It is well accepted that diversity in the workplace and in industry drives better culture and business results. While women are making great strides in some fields, they are still greatly underrepresented in STEM industries. National averages reflect that women make up half of today’s workforce, only 25 percent of positions in the tech sector belong to women and only 5 percent of those are leadership positions.
When digging into the why behind these discrepancies, a perceived gender bias along with a lack of role models and mentors is often cited. When females look at the tech industry, they don’t see a lot of people who look like them and that can be intimidating.
As the CEO of a technology consultancy and the father of two teenage girls, I see first-hand both the challenges and opportunities that exist for women in technology. My youngest, who attends a Charlotte middle school, took a coding class this past year. After the first day, she came home and shared that some boys were making fun of her for not knowing something. She stuck with the course and by the end, she was completing assignments faster than the boys plus helping others with their assignments.
When you consider the fact that IT is historically stretched thin with talent, it becomes more critical than ever that our communities and schools provide ways for girls growing up to have the opportunity to learn and apply tech skills in a positive and safe environment. Programs such as Code Ninjas and Tech Girlz help make technology more accessible and fun to young girls while also helping them understand the value and potential impact they can bring to STEM. It’s why we not only sponsor these programs at Hylaine but also encourage our team to get involved and volunteer with these organizations.
Another critical factor is to build a pipeline for women in technology that offers support and training that empowers them for eventual leadership. At Hylaine, we seek to ensure that women are an essential part of our culture. Currently, about 30 percent of our team are women and we are constantly striving to do better. We hit that mark when it comes to senior leadership, where 57 percent of women hold those positions. While we do not hire or fill positions specifically based on gender, we clearly understand the value that women can bring to the organization.
As with any challenge, effective listening and discourse is also an important part of the solution. We all gain when we take the time to talk and listen to others. It helps break down walls and stereotypes. I talk to my daughters constantly about their lives and any perceived issues they are facing. Together we discuss their feelings and identify actions they can take to help remedy the situation. That is also part of our culture at Hylaine. I consistently reinforce that my door is open and urge leaders to have regular one-on-ones with employees. While this is valued by all our team members, I find it particularly beneficial for the women on our team who sometimes don’t speak up as readily as their male counterparts.
It’s surprising to me that the numbers are still as low as they are for women in STEM fields considering the potential that both offer to each other. One of the greatest strengths of our workforce is diversity. My call to action: Let us be intentional and inclusive of the men and women within our workforce to encourage leadership. Let us use our talents and our resources to volunteer, support and help our spheres of influence. If you are a business owner or in a leadership position, I hope you’ll join me in efforts to bean ally to females and help them understand that real opportunity exists and that they should not be discouraged by traditionally male-dominated classrooms and jobs.