7 Strategies for Accelerating the Rise of Women in Technical Leadership at Your Organization

If companies want to learn how to better support women in tech, these practical, measurable strategies go a long way in course correcting this divide. And fast.

It's still pretty puzzling why women remain such a minority in the tech industry. Despite early prominence as the first "secret" coders when computers first came to be and even higher PR acceptance rates among women on GitHub (only if they hid their genders), we account for less than a third of the tech industry workforce and only a quarter of technical roles (but make up nearly half the world’s population). The stats are even grimmer when you look at women in (or being considered for) leadership roles. The tech industry is a harsh environment for women to climb the ranks and build successful careers. Only 79 women are promoted to manager roles for every 100 men. And for every woman promoted to senior management, two leave due to burnout. Facing a culture dominated by men, lack of recognition, and sometimes even harassment, the outlook for women in tech is bleak if companies don't renew and reimagine and commit to real lasting, permanent change.

I’ve personally faced the unique challenges of being a woman in tech for my entire career, and I know the struggle of being under-seen, under-acknowledged, indirectly and directly rejected, and held back in my field. Once, I was told, “girls getting marketing degrees don’t belong working with computers,” and rejected for a part-time role in the IT department my manager had encouraged me to apply for after glowing reviews during a college internship program (talk about confidence shattering, right?).

More companies are starting to realize that we need women in tech to provide inclusive, critical perspectives and lead businesses into a modern and more profitable future. So, how can we address and resolve the challenge of closing the leadership gap for women in tech once and for all?

Thankfully at Synapse Studios, we are committed to changing the status quo, and that means recognizing and understanding that more diverse perspectives on any given problem mean better ideas and results. Because we act on behalf of our clients, it’s even more essential to leverage each unique talent and perspective we have to offer –– regardless of gender.

It’s not enough to sit back and hope things improve; we can all do our part to level the playing field and make the workplace safer and more productive for everyone.

Why We Need More Women in Tech

Effective product development requires taking calculated risks, navigating ambiguity, and coordinating and collaborating with individuals that make up a diverse team across technical skillsets. When working in teams, it's essential that teams are empowered to operate with diverse and inclusive working agreements that enables resiliency, adaptability, and ultimately agility.

It’s simple: Today’s complicated societal and cultural questions cannot be wholly answered to the level of satisfaction our customers demand if inclusive perspectives aren't participating in the conversation. Companies that want to succeed today need advisors as diverse as their client bases. A lack of diversity among decision makers means businesses are missing vital parts of a global discussion and are feeling the negative effects as a result. McKinsey research found that companies lacking diversity were 27% more likely to underperform on profitability.

When we ask ourselves how to support women in tech, it's not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s good for business. Here are a few ways to start taking long term, corrective action toward positive change:

1. Redefine Management Performance Measurements to Include Employee Satisfaction and Engagement

A company’s culture is woven together by its leadership, which is as critical to long-term profitability. It’s no longer enough for a company to just be profitable. It must also have a purpose, stand for that purpose, and live for it to keep staff happy and engaged. Sustainable competitive advantage is the name of the game. For organizations looking toward the future, an excellent first step to gauging long-term corporate performance is measuring ongoing employee engagement in addition to performance metrics.

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant suggests in his book, Give and Take, tracking company metrics such as profitability, sales, and revenue alongside measures of engaged staff to paint a clearer picture of sustainable profitability. He suggests that most companies will find very small numbers of highly engaged staff with very high numbers of somewhat engaged or disengaged staff, often a result of systemically poor leadership. Gallup found that as much as 70% of employee engagement variance stems from a weak manager or team leader. When measuring manager effectiveness by both performance and direct staff engagement, a different picture of successful managers should emerge.

Thankfully, there are many powerful tools on the market to help measure these important factors. Here at Synapse, we rely on tools such as Lattice to systemize career conversations, mentoring, coaching, and staff development. Automation of these types of programs provides a continuous, unbiased approach to capturing this feedback to level the playing field for team members and ensure nobody relies on back channels to progress in their careers.

2. Measure Your Female Leadership Representation

Another critical measure of where your company is at when it comes to making significant advances in leveling the playing field is simply looking at the percentage of women in leadership positions compared to the general staff. Is there a gap between these two figures? Start asking why such a difference.

More companies are beginning to realize why we need more women in tech leadership, which is a great start but now we need to start recruiting them with purpose.

