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While the number of women in STEM has steadily increased since the 1970s, when they only made up 4% of the industry workforce, that number is only 27% today. Deloitte Insights reported that one in four leadership positions at large global tech companies was 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 that this is enough. Furthermore, only one in 20 of those women in leadership are women of color. So what needs to be done to create more inclusion and increase opportunities for women in STEM?
Pursue and promote an inclusive culture
Inclusion touches all aspects of culture. It can be hard to know where to start when building an inclusive culture, but it’s important to understand what the ultimate goal is: to make all employees feel like they can bring their authentic selves to work and are prepared to succeed 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 technology.
Articulate a vision for diversity and inclusion
Define clear success criteria for what a cross-functional inclusive culture looks like in your organization. Similarly, make sure everyone from leadership and hiring managers to interviewers and individual contributors is aware of how inclusion and diversity positively impact the bottom line. Making this clear is important to gain acceptance and is often not easy to understand. Particularly in global teams, make sure everyone can answer the question, “Why do we care about diversity and inclusion at this company?”
Focus and emphasize the importance of strong onboarding
Set new members up for success with a robust onboarding process at every level. Make sure it is presented to people across the board, as well as your coworkers. This not only drives cross-functional exposure and spreading of ideas and goals, but 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 accountable for creating and maintaining that inclusive culture by training, retraining, and evaluating practices on a regular cadence.
While establishing and maintaining inclusion is incredibly important in the drive for representation, it is only half the battle. It is paramount to support an inclusive culture with a diverse workforce, and vice versa. Without an inclusive culture, team members from diverse backgrounds will not be able to do their best work; therefore, diversity and inclusion go hand in hand.
Organizations must recognize that maintaining inclusion and increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups, such as women in technology, requires an ongoing and concerted effort that goes against conventional practice. Leaders must step out of their comfort zone and become vulnerable and open to change.
Increase opportunities for women in technology both internally and externally
Within any organization, senior leadership must be aware of current demographics and representation, and ensure that diverse voices are present and, most importantly, heard. This includes all aspects of the employee journey, from hiring to daily interactions and promotions. Strategies for doing this include:
Provide a place for employees of different backgrounds to connect
Whether it’s a Slack channel for LBGTQ+ employees, an ERG for women in tech, or a monthly luncheon with a diversity-focused guest speaker, 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 develop with each other. Networking and relationship building is particularly critical for employees who might be entering their first job or a new role where they are seeking guidance on career development opportunities.
Address diversity: create clear professional development programs
By establishing clear career paths, employees of all backgrounds need to understand how to advance in their careers. Similarly, organizations can work to remove personal bias from promotion decisions. Regardless of how a company chooses to approach the issue of diversity, it is essential that underrepresented groups and voices are heard and amplified during the career processes facing a new employee.
There is no single approach to improving the lack of women and broader diversity in the tech industry, but it is essential that we recognize and accept that this is a significant issue and take action to end these inequities. It is up to all of us, particularly leaders, to work to make the company culture not only embody diversity, but champion it and promote inclusion.
Colleen Tartow is director of engineering at starburst.
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