How to develop an effective women’s initiative for your tech company

So you want to make your tech company a more diverse and inclusive environment? Here’s how to develop the right women’s programme for your organisation and its employees

Talent acquisition is paramount for every tech company, no matter the size. From Silicon Valley to the Silicon Roundabout, startups are furnishing their offices with everything from ping-pong tables to unlimited snacks in order to attract and retain the best employees. Even more traditional enterprise businesses have revised their dress codes and vowed to improve work-life balance to remain competitive.

These benefits can enhance workplace culture and have the potential to foster creativity and collaboration. However, companies need to go beyond providing material amenities and devise programs that embrace their core values if they desire to create more opportunity for their employees. This is particularly true when discussing diversity and the employment of women in technology.

In a new study conducted by Comparably, survey responses from more than 1,000 men and women across the technology industry revealed that 54% of women feel gender has held them back in their career. This is 20% higher compared to the 44% of women in jobs outside of tech that feel their gender has held them back.

To address this issue, one type of programme that that can be valuable in promoting discussion and providing support is a women’s initiative dedicated to embracing company values, facilitating communication and providing resources for female employees with the purpose of inspiring individuals throughout the entire organisation.

Initiatives like the Women in IT Awards, the world’s largest tech diversity event, and recent calls for the statue of Fearless Girl in New York’s financial district to remain a permanent fixture highlight the different measures taken by companies to promote diversity in technology, business and leadership.

>See also: Women in IT Awards

The Women in IT Awards provides a large-scale and high-profile platform for identifying new female role models in tech leadership. And although the Fearless Girl statue was developed as part of an ad campaign from State Street Global Advisors, an asset management firm, it has become a motivational force. It urges women to strive for success in what they want to do, and stand up to challenges. Such top-down initiatives are needed to address the challenges surrounding female leadership, wage gaps, and diversity.

The Fearless Girl was designed as a call to action for companies to include more women on their corporate boards, and it was executed well. For other companies considering building an initiative, leaders should think what inspires them, their own personal values and their company’s values, and design a program with those things in mind.

So, how can tech companies create programmes that empower women to take their own initiatives, foster creativity in the workplace and move up the ladder in their careers? Ultimately, it starts with the employees.

In order to create successful diversity initiatives that benefit everyone, companies cannot just take the approach where one person develops the programme, alerts the employees through an email and then expects a result. There are several steps a company must take to ensure thoughtful programmes are created and everyone’s voice is heard.

Here are three steps to developing an effective women’s initiative in a company environment.

1. Identify the top three challenges that female employees are facing with their careers

Some of the biggest challenges women encounter in their careers include a lack of resources to excel, obtaining leadership roles, and fighting self-doubt. Women can face extra challenges in finding their own voice, and speaking up and being firm without being perceived in a negative light. Challenges will be different for every woman and every company, so it’s important to take the time to figure out how the employees at your organisation truly feel and narrow down achievable goals to develop realistic solutions.

2. Create task forces

Giving women the opportunity to network with one another throughout the organisation and talk about their challenges and solutions with others is a great way to enhance communication, creativity, thought leadership and even productivity in their own job responsibilities. One of the most valuable components to a women’s initiative is being given the chance to meet and talk with women across numerous roles and functions within the company. We learn from one another, but if we don’t get the chance to set aside time in our busy days to talk, new ideas and future programs could be stunted.

3. Determine the opportunities female employees really want 

Once the task forces are set up, it’s easier for companies to discern the kinds of opportunities that their employees are interested in, as well as the different measures that can be taken in implementing the programmes. Through repeated discussion and ongoing meet-ups, everyone can get a better idea of their goals and the steps they should be taking to achieve them.

>See also: Chief of MI6 reveals real-life ‘Q’ is female in rare speech

It can also be extremely helpful to look at what other companies are doing and see the kinds of tactics they use in developing their talent through women’s initiatives.

One such company that has been successful with encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM is a Seattle-based marketing company, TUNE, which runs a scholarship programme at the University of Washington for female undergraduate students pursuing computer science, engineering or IT degrees. Tech companies can exemplify the components of higher education programs like TUNE’s by focusing on mentorship and networking for their own employees.

Tech firm Viant created a women’s initiative with the goal of enhancing leadership skills and building mentorship relationships for its workforce. Through training and development opportunities catered specifically to the needs of female employees, the entire company is committed to combatting social stigmas and encourages employees to speak up and make their voices heard without a gender bias.

Another company that puts a focus on providing women with opportunities to enhance their skills and inspire interest in tech-related fields is Girls Who Code, a non-profit organisation dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology. With after school clubs where elementary school students learn to code with engaging instructors and summer immersion programmes for high school students, the organisation’s structured programmes help ignite interest and foster skillsets in computer science for girls and young women.

Having this kind of mindset, and exemplifying it through mentorship programmes, enables women to start the discussion and share their own struggles and solutions to develop a programme with their ideas that is attractive to all employees.

When a company shows they’re supportive of personal growth and that they’re willing to help their employees excel and grow into leaders, they’re aligning their values with individuals to encourage them to run with their own initiatives. Not only does this create more opportunity for employees, it sets the business up for a greater success because a company is only as strong as the people who believe in it.

 

Sourced from Halai Shukran, Director of Talent Management at Viant, a Time Inc. people-based advertising technology company

 

Nominations are now open for the Women in IT Awards 2018. Nominating is free and easy. Click here to put yourself or somebody else forward to be recognised at the world’s largest tech diversity event.