Six ways tech companies can help narrow the sector’s gender gap

Technology’s gender and diversity gap has been widely known, discussed and worked on for years, and yet it persists.

As we mark International Women’s Day, it’s important to call attention to the fact that the problem has gotten worse, not better, since the pandemic.

As the co-founder of Webnames.ca, I used to be one of only a handful of women or diverse people at most tech events or business meetings two decades ago. While this is no longer the case, women still make up only 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the tech workforce in B.C. and 30 per cent countrywide, according to recent data.

This International Women’s Day, commit to being part of the solution. Here are six things you can start doing today, regardless of whether you’re a five-person startup or a 500-strong company, to support women’s advancement in tech and other sectors as well.

Get curious about the root problems
From the wealth gap contributing to unequal educational access, to gatekeeping caused by restrictive credential requirements, to gender bias in recruitment practices and unsupportive schedules, there are many factors blocking women’s entry, advancement and retention in tech and other sectors. Take responsibility for learning about the intersecting issues impacting women.

•Take ownership of your own workplace culture
Make it clear that diversity is a priority in your organization and, together as a company, you will be taking steps to nurture an inclusive culture. Next: follow through. Don’t over-explain. Don’t justify. Just get to work.

•Identify and improve the things you have direct control over
Do a deep dive into HR, hiring and salary data and critically examine it. Are hiring salaries, pay increases, performance bonus formulas, vacation allotments equitable? Does the team have equitable access to educational, career development or promotion opportunities?

•Make internal recruiting and hiring processes less gendered
As a woman CEO who has always been hands-on with recruiting, it has been challenging to achieve gender parity in candidates for certain technology roles. Some of the steps we have taken include ensuring our job descriptions, application process and interview questions are gender-neutral; asking current or previous women employees for candidate referrals; and taking extra initiative to share job openings with women’s organizations, community groups and women leaders in our network. If you use recruiters, make gender-balanced candidate lists a requirement.

•Foster work environments that nurture women and families
When I launched my company more than 20 years ago, many tech companies had a pervasive “bro culture,” and I saw first-hand how it turned off women candidates. As I grew as a leader, I became much more conscious of the importance of culture. We expressly cultivated a child-friendly office where employees could bring their kids, offered more flexibility to work from home and started organizing family-friendly events instead of after-hour outings. Over time, I realized these decisions were a big factor in retaining not only women employees but all those with young families.

•Determinedly support women’s advancement at work
Representation is extremely important to female candidates. Women want to work for organizations that have women in leadership roles. Women use this as criteria to assess whether they will have sufficient opportunities for growth and advancement. Providing women professional development through mentorship, coaching, skills training and promotions helps to level the playing field not only in the short term but also over time.

In Canada, 97.9 per cent of employer businesses are small businesses. If more small tech companies and startups commit to improving gender diversity in their operations, it could help knock back systemic social and economic barriers that continue to hold women back from parity in the technology sector. 

Cybele Negris is president, CEO and co-founder of Webnames.ca and WebnamesCorporate.com.