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Mar 08, 2023 Ella Mulraney

Calling time on Brotopia: How to attract and retain more women in tech

The tech industry has long been thought of as a ‘brotopia’, with men dominating positions at all levels from entry-level engineers to executive leadership roles. But how can companies build more diverse and gender-balanced teams to discover new seams of talent and opportunity?

Why it’s time to dismantle ‘Brotopia’

It’s no secret that women are under-represented in tech. But the extent of the problem may still shock you.

  • Only 22% of tech roles in European firms are currently filled by women (Deloitte)
  • Women occupy just 26.2% of senior management roles in large tech firms in the US (Statista)
  • The percentage of women in tech-related careers decreased between 2018 and 2020 (CNBC)
  • 2/3 of women engineers currently leave the profession within 15 years (CFLC)
  • 74% of women in technology jobs have experienced gender discrimination at work (HR News)

There are many reasons why this matters - not least because it is robbing companies of a critical commercial advantage.

Diversity and inclusion = growth and innovation

Inclusivity isn’t about box ticking.  

Research shows that creating more inclusive teams is key to retaining a competitive edge in a fast-changing world. Put bluntly, don’t expect your products to reflect the diversity of consumer needs if 50% of the population is unrepresented in the workforce delivering strategy and solutions. 

And this is borne out in purely commercial terms.

A study by The Peterson Institute found companies with women in leadership positions were nearly 2% more profitable than those without.  

Meanwhile, in 2023, Deloitte concluded that a talent scarcity in tech could be easily made up if male bias was just put aside:

“If Europe could double the share of women in the tech workforce to about 45 per cent, or an estimated 3.9 million additional women by 2027) it could close this talent gap and benefit from a GDP increase of as much as €260 billion to €600 billion.”

How to attract and retain women in tech - a triple challenge

There is a triple challenge here to ensure the sustainable growth of diverse, inclusive teams that can access and nurture the best available talent. 

Right now, ambitious companies need to:

  • Increase the representation of women in tech through more focused recruitment
  • Retain and nurture the best female talent throughout the industry
  • Stock the future pipeline with diverse, well-qualified candidates

So, what can we do to ensure we’re getting and keeping the best female tech talent?

4 ways companies can support women in technology

1. End the unconscious bias

Tech has been male-dominated for so long, there may be thousands of subtle (and not so subtle) ways in which women are: 

  • Put off from making applications
  • Discounted as candidates
  • Denied access to jobs
  • Pushed out of roles

These range from assumptions about ‘cultural fit’ made by HR teams recruiting for male-dominated environments, to common wording in job adverts that seem to select for male applicants.

In this study, conducted by the hiring platform Applied, the use of particular kinds of words or phrases in thousands of job adverts was seen to actively deter female applicants:

“adverts using strong masculine language saw the number of female candidates applying for the role drop by up to 10 per cent), with less than half (44 per cent) applying for those positions.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to retention, studies show women leave at a faster rate than men, with culture and perception of suitability a major factor in their faster turnover. In one academic study of 248 performance reviews of high-performers in tech, negative personality criticism (such as ‘abrasive’, ‘strident’, or ‘irrational’) showed up in 85% of reviews for women and just 2% of reviews for men.

Companies that work on eliminating incidents of unconscious bias in recruitment and retention will be better equipped to meet the challenges of innovation presented by a rapidly changing market.

2. Embrace new ways of working

When Elon Musk told employees to return to the office or go and ‘pretend to work’ for someone else, it was as though he spoke from another age. 

In fact, a new era of flexibility in remote and hybrid working ushered in by Covid has given companies access to a more productive, reliable and diverse labour force than ever before.  

Accenture’s research shows that companies who are more flexible and supportive of the different needs of female workers are more innovative - and can reap greater commercial rewards as a result. 

Meanwhile, McKinsey reports that one European entertainment company found offering a “work from everywhere” policy ‘lowered its attrition rates by 15%  and increased the number of women leaders in its organisation from 25 - 42%’.  

3. Be imaginative in your recruitment strategies

Deloitte points out, that for many years, there has been a ‘broken rung’ in the employment ladder that has led to the under-representation of women in senior roles. Critical opportunities for progression may have been lost through early career breaks and historic male bias within companies. 

But their study affirms there is a rich seam of female talent that could be accessed by widening recruitment networks and exploring new opportunities for fast-tracking and lateral thinking. They say employers should be looking for ways to: 

“recruit and upskill unconventional talent, such as career-switchers… while running “returnship” programs that provide training and mentorship to women resuming careers after a pause”

4. Break the Brotech culture

The culture of tech has traditionally been one of machismo - with honours earned through frat-boy antics, scrum-room all-nighters and a combative single-mindedness.

But this kind of Techbro stereotype has actively held back the progress of many women in the industry. It’s stopped distinct voices from emerging that could have delivered more innovation and new approaches to old problems. Think about the now booming Femtech sector (expected to be worth $37.39 billion in 2023). It’s a vertical pioneered largely by women entrepreneurs sick of being ignored by a male-dominated technology industry.  

Femtech has demonstrated that ‘brogramming’ is not the only way to secure results.  

Instead, it’s shown how breaking a male-dominated culture can liberate creative thinking and open up new opportunities for companies.

The challenge for technology professionals is to reset their thinking and apply their disruptive genius to old paradigms of recruitment and retention. If they can do this, they could innovate more successfully - and inspire a new generation of women to be tomorrow’s leaders along the way. 

As Emily Chang puts it in her book, Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys' Club of Silicon Valley:

“This is an industry… that prides itself on disruption and revolutionary new ways of thinking. Let’s put that spirit of innovation and embrace of radical change to good use. Seeing a more inclusive workforce in Silicon Valley will encourage more girls and women studying computer science now.”

Published by Ella Mulraney March 8, 2023
Ella Mulraney

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