Why is leadership representation so crucial? Well for starters, our leadership team at Synapse is 40% women, which makes it easier to attend and recruit other women from women-only tech and networking events for example. These networks are always open to other genders, but you'll have more success engaging with potential candidates in the space if they see your values in action. Diverse representation also demonstrates to potential recruits that you value equity and the policies that lead to it. You walk the walk!

3. Employ a Variety of Participation Techniques

It sounds simple to say, “listen to your employees,” but there’s no point in hiring diverse perspectives if you don’t actively listen to them. Inclusivity isn't achieved without participation and engagement from your diverse and talented minds.

One way we aim to gather diverse opinions and contributions in every meeting we run, is to use methods such as 1-2-4-All for our collaborating teams because we understand the way each individual contributes, thinks, or collaborates may be different from another. This convergent-divergent brainstorming technique is one example of an ideation method you can use to ensure everyone on a team can participate how they’re most comfortable so the best ideas surface to the top — not just the loudest.

4. Embody and Incentivize Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is essential to a happy and sustainable employee base, but employees will see right through failed promises to deliver, so companies must put policies in place to create the balanced culture they preach. It's especially important in knowledge work, which tech companies inherently are, because you can't just "leave the office at the office" or disconnect from the job.

As a fully remote team we recognize this tendency to blur work and life, so we employ policies that discourage working long hours or staying late, and our billing model is designed to disincentivize such behavior. This ensures no one is encouraged to “rack up billed time,” which is uncommon for professional service firms. We don't bill by the hour, learn how we bill instead.

Most women carry higher cognitive loads outside the office than their peers, so focusing on work-life balance means you're actually giving women and men their time back to focus on other areas of their life outside of work. I'll just state the obvious here: this is how you prevent burnout.

5. Consider Implementing Programs That Rise All Boats

Compared to men, the Department of Labor reports that more women require leave (24% vs. 17%) and take more leave (18% vs. 14%). The top three reasons employees might need to take take time off (whether paid or unpaid) are illness, a new child, or caring for a loved one. Companies can help support this discrepancy in leave requirements among genders by making hybrid, remote, or flexible work arrangements permanent, considering standard paid parental leave policies, and flexible PTO "pools" to be used as needed without complicated approval processes. No one, not even our talented employees, can predict when life will throw a curve ball, and all of them deserve support when it does, no matter their gender.

Another way to show programmatic support across all genders is to consider company-facilitated or sponsored professional development and mentorship programs, apprenticeships, topic/technology/skills-based working groups, and systemic networking opportunities, so staff doesn’t have to rely on informal networks that typically form “old boys’ clubs” or prefer traditionally “dominant” skill sets. When combined with external learning opportunities (courses, webinars, certifications), this can close the skills gap between genders and promote a more diverse talent base in-house!

6. Create Entry Points for Skilled Tracks With Low Female Representation

Ever find yourself saying you “just can’t find any qualified women for the roles we have” or “no women apply to our job postings?” Unfortunately, unconscious bias research has found that this is often the result of hiring managers not being willing to take a chance on an inexperienced woman versus an inexperienced man.

Consider introducing entry-level roles and upskilling or re-skilling, or even Amazon's Returnship programs aimed at investing in otherwise strong candidates with skills gaps or find other creative ways to take more chances on women candidates to overcompensate for our unconscious biases or other barriers that prevent women from throwing their hats in the ring at all. In doing so, you’ll shape and refine roles for future women leaders to fill to correct the imbalance for generations to come. It's a risk worth taking!

7. Embed Social Responsibility in Your Company Culture

Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, is increasingly important to overall job seekers, but especially for recruiting female candidates. But it can't be superficial. You don't have to implement complicated programs to make an impact, even committing to simple DEI policies such as only working with socially responsible clients, vendors, partners, or customers and encouraging or incentivizing staff (Volunteering Time Off or "VTO") to make it easy to give back go a long way in representing important CSR values that have a tendency to multiply. (Especially with women leaders in the C-Suite according to this study.)

To correct the gender imbalance in tech leadership, the pace of change must be hastened if tech companies want to remain resilient for the long-haul. Thankfully, with these and other inclusive practices and policies in place, companies will find their teams are better able to work together, which is the ultimate goal of bringing more important, powerful voices to the table with the critical leadership skills necessary to guide modern companies well into the future. Together.

Read more about this topic in my Fast Company article, "Want to support women in tech? Let them lead"

Kim Stearns
Kim Stearns
Director of Product
Kim Stearns is the Director of Product Management at Synapse Studios. She oversees the product management and UX teams at Synapse Studios and has a passion for helping clients to build data-driven products that users love.

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