Lowe's has made substantial changes to its home improvement workforce since CEO Marvin Ellison started his tenure.
The retailer hired about 1,000 technologists in 2019, with similar plans for 2020, according to Seemantini Godbole, CIO of Lowe's, while speaking at the National Retail Federation conference, earlier this month.
Diverse candidates with a penchant for curiosity and learning were her top picks because "today's hard skills [are] not so hard two years from now," she said.
And while diversity across lines — ethnicity, sexuality, education, religion — are important for adding business value, women in particular offer a different perspective.
Target CIO Mike McNamara, while speaking on the same panel as Godbole, said a single demographic ("white men") can't appeal to retail's primary buyer: women. Giving women a platform in the business in turn gives female customers the experiences they want.
During a meeting with product managers, engineers and other technologists, a female product manager raised concern about how Lowe's delivers appliances to customers' homes, said Godbole.
One of the women product managers expressed her nervousness about the delivery experience altogether. There are "strangers coming into your home, installing an appliance, [and] they are there for quite some time," she said. While the product manager explained how the delivery workers were "always nice," it's still an uneasy experience for a woman who is alone with them.
The moment she said that, a male product manager spoke up, saying his wife has called him before, asking him to come home and be with her while the appliance delivery crew comes.
"This is an experience we really need to fix," said Godbole. Lowe's wants its female customers, who are the primary shoppers in their families, to feel confident across its services. Godbole is unsure if the topic would have been considered if the product manager hadn't spoken up.
Diversity in the workforce is diversity of thought; it's an age-old argument, but holds true. This isn't a "soft fluffy diversity thing," this is business impact, said Kristen Maynes, director of cybersecurity consulting at PwC, while speaking at NRF.
When Karen Beebe, CIO of Vineyard Vines, was in school, she was the only woman in her computer science and system analysis courses. Today, it's almost the same. "How could we not have made more traction?" she asked NRF attendees. "If you do not have diversity, we're no further ahead and that's what's really concerning me."
For example, less than one-tenth of tenured faculty in STEM are women, according to research from the New York Stem Cell Foundation.
Some women are finding their place in tech outside of formal education. More than one-third of women applying for software engineer and developer roles majored in something outside of STEM. Still, SQL, Python, Java and data analytics were featured on their resumes.
The tech industry is facing an impending talent drought, it cannot afford to maintain its "war on talent," said Karen Etzkorn, CIO Qurate Retail Group, while speaking at NRF earlier this month. "We're losing people as fast as we're hiring them."
Women leave the tech workforce because of poor support from management, insufficient opportunities, and weak work-life balance. Williams warned that no matter how robust a talent pipeline is, if women aren't supported in their roles, retention will sputter.
Women already in technology owe it to younger generations to make it more approachable, said Etzkorn. "They're fearful of it."