The tech industry as a whole is lopsided. According to the National Center for Women in IT report, only 26 percent of computing occupations in the workforce are held by women. This is down from 36% in 1991. Somewhat shocking, considering the White House Council of Economic Advisors report from October of 2014 shows the number of women graduating with a bachelor’s degrees exceeds the number of males nationally.  

Reading these stats, it can be a bit daunting that this lack of gender diversity is a problem yet to be solved. To explore this issue, we’re conducting a series of blog articles in which we’ll be speaking to technology leaders about their experiences and ideas about being a woman in the predominantly male world of technology. We started in Apptio’s own backyard, with Cassa Hanon, Director of Product and Engineering at Apptio, who has some ideas about what is really causing the gap. I started by asking Cassa what she thought of the female shortage in the tech world. Interestingly, her response was much different than I expected. “The reality is that companies aren’t not hiring women. It’s that there are less women getting technical degrees and moving into technical roles. Point blank, there is a worker shortage,” explains Hanon.

With a worker shortage, does an initiative around hiring more women and minorities produce results? The combined commitment of major corporations to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into attaining a diverse employee base has yet to provide evidence of success. However, the second problem that persists is once women are hired into technical positions, many do not stay. In fact, women ages 25 to 34 are reporting greater dissatisfaction with their tech career prospects, even though 74% of women report that they love the work they are doing.  

Challenges and Solutions

With those statistics hanging overhead, it’s important to tackle the challenges women are really facing. According to Hanon, there are some recurring themes but also effective ways to combat negative perceptions.

  1. Create a culture that is all inclusive and welcoming 
    The worker shortage in tech positions relates to a disconnect that happens to women at a young age. The highest drop of females in STEM occurs in middle school. Engaging and providing a clear career path is essential. Young girls often fall out of STEM because they can’t see themselves in a career down the road. Access to tech sponsored events and getting involved in the community helps young students connect with men and women who are in the tech world now.
  2. Provide continuous educational opportunities 
    At Apptio, we understand that everyone has different motivators. For example, some IT employees may want to hone in on their technical experience, while others might be interested in expanding their business acumen. Paying attention to career development goes a long way to ensuring job satisfaction for women in tech.
  3. Allow time for one-on-one conversations 
    Making time for individual meetings builds trust and rapport within a team. Many times, in larger meetings, employees won’t speak up or ask questions because conversations are dominated by people who appear to have all the answers. Allowing for one-on-one sessions provides a safe and welcoming environment for the sharing of ideas and questions.
  4. Fight the HERO culture
    In the tech world, there is a perceived culture of work-life imbalance and nonstop fire drills. The reality is that tech can be like that but it’s not all pervasive all the time. In fact, the tech industry gives many opportunities other industries don’t. For example, many tech companies allow employees to work from anywhere, which provides more flexibility.
  5. Take initiative and own opportunities outside of your responsibilities
    Don’t sit back and wait. Find something that you think is interesting and go for it. On one of my first days at Apptio I was told, “If you’ve asked two people and they don’t know, chances are it hasn’t been done yet.” Find a new way to solve a problem, get creative, and explore solutions.

Changing the Status Quo

“Young companies like Apptio have an immeasurable opportunity,” says Hanon. “Though we're public, we are small enough that we can still make inclusiveness an integral part of our culture. Take Starbucks, for instance. While I was there, company-wide initiatives to hire more women or minorities weren't a focus. It was a part of their culture and was thus reflected in their workforce."

Changing the way both companies and people think about this gender diversity problem is vital for a change to happen, but it needs to start at a young age and we need all hands on deck. 

Every day Apptio empowers new bosses to manage the business of IT. See their stories.