Organisations are continuing to fail to attract, retain and promote women in technology roles. Sionic has completed a Women in Technology Gender Review to examine how our ‘Equal 4 All’ framework is helping the finance sector to create a more equitable environment and enable change at scale.
Attracting and retaining women in technology is not a new problem; disturbingly, Tech Nation’s recent research shows that only 26% of technical roles are occupied by women.
We have been working closely with several global financial institutions for years to positively promote and encourage women into technology engineering career pathways and participate in our industry-leading Enterprise Engineering Programmes (EEP).
These programmes have enabled us to complete a ‘Gender Review’, to provide insights into how women are progressing in tech within the financial services sector.
Our headline findings have shown:
- Over a five-year period, the number of women completing the EEP has risen from 10% to 22% due to targeted enrolment and focus
- If our clients continue to proactively encourage more women to enrol on the EEP and progress their expert careers further, we anticipate a further increase to 30% by 2027.
- Independent audits and reviews of in-house nomination and participant selection processes ensure more inclusivity.
- Proactively targeting female and other minority groups to participate leads to increased engagement and ultimately positive change.
- Introducing extended development opportunities across the engineering career path has enabled more opportunities for women, including:
- Introduction of Female Principal and Distinguished Engineering Programmes
- Examining entry-level development to introduce robust career progression and development pathways linked to ‘grow our own’ strategies including specialist ‘Next Generation’ programmes for early careers in technology.
- Providing focused interpersonal skills for women such as Empowering Equity, Communicating for Success, and Women in Leadership to help build confidence and enable them to show up as equals.
This success and positive change is achieved through investment and the correct management of diversity challenges. Recognising there are no quick solutions is vital when driving for long-term benefits. Our belief in an ‘Equal 4 All’ environment is shown through our dedication to the progress of all minority groups. Our framework consists of four quadrants:
- Setting the vision and tone
- Implementing new working practices
- Enhance learning and development
- Evaluate and continuously improve
Equal 4 All Framework
Setting the vision and tone
Creating the right culture is challenging, but vital in the push to solve equality challenges. Executives need to take accountability for making the cultural change required to proactively spearhead the path for female talent, visibly champion it and create an ecosystem for diverse talent to thrive.
Often, organisations need to start from within and carry out an internal audit if they’re serious about diversity and want to create a space for an equitable culture. It is important to consider tackling the issues through holistic and often transformational change, examining company-wide policies, procedures, structures, ways of working, mindset and behaviours.
Implementing new working practices
To create a cultural change, organisations need to consider accessibility to roles, career progression, and learning and development. This may mean a change in Human Resource policies, procedures and contracts of employment. Women, more than men, face specific challenges that require consideration of alternative, more flexible working practices:
- A higher percentage of women have primary family and/or caregiving responsibilities, resulting in longer leaves of absence and pressure on work/life balance.
- They often perceive greater pressure to prove their skills (technical skills in particular) and often feel they have to work harder for the same recognition whilst juggling responsibilities outside of work.
- Many women in their later careers are facing the physical challenges of menopause (which are out of their control) that can impact their confidence and ability to perform at their best.
Real shifts in momentum can be seen in organisations where efforts are sustained and integrated into company-wide operations. Examples include:
- A move away from traditional career pathways based on domain/functional experience to job roles based on skillset capability and leadership qualities.
- Implementing flexible return-to-work schemes that are tailored to individual needs, and fully supported by their people leader
- Education and development for all employees; particularly people leaders, emphasising the benefits of leveraging diversity, flexible and agile working.
Enhancing Learning and Development
Increasingly, we are seeing a drop in female retention, particularly at the critical career point around middle management, as well as in senior leadership positions. In-company learning and development is one of the top three employee benefits most important to women. “Women are attracted to, and stay at, organisations with role models as technical experts” (HBR, 2019, If Women Don’t Apply to Your Company, This is Probably Why (hbr.org)) and comprehensive professional development programmes that support their growth across the career lifecycle.
An essential part of developing your own talent is to ensure it is consistently applied throughout the career lifecycle.
In addition to this, development opportunities need to be accessible to all. We hear from women that they do not always put themselves forward for positions, roles and or development due to a lack of confidence in their technical expertise and broader communication skills.
Investment is critical, as female representation brings more female leaders, role models and diversity of thought. Working with our clients over the last five years has demonstrated that having transparent expert career pathways, formal development and engaged people leaders who understand the nomination and selection criteria can indeed result in higher female participation at all levels.
Proactive talent management and succession are also proving to be a powerful lever in creating a more gender-diverse and inclusive environment. Whilst this practice is well established, many organisations are failing to leverage the power of the insights and analytics they are gaining to instigate meaningful actions and change.
We are seeing the increased value and sustainable, positive change where businesses are focused on the outputs and decisions from formal talent review processes, continually reviewing and tracking agreed actions rather than managing as a ‘once a year’ activity.
Some examples of these actions are as follows:
- Creation of high-profile role opportunities and encouraging women to go for stretch roles, openly sponsored by business executives, leaders and supported by well-equipped mentors.
- Introducing formal mentorship and sponsorship programs, along with leadership coaching to support women in creating their vision, and brand and build their confidence to perform at their best.
- Empowering and developing people leaders to proactively look for the next generation of female leaders and to have positive conversations that encourage them to pursue new opportunities or roles.
- Upskilling people leaders to have open and candid conversations with women about their career and development needs, along with equipping them to create the environment for diversity to thrive.
- Creating and publishing options for multi-career paths and developing alternative talent pathways
Evaluate & continuously improve
Our biggest observation through our work is that the most successful organisations to create positive change are those that have a very clear and strong set of key performance indicators (KPIs). These help to demonstrate the benefits of investing and creating the right culture for future talent, employees, key stakeholders, shareholders, and the Board. KPIs can specifically help to:
- Create a story of evolution and growth to publish both internally and externally.
- Identify what works well and adds the most value.
- Build on positive improvements and areas of strength.
- Provide insights for corrective action, targeted interventions, and adjustments.
- Provide positive media and communications, promoting and enhancing the brand.
Having great KPIs is one of the first steps, but the key to success is continuous monitoring of progress, strategy adaptation and forward planning, to ensure there is a continuous review and alignment to ever-changing internal and external challenges.
Leveraging other formal monitoring and auditable processes such as risk registers, and equal pay legislation is another great way of ensuring the whole organisation is aware of the challenges and benefits of addressing diversity challenges.
Overall, we are very pleased with the progress being made to proactively encourage more females to advance their careers within technical roles. Additionally, we are confident we will see a continued increase in women completing our Enterprise Engineering Programmes over the next five years if our clients continue to leverage our recommendations within our Equal 4 All framework.
- Business leaders need to consider the culture, vision, and tone they are setting to create an equitable environment aimed at attracting, developing and retaining women in their organisations.
- A holistic approach is needed to address gender imbalance and ensure that policies, procedures and ways of working help create more career flexibility to aid attraction and retention.
- Organisations need to take the time to proactively promote and target women to participate in expert career pathways and development opportunities available to them
- It’s important to establish robust KPIs and monitoring to ascertain a current state assessment and use them as a measure of success over time, continuously monitoring progress and adjusting delivery plans and requirements as needed.
How to find out more
If you would like to know more about our ‘Equal 4 All’ Framework, Enterprise Engineering Programmes, technical expert career pathways and what we do to support women’s development, particularly in the world of tech, please contact us.