Large tech companies report their gender diversity statistics annually. That’s a good thing. The reporting facilitates accountability to their board of directors, shareholders, as well as the public. This data, which highlights female representation in the companies over time, clearly demonstrates what progress, if any, is occurring. What we see is discouraging. It seems that very few, if any, of these companies have yet figured out how to keep women from leaving.
A new report from Microsoft reveals that women only represent 28 percent of employees. Amazon leads the pack with 40 percent representation as of July 2017. Google is 31 percent female. Facebook 36 percent and Apple only 32 percent.
There are many theories why women leave and hundreds of programs and initiatives have been designed to address the issue. In fact, companies are spending millions of dollars on diversity programs yet it seems the programs are not giving them the results they desire. Why? Maybe they need to ask the women what they want and need to stay.
Companies are losing women because they don’t fully understand what women want and need to be successful in their organization. In the absence of real input and information directly from the women in their company, they make assumptions about what it takes to keep them on board. These assumptions then lead them to design or choose programs that have little impact on the retention or advancement of women. In order to keep women, they need to know what it takes to do that given the culture and structure of their organization. It’s that simple! What challenges do the women in their company face? Ask them! And armed with this information, find or create a program to address those specific issues. Future female leaders who have the desire and skills to succeed are sitting right there in their company. They leave because they don’t feel the company is truly invested in their long term success.
What can tech companies do to keep women from leaving?
First of all, they need to recognize that women have ambition. Women want to stay in the workforce and succeed. In Lost Leaders in the Pipeline, my co-author Lisa Mainiero, PhD and I, reported that 74 percent of women aged 22 to 50+ in our study of over 600 women identified as very/extremely ambitious and expressed a desire to continue to work even through motherhood. They would, in fact, stay in their company if they felt supported over the course of their career.
Women need to feel acknowledged for their hard work and recognized for the value they contribute to the company. That recognition is critical for the ongoing sustainability of ambition. Companies need to know what in the culture of their organization leads women to doubt their career aspirations and their ability. What in the culture of the organization needs to change in order to provide the missing encouragement and support? What issues are affecting women’s confidence and ambition? Ask them. The first step for any successful gender initiative is to ask the women what they need to sustain their ambition.