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While the number of women in STEM has steadily increased since 1970 — when they only made up 4% of the industry’s workforce — that number is just 27% today. Deloitte Insights reported that one in four leadership positions at large global technology firms were held by women in 2022.
This all sounds promising, but compared to the overall proportion of women in the workforce, it would be remiss to say this is sufficient. Moreover, only one in 20 of those women in leadership are women of color. So what needs to be done to create more inclusivity and increase opportunities for women in STEM?
Pursue and promote an inclusive culture
Inclusivity touches every aspect of culture. It can be difficult to know where to start when building an inclusive culture, but it’s important to understand what the overarching goal is: Making all employees feel that they can bring their authentic selves to work and are set up to be successful in their roles. This is an ongoing process that can be supported through a number of strategies, but here are a few that I have found particularly impactful as a mentor, leader and woman in tech.
Articulate a vision for diversity and inclusion
Define clear success criteria for what a cross-functional inclusive culture looks like at your organization. Similarly, ensure that everyone — from leadership and hiring managers to interviewers and individual contributors — is aware of how inclusivity and diversity positively affect the bottom line. Making this clear is important to gain buy-in and is often not something easily comprehended. Particularly across global teams, make sure everyone can answer the question, “Why do we at this company care about diversity and inclusion?”
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Focus on and emphasize the importance of solid onboarding
Set new joiners up for success with a solid onboarding process at every level. Make sure they are introduced to folks cross-functionally, as well as their coworkers. Not only does this drive cross-functional exposure and dissemination of ideas and goals, but it opens up the possibility for people to find more similarities among their peers.
Re-examine your employee training programs
Provide training that aligns well with your inclusive culture and articulates well what it means to be inclusive and accepting of others, regardless of background. This is particularly important in global organizations where unique cultures have different traditions and practices. Hold everyone at all levels responsible and accountable for creating and maintaining that inclusive culture by training, re-training, and evaluating practices at a regular cadence.
While establishing and maintaining inclusivity is incredibly important in the drive for representation, it’s only half the battle. Backing up an inclusive culture with a diverse workforce is paramount, and vice versa. Without an inclusive culture, team members from diverse backgrounds won’t be able to do their best work — hence, diversity and inclusion go hand-in-hand.
Organizations need to recognize that upholding inclusivity and increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups such as women in tech requires an ongoing, concerted effort that goes against the grain of conventional practices. Leaders must step outside of their comfort zone and make themselves vulnerable and open to change.
Increase opportunities for women in tech both internally and externally
Within any organization, senior leadership must be aware of current demographics and representation, and make certain that diverse voices are present — and even more importantly, heard. This includes all aspects of the employee journey, from hiring to daily interactions to promotions. Strategies for doing this include:
Provide a venue for employees from different backgrounds to connect
Whether it’s a Slack channel for LBGTQ+ employees, an employee resource group (ERG) for women in tech or a one-monthly lunch with a guest speaker focused on diversity, ensure that there are venues for employees to discuss and raise issues. By encouraging these group events, companies can provide opportunities for underrepresented employees to network and build each other up. Creating networks and relationships is particularly critical for employees who might be entering their first job or a new role where they’re seeking guidance on career development opportunities.
Tackling diversity: Create clear career development programs
In establishing clear career paths, employees from all backgrounds should understand how to advance in their careers. In a similar vein, organizations can work to remove personal biases from promotion decisions. No matter how a company chooses to approach the issue of diversity, it’s essential that underrepresented groups and voices are heard and amplified during the career processes a new employee faces.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to improving the lack of women and broader diversity in the tech industry, but it’s essential that we acknowledge and accept that this is an important issue and take steps to end these inequities. It’s on all of us, particularly those in leadership, to work towards making a company culture one that not only possesses diversity but advocates for it and promotes inclusivity.
Colleen Tartow is director of engineering at Starburst.
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