By Manon DeFelice
It’s a well-known fact: We need more women in the male-dominated tech and STEM fields, where the future is unfolding at a breakneck clip. World-changing innovations happen in this industry every day, and women need to be a part of that—lending balance to a gender-skewed landscape with their unique contributions, viewpoints and skill sets.
In the debate about how we can bring more women into tech and STEM, great points have been made about introducing girls to technology at an early age. Powerhouse organizations like Girls Who Code are piquing girls’ interest and making tech a viable (even cool) career path that girls can choose. It’s true that we need to start early to break the stereotypes and counteract the biases that peg tech and STEM as the terrain of boys and men.
Such root-level changes are essential and the early investment in girls will pay off, helping to bring more women into tech jobs in the future. Fewer than 1 in 5computer science graduates are women, and programs like Girls Who Code are doing great work to change that. But how can we bring more women into tech today? Certainly there are a few things we can do right away to attract not just entry-level female coders and engineers but also MBAs and leadership-trained women into tech.
There’s one surefire way that tech companies can attract more women right now, and that is to create a culture of workplace flexibility. Flexible work arrangements, which allow for remote hours and malleable solutions to work-life balance, are key to solving the brain drain problem and the lack of senior-level women in tech .
Currently, women hold only 5% of leadership positions in the tech industry, and more than two-thirds of US startups have no women on their board of directors. Change must happen at a company’s top tier, where the tone is set for the rest of the organization. We need more women in tech’s high-level roles: COOs like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, CEOs like YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki and presidents like Jean Liu of Didi Chuxing, China’s version of Uber.
Time and again, studies show that flexibility draws more women, and retains them, in the workplace . In a Pew Survey, 70% of women with families said that having a flexible work schedule was extremely important to them. The inverse is also true: Where flexibility is lacking, so too are highly accomplished women. The Dean Kellogg School found that at least 50 percent of women with MBAs from top schools exit the full-time workforce within ten years of graduating. In tech as in every industry, work-life balance is key to bringing more women to leadership positions.
Flexibility is one important step for tech companies seeking to close the gender gap. We also need to encourage more entrepreneurship in women. The combination of tech training, leadership skills and entrepreneurship will bring game-changing ideas from women into the tech world.
Currently, only 17% of startups globally have a woman founder and a measly 3% of venture capital money is going to female-led companies. Yet a study by First Round Capital found that companies with a woman on the founding team are outperforming all-male companies by 63%. So why aren’t more women getting funded?
Women don’t always love asking for money, but female entrepreneurs have to know their worth and own it. It’s a shift in mindset: If you’re a woman with an innovative startup company, you need to know that you’re doing someone a favor by letting them invest in your company. Perhaps that “someone” is a female-led venture firm, though currently only 8% of investing partners at the top 100 venture firms are women.
A climate of systemic bias and a culture of excluding women has prevailed for too long. We need flexible work arrangements that attract women seeking work-life balance, and hiring practices that revolve around diversity and inclusion. It’s also time to incubate more female tech entrepreneurs and break the cycle of men funding men. Only then will we see the pipeline of talented women begin to gush into the future-forward world of tech and STEM.