We are in a bad place for working women. We knew this would happen as the pandemic interrupted jobs, childcare, schools and more. And now the stats are in: Women are losing jobs at far faster a rate than men amid the pandemic, with all the job losses in December impacting women. Decades of progress is at risk, and Vice President Kamala Harris called it a national emergency.
When we look closer, the impact across races is uneven, highlighting critical intersections and inequities in our society. Meanwhile we have technology representing a growing and resilient employment opportunity, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting an 11 percent increase in computer and information technology occupations, faster than the average for all other occupations. So after years of angst about diversity statistics, the technology industry has a generation-changing opportunity to change those numbers, and we need to seize the moment.
This is practical from a talent pipeline point of view, but also in the broader business perspective. On one hand, there’s the increasing amount of research demonstrating diverse workplaces and teams lead to improved outcomes and women perform better overall at leadership skills.
On the more personal side, roles in technology companies, both technical and non-technical, engage women with flexible work environments and increased earning potential, Notably with women being the sole or co-breadwinner in 41 percent of homes while still responsible for the majority of the household duties, the shift of major tech companies allowing work-from-home options is a critical and timely shift as well.
Given we have a ripe opportunity with available roles and an available workforce (or one that will again be available when pandemic responsibilities abate), how do we take advantage of it? Here are my suggestions:
Don’t penalize: I belong to a moms in tech group on Facebook, and every day women post about their struggles juggling the responsibilities of their families and careers. This was true before the pandemic and even more so now. We know these decisions are forcing women to leave work during this crisis courtesy of McKinsey’s and Lean In’s 2020 Women in the Workplace study, and we all play a critical role in their return.
When I spoke with Jen, a mother of two with previous roles at Google and StitchFix, she spoke of the struggle of finding meaningful work after a multi-year career absence due to relocation and parenting responsibilities. Despite often having advanced degrees, she and fellow acquaintances face on-going obstacles due to the gap on their resume. In the meanwhile Jen serves on a non-profit board and volunteers.
If women had to take a break, let’s welcome them back with open arms. Let’s honor their experience and work with them to fulfill their career potential. Continuing to scrutinize gaps on resumes, especially during a global crisis, will only lead us to miss out on strong hires.
Train them: Don’t dismiss a lack of formal experience with so many tools available! With courses readily available online for many technical and job-related areas, organizations providing additional support (e.g. iRelaunch), as well as growing needs for a diverse skill set across tech businesses, the barrier to entry is the lowest it's been in decades.
Many women are turning to short-term programs or courses for self-education and to build their resumes, even as they look for jobs or stay in their current roles. Let’s take them seriously. I’d remind you as well that nontraditional hires often epitomize the grit, resilience and the out of the box thinking skills that so many tech companies desire in candidates.
Take chances: Many of my best hires were taking people who were clearly strong workers and giving them big challenges. Georgia, for example, was a junior go-getter when I first hired her nine years ago; she consistently delivered in high stress jobs, and now she’s a senior manager. How did I know she’d be good? During her interview with me, she demonstrated her independence, drive and ambition when she spoke about staying up all night enthralled by a book about customer service. Whether it’s by promoting from within or hiring externally, think about the ways we can grow and value our talent of all kinds. It also gives your emerging leaders and managers an opportunity to train and lead. Providing challenging opportunities are a great way to keep people invested and ultimately reduce attrition and the loss of investment in your workforce.
Support them: One of the primary ways we drop the ball is by hiring employees and then not supporting them. Does your workplace have on-boarding mechanisms and employee resource groups to help welcome diversity? Do your promotion and recognition processes recognize a variety of talents and achievements, or is there only one way to succeed? Are your managers trained in inclusive practices, and do you survey your employees on whether that’s working? We’re only beginning to understand how to run inclusive workplaces, and the above will start to help you move your organization forward.
The past year reminded me that we need to step up to change the world, and it’s also through flooding a system that we change it. This is one way we can all step up to hire amazing talent, support them, and continue to build amazing businesses in tech (and everywhere else!)
Alana Karen is an award-winning tech leader, author, and speaker. Her book, "Adventures of Women in Tech: How We Got Here and Why We Stay," aggregates hundreds of stories from diverse women navigating their careers in technical roles and companies. She lives with her three children, husband and two dogs in the San Francisco Bay Area.