When it comes to gender diversity in male dominated fields in general, technology fields specifically, people’s view of what it is or why it matters varies tremendously. I, too, have seen it from different angles and reflecting over this, I realized I’ve reached different stages of maturity. Reflecting even more, I now find it interesting to see what people’s responses are when talking about gender diversity in technology and I can meet them and their thoughts better if I know what maturity stage they are in.
I will try and give an overview with examples.
Stage 1. Oblivious
“Is there a gender diversity problem in tech, I had no idea?”
This is the stage that people often far outside the industry find themselves in. They have professional roles and a life situation that does not have them reflect over these kinds of issues. Often, one finds the world pretty much equal and fair for both* genders besides the awful stories about female circumcision or using assaults and rape of women as a weapon in war you may hear on the news, of course that’s extremely awful!
*or how many you assume there are
Stage 2. Inexperienced
“I know how the market looks and I’ve heard there’s a problem with gender diversity in tech roles.”
I was in this stage when I studied technology, both at high school and at university. I was drawn to solving problems, to understanding technology, and to learn how things worked “behind the scenes” – that was what got me into tech. I knew there were mainly male students in this field, but it didn’t bother me as I’ve always kind of had more male friends than female friends anyway. At high school and at university, there was this buzz about there being too few women, and that we needed to do something about it. I did not really see why this was a problem, but it got me thinking. I could already then clearly see that the mixed groups, with both male and female students, often delivered better results in projects and their journey to the goal seemed more interesting – they had more intense discussions about the project and passion for solving the problem from different angles.
Stage 3. Uncomfortable
“I know we need more women onboard in our team or company, but I don’t really understand why. I just want to hire the best person for the job, regardless.”
Getting into recruitment early in my career, facing this issue upfront, I’ve seen both recruiters and Hiring Managers go through this stage. You’ve read some reports that gender diversity and well-balanced teams supposedly increase revenue of companies; they build better products. You read this article that growing female leaders in your organization is a must, it’s kind of modern to do so. But you haven’t seen first hand what homogeneous teams struggle with, or how unhappy the users of your product are when they are lacking an important feature your male-dominated team did not think of – a way of tracking their menstrual cycle in your health app… Hiring “the best person for the job, regardless gender” is not a defense and it’s not an argument of why we shouldn’t focus on gender diversity – it’s merely a perception. And it’s very much a correct one, but a plain and empty one.
Stage 4. Aware
“I get it now, bringing in more women to my team is beneficial and I need to focus on this a little more to get the outcome I want.”
Imagine you would treat your team as a product, and the people in it are the features. You want your product to be successful so you want to add features that the end user wants and needs. Just adding more features doesn’t necessarily make the product better – but it’s about what features you add and how they integrate with the main purpose of the product. Your end user is you, the manager, in this case, building your team to reach a goal. When the end users of tech products of the world is 50% men and 50% women, and only 10 – 20% of the students graduating from technical universities are women – you do the math. In order to get more women onboard on your team, you need to try a little harder, search and adapt your interview process and teams to attract and retain a female workforce.
Stage 5. Adaptive
“I’m focusing on it, but what should I do? I believe it starts with recruitment, company culture and talent management…”
If you are lucky, you’ve reached this stage when starting to build a team, or a company for that matter, and you can incorporate small changes into the process that will help you create a more diverse and successful team. You understand there’s not one simple solution, but a holistic one. Getting your recruitment team aware and add diversity sourcing plans into the general sourcing plan. Looking at your recruitment process; is it beneficial for both male and female candidates? Make your interviewers aware of their biases, and keep an ongoing discussion. Is the Employer Value Proposal (EVP) right for both men and women, how do they respond to your offer? Research the company culture by interviewing women who already work for you, and send out surveys. Make it easy for everyone to become aware and see if the company culture is beneficial for both genders. And in general, how inclusive are your teams or company?
Stage 6. Determined
“I understand the reports, I’ve implemented necessary actions to my talent acquisition and retention programs to tailor to both men and women. I’ve seen the positive results and will continue doing this and affect the market as a whole.”
Congratulations, you have now become a market leader in the field of technology management and are on your way of building a successful company that delivers products which users want and need. And the actions that you’ve taken was to make sure both men and women want to work for you… That’s simple, is it? Now we can spend more of our time on paying it forward, change the market, talk to the universities and better yet talk to pre-school teachers to make them aware that technology is the future – and that we need both men and women to create the future!
Now of course, regardless of which stage you are in right now, you often won’t find yourself discussing or even arguing with people in the same stage as you. So please go out there, raise the question, or tell an anecdote, to get the conversations started.
Oh by the way, there’s no going back, once you’ve reached a stage – you can only move forward!