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Cracking the Tech Glass Ceiling: Women Make Gains in Leadership Roles

Woman breaking glass with her fist

A new report by Deloitte says that women in tech continue to chip away at the glass ceiling with double-digit gains made in leadership roles.

“There’s some good news for women in the traditionally male-dominated technology field: They are shrinking the gender gap,” writes Esther Shein in TechRepublic.

The research released by Deloitte April 2022, predicts that one in four tech leadership roles will be held by women this year.

“Large technology companies are steadily increasing their female workforce representation – with the fastest growth happening in leadership roles,” writes Deloitte’s Gillian Crossan, Susanne Hupfer, and Sayantani Mazumder.

Shrinking IT Gender Gap: Slow but Steady Progress

Deloitte Global forecasts that large global technology firms, on average, will reach about 33 percent overall female representation in their workforces in 2022, up slightly more than 2 percentage points from 2019.

Although the share of women in technical and leadership roles tends to lag the overall proportion of women by 8 to 10 percentage points, they are increasing the most rapidly.

“Women in tech are gaining ground as the technology industry—or at least its largest players—makes slow but steady progress in shrinking its gender gap, and women in tech leadership are making the fastest advances,” writes the Deloitte trio.

The research numbers took at look at 2019 actual workforce participation vs. 2022 projected for women in tech and found:

  • Overall workforce: 32.9 percent (2022 projected) vs. 30.8 percent (2019) for 6.9 percent growth
  • Technical roles: 25.0 percent vs. 22.4 percent for 11.7 percent growth
  • Leadership roles: 25.3 percent vs. 21.2 percent for 19.5 percent growth

Diverse Workforce and Leadership Good for Business

Deloitte researchers argue that diversity in the tech workforce and leadership is good for business.

“With a growing body of research suggesting that diverse teams perform better and are more innovative, many technology, media, & telecommunications (TMT) industry leaders are recognizing that diverse workforces and executive teams are good for business,” says the Deloitte team.

Board diversity legislation in states with a high number of TMT companies, such as California and Washington, has helped spur women participation on TMT boards with 25 percent of board seats now held by women, up from just 17.4 percent in 2018.

Only the consumer industry has a higher proportion of board seats allocated to women than TMT.

“Many large tech companies have made public commitments to improving gender diversity, including increasing women in their technical and leadership ranks. These companies are also expanding their efforts to ensure greater workforce and leadership diversity by race, age, and other social factors,” said Deloitte.

Moving the Needle: Initiatives to Increase Gender Equality

Organizations such as Women in Mission Critical Operations (WiMCO) have raised awareness and stimulated industry dialogue in recent years around gender equality.

Infrastructure Masons, which has a commitment to ensure that 50 percent of all their scholarship dollars are awarded to women, found in a 2021 diversity and inclusion report that:

  • One if four data center companies have a program intended to hire more women
  • 75 percent of design, build and operations organizations have women on their teams
  • Women are just 5 percent of total staff

Big name tech companies are looking to change these numbers:

  • HP has pledged to reach 50 percent gender equality in roles at the director level and above by 2030, while meeting or surpassing labor market representation for racial/ethnic minorities
  • Intel looks to double the number of women and underrepresented minorities in senior leadership roles by 2030

“It makes sense that tech companies are moving the needle on women in leadership faster than women in other roles: It helps send a signal to prospective employees, it helps shift corporate culture, and it may help tech companies increase retention of women in their overall and technical workforces,” said Deloitte.

Hiring is just the first step as Carrie Goetz pointed out in Mission Critical magazine that the quit rate for women in tech is over 2x that of their male counterparts.

3 Things Tech Companies Can Do Today

The Deloitte report said that tech companies still have work to do to shatter the glass ceiling for women.

“Improving gender and other diversity should inspire the same kind of leadership commitment and strategic focus that underlies other critical organizational initiatives,” said Deloitte.

Recommendations that tech companies can do today:

  • Commit to Holistic Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Strategy: Deloitte says a 2020 study by Lenovo and Intel “revealed that a majority of professionals in five countries regard a company’s DEI policies and performances as important considerations in their decisions about jobs to pursue and accept.” Many tech companies release annual diversity reports highlighting their performance and strategy. Coalitions have been formed to share best practices and lessons learned.
  • Embrace Goal Setting, Transparency, and Accountability: Tech companies can only take stock of what strategies are working if they are able to identify diversity metrics, report results, and track progress. Deloitte says that Amazon, for example, “examines performance ratings and attrition across teams to address any statistically significant demographic differences; the goal is to retain employees at similar rates across demographics.” A coalition of 30+ tech company executives has set a goal to create industry-wide reporting standards for DEI demographic data, and have released an Action to Catalyze Tech report.
  • Establish Creative Programs to Hire, Retain, and Promote: STEM pipeline issues must be addressed. Some tech companies, according to Deloitte, have established apprenticeships that “aim to recruit and upskill unconventional talent, such as career-switchers who lack a traditional tech background, and “returnship” programs that provide training and mentorship to women resuming their careers after a pause.”

“It takes a forward-thinking company to have the drive and ambition to balance the scales,” wrote Goetz.

Oona King, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Snap and Chair of the Catalyze Tech report: ““Collective action is key, and needs everyone in business — from CEOs to interns — to be inspired to act.”

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