Last week, I had the opportunity to attend an Executive Roundtable sponsored by Charleston Women in Tech and TEKSystems. Joined by top tech executives from companies like Blackbaud, Benefitfocus, Jack Russell Software, MUSC, and more, the group brought multiple perspectives and strategies for supporting a diverse and inclusive IT workforce.
The discussion was facilitated by Michelle Webb, Director of Diversity and Inclusion for TEKSystems. Webb brought over 20+ years of experience in the IT industry and a deep understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion to our discussion. Together, we covered a lot of ground, ranging from national and local trends for women in the IT workforce to the challenges women face as they enter and advance in this field. Here are some of the key takeaways:
Women in the IT Workforce: What Does the Data Say?
At AVOXI, there are women in senior management in all areas but sales. I’m the Senior Director of Engineering, and my Engineering Team Lead, Courtney Miller, joined the team in July 2016. Our Chief Marketing Officer, Barbara Dondiego, joined the AVOXI team in October 2015.
But, AVOXI is an exception to the rule when it comes to women in the IT workforce. As of 2014, only 26% of the United States computing workforce was comprised of women. (Source: National Center for Women & Information Technology) And according to a report published by Statista, women make up less than 40% of the workforce at some of the United States’ biggest tech companies: Apple, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and Facebook.
An infographic we reviewed during the roundtable echoed these startling numbers, and specifically pointed to a key issue driving this lack of diversity in the IT workforce: since 2001, there has been a 10% drop in women earning a BA in Computer Science in the United States.
This “pipeline problem” is not just an issue for women, but for the US workforce as a whole. A diverse workforce in an inclusive space thrives—and the opposite holds true as well.
Mentoring, Sponsorship, and Advocacy: An Essential Combination
At AVOXI, we hear a lot about the importance of women mentoring women in the IT workforce because they’re familiar with the unique issues that their co-workers will encounter.
But, the consensus of the executive roundtable was that mentoring alone is not enough. Women can mentor other women, and that’s important—but so is executive sponsorship and advocacy. Without these two critical components, we can only hope to raise awareness. For women to truly grow and succeed in the IT workforce, employees and management alike must learn to transition from simple awareness to true intention.
For Rachel Hutchison of Blackbaud, Executive Coaches are one way for companies to be an “intentional” ally to women in IT. And Executive Coaches aren’t just for those who are already on the executive team; targeted, purposeful coaching can provide women looking to grow their careers with the presentation and communication skills they need to advance.
Access is Key
Throughout our discussion, we found that one key point continued to surface: access is key. With access to executive leadership and presence, women can build relationships, which lead to professional development and continuing opportunities.
To this point, Tom Wilson, Founder and Lead Instructor of the Jack Russell Software Innovation Center, shared that they provide leadership-style training for every employee that they hire. Booz Allen offers mentoring circles for its employees, and Boeing offers Business Resource Groups for Cultural Awareness, Professional Development, and Community Outreach. Through these outlets, companies like these provide their employees—regardless of gender—with multiple access points.
When I started out in IT working for IBM after graduating from the University of Georgia with a BBA majoring in Information Systems, I actually had women as mentors at a variety of levels from senior level programmers all the way up the management chain to Directors. I feel fortunate to have had those role models early on in my career. Unfortunately, that did not continue to be the case as I moved up and out into commercial software development and as the number of women graduating from Computer Science programs dropped over the years.
In recent years, I have been striving to contribute to turning those numbers around by participating in local initiatives and by fostering intentional advocacy for diversity wherever I work as well as within the community in which I live.
Local initiatives help to foster access in the IT community as well. Charleston Women in Tech has a variety of programs, and has become a non-profit with tax deductions available for those who invest in them, and by proxy, the women they serve.
To learn more about Charleston Women in Tech and their initiatives, visit https://www.charlestonwomenintech.com/.
100 Girls of Code has regional groups across the United States that work to achieve gender parity in STEM fields by introducing more young women to code and computer engineering at a young age. They have chapters in Columbia, Hartsville, and Greenville, South Carolina. To learn more about this organization, visit http://www.100girlsofcode.com/about.html.
You, too, can make a difference by seeking out connections with STEM programs in your area and offering to volunteer with groups like the ones above. If you find a great program, I’d love to hear about it. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.