Peer to peer: How do I retain female talent in the tech sector and promote diversity within the workplace?

Peer to Peer: Local experts answer your business questions 

From left, Elizabeth Steward, Andrea Gellert, Angela Biener

Peer to peer: How do I retain female talent in the tech sector and promote diversity within the workplace?

Elizabeth Steward - Director of marketing, Dun & Bradstreet Cloud Innovation Center

The key to retaining and inspiring women in the workplace is simple: hire more women. In Vancouver’s thriving technology industry I’m seeing more women enter the sector all the time, and yet women are still seriously under-represented in the industry as a whole, particularly in leadership positions and technical roles.

The first step to addressing this issue is to encourage women at the entry level. There are numerous programs that encourage girls and women to develop skills in technology. For example, Ladies Learning Code is one organization that we work with closely to nurture and support women from the start of their career.

But businesses have a responsibility too. They have a responsibility to hire or train more women to gain the necessary skills to become leaders and mentors. A lack of same-gender mentors is frequently cited as one of the main reasons that women leave the technology industry. It can be difficult for women to see themselves in certain positions in the workplace without having a relatable role model. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. Without more women in senior positions, it’s harder to inspire a new generation to take their place.

Placing more emphasis on gender-diverse mentoring programs, and encouraging business leaders to make recruiting or training women for these roles a priority, will not only help to address the gender gap in the short term but also have a long-term trickle-down effect.

It shouldn’t just be about ticking the gender diversity box either. Studies have demonstrated the value that greater diversity in the workplace can have and the positive impact it has on the bottom line. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University study published last year found that workplaces evenly split among gender lines are more productive and help companies’ financial performance.

Andrea Gellert - Chief marketing officer, OnDeck

Women have really started to stake a claim in the tech space – as well as the corporate world overall – and we need to keep that momentum going. Creating opportunities for women to feel empowered and grow professionally is an important first step. Here are three ways to get started:

1) Foster a company culture that values talent first.

I have been fortunate enough to work at companies that don’t have preconceived norms of gender. At OnDeck, the team is much more focused on the impact employees have on our business and our mission than on what gender they happen to be. At the end of the day, we want to fill our offices with the people who not only are best suited for the position, but also demonstrate the business maturity and accountability that is integral to creating a stimulating work environment.

2) Facilitate mentorship programs.

Networking allows your employees – especially women – to interact with and forge deeper relationships within your company and/or industry. At OnDeck, we launched Women@OnDeck last year to help empower the women here, foster their professional development and help them gain more exposure to senior women at the company. Your mentorship programs could be as simple as a quarterly catered lunch or an outing to an external networking group in your area. Start small and build from there.

3) Address needs for work-life balance.

Work-life balance has always been an interesting topic for me. I’m a wife, mother of two, a career person and someone with my own personal interests, and obtaining flexibility has been a key enabler of my professional and personal success. Let your employees know that flexibility is a benefit that comes with results, not an entitlement, and then work with them to understand their needs and what they can do from your perspective to earn the flexibility they are looking for.

Angela Biener - COO, nTrust

Now more than ever, gender biases are fading away in the workplace, and there are almost as many female senior executives in the tech industry as there are males. In my experience as a working professional, we are not evaluated based on our sex, but instead on the skills and experience we bring to the table.

1) Have champions.

Instead of a formal mentorship program, we help each other grow daily, with female champions in our office leading by example and giving honest and constructive feedback to all employees – regardless of gender. At our workplace, it’s about doing your job, and demographic differences have no impact on this result.

2) Play to the strengths of your employees.

It’s true that men and women see things through different lenses, but a successful business will use these differences to its advantage and play to the strengths of its employees. Working in a consumer-focused business with a service that is gender-neutral, it’s important to have a balance of male and female perspectives when developing and marketing the product.

3) Have no fear.

There are still certain situations where you must prove your worth as a businesswoman. In particular, when doing business with nTrust’s partners in male-dominated cultures overseas, I have learned to develop a thick skin and let my confidence in my skills establish my credibility as a woman in this industry. This is the No. 1 message I pass on to my female staff: have no fear, be confident, and let your voice be heard. We are the experts in our industry, so the most important thing is to let our skills and knowledge be known and prove our credibility as worthy business partners.