Editor's note: The following is a guest article from Kim Anstett, global CTO at Iron Mountain.
As a woman in the technology field, I have seen firsthand the challenges my female counterparts and myself have faced during this past year as we managed to find a balance between juggling family life with work responsibilities.
Unfortunately, too many have had to make the difficult decision of choosing between the two. And because of this, women have seen disproportionate job losses during the pandemic compared to their male counterparts.
Even now as companies are moving forward with returning to work in-person, women are still leaving the workforce at a higher rate than men. In April, over 165,000 women aged 20 and over withdrew from the labor force.
This trend is alarming, especially as companies are more committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce than ever before — which includes increasing opportunities for women. The technology industry specifically has a long way to go with increasing gender diversity.
Today, women remain highly underrepresented in software engineering (14% of total workforce) and computer science-related jobs (25% of total workforce).
In my role as a leader in technology, I have found that a diverse and inclusive workforce is not just the right thing to do — it is a must for businesses to take a position to create a more diverse ecosystem for their workforce. Not only is diversity and inclusion vital to the health and well-being of employees, we know that diverse teams bring better ideas.
But where can leaders even begin to start to address this issue? Here's my advice for how companies can improve gender diversity by fostering a more inclusive and equitable work environment.
Leveraging technology to encourage contribution
To truly foster an inclusive environment, we need to familiarize ourselves with the idea of the "lonely only." The lonely only is the idea of feeling singled out amongst a group of people. I have experienced this myself time and time again, as the only woman in a meeting full of men.
Sometimes, especially at the start of professional relationships, underrepresented groups feel uncomfortable as the lonely only in the room, which ultimately holds them back from contributing ideas.
By engaging with employees in meaningful ways, we can encourage strategic ideas from everyone. Now, with the benefit of virtual work, we can be more intentional about discouraging the feelings of isolation that go hand-in-hand with being the lonely only.
One of the strategies I have found to be quite successful over the past year or so is the "silent meeting." Using real-time collaboration technology, we've seen an increase in "chatter" during these meetings, meaning that every attendee is asking questions and adding input, even while remote. It encourages people who are typically quiet in meetings to contribute their ideas, as they have an equal opportunity to contribute as those who might be more prone to speak up in a large group.
Leaders can also leverage technology like data studios for HR purposes to understand the composition of internal teams and prioritize diverse rosters. Here, it's also important to look at individual employee career growth to make sure any changes are mutually beneficial.
With data, we're able to create specific action plans that are powered by insights mapping back to business and professional goals.
Securing executive sponsorship
Businesses must take a position against all forms of exclusion and assist in all of the places they can to create a more equitable and representative ecosystem. Not only does this benefit the work environment for all employees, it leads to better business outcomes.
But in order to effectively do this, it's important to create clear business objectives that are both actionable and achievable, and businesses will not be successful in this without executive support.
Having an executive sponsor for diversity and inclusion initiatives ensures that there is someone at the top who can keep things moving at a leadership level. In my experience, it's key that these executive sponsors not only fund these projects, but also remain engaged on an ongoing basis. That way, these initiatives are a combined effort between employees and executives.
Extending DE&I to your partners and industry
One of the more exciting things that has happened over the last year is that diversity and inclusion initiatives have become an open ecosystem in the technology field.
Engaging with partners on how to foster a more diverse and inclusive workforce can help all companies involved establish better programs. By sharing ideas with other businesses, brand new ideas will open up.
This kind of cross-company collaboration allows every organization to better themselves by learning from their peers, while also establishing an unspoken industry standard for diversity and inclusion practices.
Continuing to persevere
As a woman in technology, I've witnessed tremendous growth in the industry over the past 20 years, but we still have a way to go. Through business practices that support a diverse and inclusive workforce, I am confident that companies will be able to make many strides in encouraging women to pursue — and maintain — careers in technology.
To all of the women in technology now — I encourage you to continue on your paths. As young girls, we're brought up to be perfect, which is and always will be an unachievable goal. Fight that voice in the back of your mind and realize that it is okay to have both strengths and weaknesses.
It's important to recognize and showcase your strengths, connecting these to new assignments that push you out of your comfort zone. Throughout my career, I have learned that the biggest and best growth opportunities come from uncomfortable experiences.
Women do have a place in the technology world, and I'm looking forward to seeing all of the progress we will make.