It’s Women’s History Month. Every year it seems there are an even greater number of articles and blog posts on women in the workplace. This year, “Why aren’t there more women in tech?” seems to be the most popular variation on the theme. As the Fairy Queen at Whitetruffle, I have been asked by multiple companies about what they can do to attract and hire more women in tech. There is no one right answer to give. Many companies have tried different approaches. Etsy sponsored hackathons and focused on creating easy opportunities for women wanting to transition into more technical roles. Cristina at Stripe tells startups that they need to pay more attention to the language they use in postings and conduct themselves with more awareness of gender dynamics. Some say we just need more mirrors and tampons around the office.
Lydia Loizides, CEO and Founder of GGGrit, a startup on a mission to build software products and services that help women build their career capital, was kind enough to talk to me about what she has noticed with women, tech, and career advancement.
Women and the Marzipan Layer
Lydia has spent her career in male dominated sectors - product development, engineering, and finance. Ten years ago, when Lydia was first starting her career, there were a few women around her in her divisions and many more in the rest of the organization. As she advanced, the gender ratio shifted dramatically. Many women got stuck, or actively chose to stay, in the marzipan layer. In talking to these women, she found that this was often because they were less willing to sacrifice work/life balance. This leads us to ask whether what women feel they need for this kind of balance is really not workable - or if women are simply not seeing enough examples of people who have been able to negotiate flexibility into their management and leadership roles.
What Women Need to Advance
Lydia sees a need to establish formal mentoring and sponsorship relationships for incoming female talent. Providing clear examples of female peers who have made advancement work - and are willing to advocate for their progress - can change the idea that advancement means giving up having a healthy family life. This means that both men and women need to work together to help the next generation advance. Lydia is also a firm believer in life-long education. Learning shouldn’t stop once you graduate. We all need to focus on building the skills and intelligence to succeed at what we do.
How Startup Culture Helps Women
Startup culture is unique in its openness. The very same qualities that allow for quick progress and endless iteration can be put to work to create an environment that helps women learn a broad range of skills quickly while building the work culture they want. Becoming comfortable with risk, learning from honest input and feedback, and developing strong negotiation and collaboration skills are key skills startups can teach.
Attracting Female Engineers
I have noticed the trend towards branding many entry-level tech classes as being “for women” and have heard frustration from female engineers around the difficulty they have in finding woman-focused tech groups doing anything *other* than offering intro classes. I asked Lydia if she saw a mature enough ecosystem to support more technically advanced groups and networks for women. From what she has seen, the beginner focus does seem to reflect the current female talent pool. Most of the women in tech companies she comes across will have somewhere around 0-3 years of work experience and tend to focus on frontend development.
Where all industries are challenged is finding ways to grow and retain women for the long-term in computer sciences and engineering. What does this mean if you want to hire more female engineers? Have a system for career development tailored to women’s advancement in mind. Lydia suggests formal training in management skills as particularly helpful for female engineers. This will benefit the company overall by increasing job satisfaction, lowering turnover, increasing employee loyalty - and building an environment where women can see themselves creating the careers they want.
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