversation open will allow diversity to no longer be the awkward elephant in the room and showcase opportunities to allow for more equality across the board.

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