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#Movethedial: Steps to Boost Female Representation in Tech

We know the facts: Having women in leadership roles is good for business.

However, news about gender inequality in the workplace and slow progress towards parity continue to dominate the headlines. In particular, careers for women in tech continue to be a challenge.

#Movethedial, a movement dedicated to increasing participation and advancement of women in technology, just released Where’s the Dial Now?, a 2017 benchmark report (of which Ceridian is a sponsor) exploring the gender gap in Canada’s tech sector – and there is a gap.

Only 5% of Canadian tech companies have a female CEO, only 5% of Canadian tech companies have a female founder, and 73% of tech company boards have no women at all.

The report also provides commentary (including that from our own Head of Strategy Justine Kilby), on how the industry can stop lagging in female representation, and reshape the tech ecosystem to be inclusive for women. As a female in the C-suite at a global tech company, I’m adamant about moving the dial on these results. Here is my perspective on how.

Leadership is a key driver to change

It is crucial for leadership teams to support diversity and inclusion awareness – a point that stood out to me when reviewing Where’s the Dial Now? Leaders must understand that support comes in many forms, whether it be educating themselves on gender equality issues, advocating for particular initiatives and programs, examining and updating workplace policies, or sponsoring a woman at work.

At our recent Ceridian Women’s Network Summit during INSIGHTS 2017, I had several conversations in which people shared that they felt their management teams would not necessarily support diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace. This is disheartening, yes, but leads me to my next point: while leadership is a key driver to change, it’s not the only driver – sometimes other levels of the organization need to instigate change for leadership to follow.

I’m reminded of what Focus Brands president and COO Kat Cole said at the CWN Summit: everyone has a voice, no matter what level they’re at in an organization. Have the courage to use it. As an employee, think about starting a grassroots movement – gather momentum to incite support at the top.

Or, consider approaching your leadership team on a more personal level and starting small. Instead of asking your organization to invest heavily (from both a money and time perspective) in programs or initiatives, start with a conversation, or ask one of the leadership team members to sponsor you.

I love what Ellevest CEO and co-founder Sallie Krawcheck wrote in Fortune about why she’s “over” women’s empowerment: women don’t need to be given power; we already have it, and we need to use it and grow it, and that’s by courageously starting those conversations.

Related: New Ideas for Sponsoring Women at Work

Gender equality isn’t only a women’s issue

A point well-documented, and reinforced by several Canadian female tech leaders in Where’s the Dial Now? is that true innovation can’t happen without a diverse group of people at the table providing input. The same can be said for inciting real cultural and organizational shifts when it comes to gender equality. Men, as well as women, must be educated, aware, and contributing to the change.

Top issues in gender equality, such as bias and inclusion, extend to broader conversations about diversity in the workplace, and vice versa. When we started the CWN Summit at INSIGHTS, we were inspired by other large tech companies who were investing in, and driving, conversations around women in leadership and gender equality in the workplace. These events have naturally evolved into larger diversity summits. This makes sense. How we navigate and solve for these different challenges provides valuable learning and helps us more clearly understand the impact of our solutions, or where blind spots still exist.

Make leadership possible for women

According to Where’s the Dial Now?, women in the executive team and C-suite in Canadian tech companies are underrepresented.

Altogether, women comprise 13% of the average tech company’s executive team, but that doesn’t mean they’re distributed evenly across the ecosystem — 53% of tech companies have no women executives at all.

Grant Thornton’s 2016 Report on Women in Business, which reported similar observations more broadly (using data from 36 economies) –  described this as a result of a “disconnect” between what businesses provide and what leaders want. We need to really understand that the motivations for men and women to take leadership roles may be different, and new models for leadership are necessary to make it possible for women to lead.

For example, in the context of minimizing impact on family life, this could include supporting policies for flexible working arrangements or shared parental leave, or not scheduling meetings very early or very late in the day.

Evolve recruitment and retention strategies

Building on the previous point, Where’s the Dial Now? highlighted an interesting finding: there’s a rich pipeline of women in tech, but under-representation increases as you go further up the corporate ladder.

According to a 2016 Catalyst report, 53% of women who begin their careers in the tech business leave for other industries (compared to 31% of men) and over a third of women who earn engineering degrees never become engineers. On average, women tend to leave tech-intensive industries after 10 years.

Retention techniques are key to keep women in their roles. This is complex, because women who move up in their careers are typically at a stage when they may start families. We need to keep these women in the workforce, recognizing that the challenges are different for each person.

I’m proud of what we’ve done at Ceridian to implement #GoSponsorHer initiatives to connect young professional women with more senior female executives. Real-life resources are key, such as providing women with access to female executives – whether through sponsorship or executive coaching, for example – who have worked through a similar scenario.

Read the full report here.

Related: Four Ways to Advance Equality in the Workplace

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