Three key takeaways from this week’s Tech’s Leading Women

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The third episode of Tech’s Leading Women is here! The six-part video series features a range of business leaders offering opinions and advice on gender, culture and building an inclusive workplace.

Hosted by Zoë Morris, President at Frank Recruitment Group, this week’s episode was a passionate debate based around the subject of the missing middle. It featured Mary Chaney, Chairperson, CEO, and President of Minorities in Cybersecurity and Jeanne Cuff, Associate Director of ISG. 

Here are three key takeaways from this week’s fascinating episode:

Why women leave

With the quit rate for women in tech estimated to be as high as 50% by the time they reach the age of 35, the first topic of conversation was inevitably centered around what causes this exodus. Jeanne began by discussing her own personal experience of the problem. She said: “I went back to grad school when I was 50 and out of 27 people in the class, there were five women and we all got our masters in technology management. The following year that we graduated there were zero women in that programme—I  was stunned! That really surprised me, but I also see this trend reflected in our work. I’m not seeing as many women being part of this discussion because they have so many competing requirements and needs going on in their lives.”

Mary added that aside from personal commitments such as childcare, there are still behaviors within organizations that cause such a high level of drop-off. She said: “I think just from experience and from talking to folks, it actually is culture. Why do I want to deal with this male-dominated field where I don’t feel valued or appreciated? The children thing is not necessarily the driving force, I don’t think. I think it really is the fact that you can only be in so many meetings and be ignored before you start to feel like this just may not be the right space for you. The same problems, different positions, different companies—they haven’t really done a good job with actually making women feel valued, and they put a lot of the burden on the women themselves, particularly the minorities, to make culture better. But they don’t necessarily look at what they can do themselves to drive the ability for tech women to feel comfortable in their environments.”

Not being heard

On that note, both women discussed one of the biggest issues that have affected  themselves and their peers in tech, and that’s simply the issue of being listened to. Mary kicked things off, saying: “The most obvious example is when you say something in a meeting and then two minutes later a guy says something and everyone jumps on and says, ‘Oh, I agree with you Bill.’ And it’s like, ‘didn’t Mary just say that?’ That’s one thing, but I’ve also had some racial things happen to me where I can’t use my voice because if I do then I’ll be determined to be the angry black woman. It looks different when it’s coming from a woman of color maybe, than it does from someone else. So, there’s some nuances there to how you go about being heard.”

Jeanne also added her perspective: “I had dinner one time with the CIO group I was part of and it was me and eight men, and we were all talking about some of the problems we had with finding developers. And I said to them: ‘You’re not supporting girls in technology. You’re not paying and supporting these programs for 12-year-old girls, so they don’t see themselves in those roles.’ Afterwards, one guy came out and started telling me what I had just told him, and I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ I just said, ‘All right, you’ve mansplained that to me, I have to leave.’ And this other guy next to him started cracking up going, ‘She’s right! You just told her what she just told all of us.’ And that is it in a nutshell.”

She also added that it’s not just an issue that affects women at senior level and can in fact be a major factor in a lack of career progression. “A lot of people start at the help desk. If you’re there and a guy’s speaking up and saying something, and so is a young woman, but she’s not getting heard and he is, that is a huge, huge problem. So then you end up getting stuck and the women aren’t seeing the opportunities to make the next career change. It’s really tough, you have to have a little layer of toughness that not everybody’s willing to have, and that’s a real challenge. I think, for a lot of young women, there’s a confidence level too—it’sthe imposter syndrome. Sometimes you’ve just got to be a big mouth, but it’s hard—I’m a big mouth, but it’s still hard to do!”

What needs to be done?

While both ladies offered impassioned stories about some of the inequalities they’ve seen in tech, as well as the impact of it, they also offered advice to companies who genuinely want to correct the imbalance. Mary said: “Every technological person, every cybersecurity person knows the concept of defense in depth, and essentially that means that if you’re going to protect something from a cybersecurity perspective, there’s no one way you can get it done. You have to have firewalls, VPNs, access control—all of these things are built to create defense in depth and I think DE&I needs the same. You have diversity, equity, inclusion—you have to start with fair salaries, right?”

“To change the culture, you have to start by eliminating all of the subjectiveness or as much as you can when it comes to making decisions about hiring, salary, promotions. Do you have a checklist for somebody that’s coming in as an analyst that wants to make it to senior analyst? Do you have a curriculum for them to actually drive themselves to make it, to be what you want them to be? And do you promote them based on those goals and objectives? So, taking the subjectiveness out and getting clarity in regards to how these opportunities work. There is no one size fits all approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and organizations also need to measure success. You can’t just say, ‘I believe in DE&I and I have a person in charge of it.’ Well, what’s your final outcome? What is it that you’re trying to do in the end? If you’re trying to increase people of color, if you’re trying to increase women, when do you know you’re done? And if you’re not measuring it then you’re just talking.”

Jeanne finished by giving her own view of what businesses need to do in order to reach those goals. She added: “Companies need to start putting their money where their mouth is, they need to put it into programs for kids, and younger people, and high schools. There’s a ton of non-profit organizations out there, and companies need to support those. They need to build the pipeline, just like you would with a baseball team. You have your triple A, right? So, you’ve got to build your pipeline for talent, it just doesn’t magically appear and they’re not doing that. Google’s not doing it enough, Amazon’s not doing it, none of these companies are doing enough of that.”

“The other thing is management. We have all had one manager who said, ‘I believe in you, you can do this.’ Male or female, you need some good management support. They need to be trained on how to be supportive of diversity. Flexibility is a big deal for women. If you’re having kids, or if you’re taking care of older parents, you need flexibility in your schedule. You have to trust your workers to be able to do the work and to do it in a flexible time frame. Now the pandemic has changed everything for us on this, so the other thing is to actually build career paths and offer some childcare options. Most people want to get their own childcare options, but the best companies I’ve worked with have had options for emergency childcare, and that’s a big help too. So, maybe it’s not ongoing childcare, but it’s there in an emergency.”

Both Jeanette and Mary offered a wide range of other experiences, passionate insight and advice throughout what was an enlightening and entertaining discussion. You can listen to the full episode here.

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