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While the number of women in STEM has steadily increased since 1970 — when they made up just 4% of the industry’s workforce — that number is only 27% today. Deloitte Insights reports that by 2022, one in four leadership positions in large global technology companies will be held by women.
This all sounds promising, but compared to the overall share of women in the workforce, it’s woefully inadequate. Moreover, only one in 20 women in leadership positions are women of color. So what needs to be done to create more inclusivity and increase opportunities for women in STEM?
Pursuing and promoting an inclusive culture
Inclusion affects 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 overall goal is: that all employees feel they can bring their true selves to work and are set up to succeed in their roles. This is an ongoing process that can be supported by a number of strategies, but here are a few that I have found particularly impactful as a mentor, leader, and woman in technology.
Define a vision of diversity and inclusion
Define clear success criteria for what an inclusive culture looks like in your organization. Likewise, make sure everyone—from leadership and hiring managers to interviewers and individual contributors—understands how inclusion and diversity can positively impact the bottom line. Making this clear is important to getting buy-in and is often not something that is easily understood. Especially on international teams, everyone asks, “Why do we care about diversity and inclusion at this company?” Make sure you can answer the question.
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Focus on strong riding and emphasize the importance
Set up new rivals for success with an intense onboarding process at each level. Make sure they get to know people and their co-workers. Not only does this provide practical exposure and the diffusion of ideas and goals, but it also opens up opportunities for people to have more similarities among their peers.
Re-examine your employee training programs
Provide training that fits well with your inclusive culture and best describes what it means to include and accept others, regardless of background. This is especially important in international organizations where specific cultures have different traditions and practices. To create and sustain that inclusive culture, hold everyone at every level responsible and accountable through training, retraining and regular review of practices.
While establishing and maintaining inclusiveness is incredibly important in the quest for representation, it is only half the battle. Supporting an inclusive culture with a diverse workforce is paramount, on the contrary. Without an inclusive culture, team members from diverse backgrounds cannot do their best work – so diversity and inclusion go hand in hand.
Organizations need to recognize that including women in technology and increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups requires a sustained, coordinated effort that goes against the norm. Leaders must step out of their comfort zone and make themselves vulnerable and open to change.
Increase opportunities for women in technology both internally and externally
In any organization, senior management must be aware of current demographics and representation and ensure that diverse voices are present – and most importantly, heard. This includes the entire employee journey, from hiring to day-to-day interactions to promotion. Strategies for doing this include:
Create a place where employees from different backgrounds can meet
Whether it’s a Slack channel for LBGTQ+ employees, an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for women in tech, or a monthly lunch with a guest speaker focused on diversity, make sure there are places for employees to discuss and raise issues.. By encouraging these group events, companies can provide opportunities for underrepresented employees to connect and build. Building networks and relationships is especially critical for employees entering their first career or seeking guidance on career development opportunities.
Combating Diversity: Creating Clear Career Development Programs
By establishing clear career paths, employees from all backgrounds need to understand how to progress in their careers. Similarly, organizations can work to eliminate personal bias from promotion decisions. No matter how much a company chooses to address diversity, it’s important that underrepresented groups and voices are heard and empowered in the workplace that a new employee experiences.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving the lack of women and the vast diversity in the tech industry, but it is important to acknowledge that this is an important issue and take steps to address these inequities. It’s up to all of us, especially in leadership, to make the company culture one that encourages not only diversity, but also support and inclusion.
Colleen Tartow is the director of engineering Starburst.
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