One More Result of the Pandemic: Women Are Leaving IT
As I network with colleagues in IT organizations around the world, a disturbing storyline has emerged: Women in IT leadership positions feel uncomfortable and even bullied by male colleagues or vendors.
I feel fortunate to work at a place where respect and safety are assured, but I know I should never take that for granted — because it’s not the case everywhere.
In 2020, women were more likely to experience belittling micro-aggressions than men and women leaders are switching jobs at the highest rates we’ve ever seen.
I thought we'd moved past all this.
We're Still Having This Same Conversation
Twenty-five years ago, I started a new corporate job within IT at another organization. As I began my onboarding process on day one, two developers approached my desk, looked over at me, and started humming the dueling banjos theme from the movie "Deliverance." As they congratulated themselves on their joke, I sat there quietly, devastated. It was intended to send a message: I was deficient. I didn’t belong there.
Decades later, two highly accomplished women in senior IT roles in another organization told me how a contract service provider belittled their plan for a new system solution, causing them to question themselves. The service provider was way off base not only in their shoddy technical work but also in how they chose to gaslight their clients.
A survey conducted in Europe in 2022 shows half of women in technology experienced sexism in the last year. After all of these years and after all these policies and press, we are still talking about this.
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Pandemics Discriminate Too: The 'Great Breakup'
This week, a colleague in my professional network at a firm located halfway around the world commented that sexism is worse now than when she started her career over 30 years ago. The pandemic caused a regression of gender parity that had been moving in the right direction before COVID. “Women in tech have been set back 10 to 20 years by working from home during the pandemic” — whether trying to break into the tech industry, get ahead or launch a new business.
Forbes reports that 38% of working women are considering leaving their jobs in tech by the end of 2023. The pressures women experienced as a result of COVID-19 led many to consider downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely. Studies showed that women were more likely to experience micro-aggressions, like having their judgment questioned or mistaken for someone more junior.
Even as the definition of ‘workplace’ extends into virtual forms such as the metaverse, the sexism remains just as real. Technology lawyers have called for ways to report harassment in virtual environments.
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How We Can Recruit (and Retain) Women in Tech
So, how can we better recruit and retain women in tech?
- Choice and flexibility: Women employees who can choose their work arrangements are less burned out. The transformation to remote and flexible work initiated by COVID-19 is a major one, and policies and practices need to be rethought. Organizations should clearly communicate policies for remote and flexible work arrangements and continue to gather feedback from employees about their preferences.
- Out of the shadows: Women, especially women of color, feel invisible at work. Co-workers and managers should recognize and call out occasions where a woman’s hard work goes unnoticed, like emails or internal messages recognizing ideas created by women. It’s a simple gesture that makes employees feel appreciated as a contributor.
- More training and support: Professional development planning should focus manager training on specific topics, such as spotting unconscious bias when evaluating men and women for promotion. Unconscious or implicit bias is one of the biggest threats to diversity in the workplace. Engage trainees in exercises where they are tasked to view life from another person’s perspective Doing so can increase their empathy, for example, by reading powerful essays by women describing their negative experiences in the workplace.
- Safe spaces: Twenty-five years ago, I reacted with silence. I didn’t want to make waves or face alienation among co-workers. With silence, these behaviors become accepted, then they become a normal part of the culture. Years later, when I managed a team within that same organization, some of the women in my team told me they were uncomfortable around certain co-workers, even calling in sick to avoid uncomfortable interactions. I educated myself on how best to manage it and ensured my team felt safe to report concerns without fear of reprisal. There was a hard price for me — speaking up and invoking HR involvement meant strained relationships with some, even with co-workers I thought would support me.
We must all remain vigilant in our day-to-day experience for times when anyone is made to doubt their self-worth and not let it pass in silence. And managers must consciously build an environment where it is safe to do so.
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About the Author
Andrea Malick is a Research Director in the Data and Analytics practice at Info-Tech, focused on building best practices knowledge in the Enterprise Information Management domain, with corporate and consulting leadership in content management (ECM) and governance.
Andrea has been launching and leading information management and governance practices for 15 years, in multinational organizations and medium sized businesses.