To celebrate International Women’s Day 2023 and call attention to the need to attract and retain women in tech, we reached out to the people closest to this challenge: the women of S.i. Systems. Our team shared their thoughts on the challenges women in technology face, and what employers can do to remove barriers, fight for fairness, and make the industry more attractive.
What are the key challenges for women in tech?
Gender bias, plain and simple, is still a big hurdle, according to many of our interviewees.
“Work environments are still frequently dominated by men, particularly in leadership. This leads to a higher likelihood of women being tokenized, discriminated against, or otherwise not included.” - Audra Tettenborn, Manager, PMO & Chief Diversity Officer
Another major barrier frequently faced by women is the lack of flexibility that is common in tech.
“Long hours in the office also make a career in IT difficult for women to balance with their family life. Limited daycare options outside of core business hours can be extremely costly and not available on short notice.” - Cori Porter, Director Strategic Business Development
Our respondents also cited a lack of mentors and general support for women in IT as well as a lack of encouragement for girls to pursue STEM subjects in school.
How can IT employers remove gender bias in hiring?
Innovation and diversity go hand in hand. When it comes to the recruiting process, there are several areas that can make hiring less biased and more gender neutral.
“Remove affinity bias – hiring those who are like you – as we tend to socialize, hire and, promote people who are like us. Include more women on the interview panel or balance the interview with one male and one female interviewer.” - Sharon Foster, Vice President Human Resources, S.i. Systems
All too often, employers hire for cultural “fit” but this often has the result of creating a culture of exclusion where candidates of similar background and attitudes are selected over others.
“Hire for ‘additions’ to culture not ‘fit’ for culture – this means taking stock of your team and understanding what skills/abilities/perspectives are missing and being intentional about hiring to fill those gaps, rather than looking for someone who is the ‘same’ as your existing team.” - Audra Tettenborn, Manager, PMO & Chief Diversity Officer
How can employers remove barriers for women in tech?
When it comes to the challenge of encouraging women to enter the tech field, our respondents all advocated for more visibility into tech careers while girls are still in school.
“Encourage women and girls to pursue STEM careers. I believe that the most fundamental way of getting more females in tech is to play the long game and support future generations from an early age” - Kelly Benson, VP Alberta, S.i. Systems
“There are mentorship programs that inspire confidence and capability. I particularly like the program at the University of Calgary that offers expanding access for the next generation of girls looking for a mentor within STEM (sciences, technology, engineering and math).” - Jane Hein, SVP, S.i. Systems
Once women are in the workforce, our experts believe there is a lot employers can do to empower and encourage them while growing their IT careers. One important factor that nearly everyone mentioned was being more supportive and flexible when it comes to maternity leave. Women in technology understand that taking time off for family care can hurt their career prospects and salaries in both the short and long term. They often take the time off anyway, because they already make less than the men in their lives.
“Equal opportunity for projects and career growth as well as knowing that you will be supported as you potentially pursue a family are key factors that encourage women and remove barriers. Knowing that your career won’t need to take a backseat if you need to step away is creating empowerment for women in the workforce and encourages them to continue growing their IT/tech careers.” - Nisha Manji, Vice President, GTA and Chicago, S.i. Systems
Many interviewees also stressed the importance of hiring women for key leadership positions in tech whenever possible as an important way to signal what’s possible to other women.
“Employers should promote women into key roles, and if and when they go on maternity leave, ensure they are returned back to those key roles. Many women fear going into key tech roles because once they have a family, they will be perceived as "less reliable" and that family time will compete for their full attention.
Having women in key roles such as CIO, CISO, or VP of IT demonstrates that women can hold these roles and act as role models for other females to pursue leadership roles. I often hear from women in IT they do not even bother to apply for leadership roles if it is male dominated.” - Frances McCart, VP Business Development, Large Enterprise Accounts, Strategic Partnerships, S.i. Systems
Changes in processes (even seemingly small ones) can have a significant impact on efforts for gender diversity and inclusion in tech. Our executive panel had several suggestions to advance women in the tech industry:
- Career progression/succession mapping based on the competencies and skills needed for future roles
- Encourage men in the organization to take equal parental leave as women
- Make space for training and certifications on emerging technologies to be completed during working hours
- Create flexible working arrangements for staff to balance their whole life (hybrid, remote, time shifting, flex days, etc.)
The work to increase gender diversity continues
How do we get better? One step at a time. All these challenges and barriers in tech aren’t going to get better automatically. But we firmly believe that organizations that adopt and implement these practices into their work culture will increase their ability to attract and retain women in tech.