7 Ways the Tech Industry Can Help Close the Gender Gap
Pursuing jobs in tech can lead to a promising career with high pay, enviable benefits, and the chance to work on innovative solutions. However, the tech industry has shown a lasting bias toward men, creating a growing gender imbalance in the field.
"Starting in IT 43 years ago, there were extremely few women. AND pay, opportunity, equity were not even considered at that time," wrote one respondent to Skillsoft’s annual Women in Tech survey.
Skillsoft's 2023 Women in Tech Report shows women believe organizations could — and should - do more to encourage others to pursue careers in the field. The report is the result of a global survey that 1,321 women who work in the industry participated in (621 work specifically in tech roles).
The report reveals the growing and stark gender imbalance in tech. Findings show the imbalance has increased since the year prior, with 45% of women saying men outnumber them at ratios of four-to-one or greater in the workplace. It's a 20-percentage point increase from the 2021 report.
In the U.S., the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows women made up roughly 27% of the workforce in 2022. Why so few?
Why is there a gender imbalance in tech?
Women in tech roles often face challenges that perpetuate inequity and prevent them from advancing. As a result, many women end up leaving the industry. According to Forbes, more than half leave by the midpoint of their careers.
For many, it's an uphill battle to break into the field — especially for those switching careers. However, the challenges persist throughout women's careers, as some face headwinds without adequate support from their employers.
As a result, this gender imbalance creates a series of problems, ranging from hampered company performance to lacking innovation and attrition.
To overcome these challenges, women in this year's survey believe employers should do the following to encourage others to join the industry:
“Providing these benefits will not only help organizations engage and retain women technologists but will help them fill critical gaps for technical skills and leadership competencies,” said Orla Daly, CIO at Skillsoft. “By investing in upskilling and reskilling initiatives, formal mentorship programs, and leadership coaching, organizations are not only empowering women on their tech teams but helping their businesses grow.”
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Some Women Say the Problem Starts Earlier
And while these ideas and benefits are a start, some women say we - as a collective industry - must start long before women begin job hunting.
Consider this response:
"The problem with women in tech starts way before hiring. There just aren’t enough women choosing IT as a career — unless they come from a country where IT is one of the only professional options for ambitious women as is the case in some of the European nearshore countries.
After that we lose many of the woman we have because childcare is so difficult, particularly in Switzerland and particularly in IT consulting where projects can change. Young parents need stability in their workweek and the burden often falls on the mum."
"Promote STEM programs for all ages showing women in engineering roles. You need to see yourself in the role."
"Activities to cater to students (high school and university) so that we make sure younger ladies do not abandon their interest in tech."
From Skillsoft’s CIO, Orla Daly:
“When there is already a shortage of women in the industry, especially in leadership roles, it becomes harder to attract and encourage women to pursue career paths in technology. By supporting women in tech as they grow and advance their careers, we can better engage and retain those currently in the workforce, while also inspiring a new generation of female tech talent through more visible examples of successful women in the industry.”
Continue reading to learn what actions employers can take to help encourage more women to join and advance within tech.
Access the entire Women in Tech Report to go deeper into the data.
1. Provide Professional Development Opportunities
Women in tech roles crave growth and opportunity. They want to put their skills to work as they continue to learn. Much like in our 2021 report, professional development and training rank as the top benefit employers could offer to women in tech.
In the survey, 98% of women say this benefit is important to them. And yet, 40% say they lack the opportunities to further their skills.
Findings from Skillsoft's IT Skills and Salary Report show gaps in skills cause employers a number of issues — longer project delays, added team stress, impacts to revenue even. To name a few.
By withholding these opportunities, employers hamper their staff's ability to grow and advance. And if you as the employer stand in their way, you risk losing talent at a time when the industry desperately needs it. Our Women in Tech survey found 28% of respondents are likely to switch employers in the year ahead; 38% are likely to switch job roles.
2. Offer Coaching, Mentoring and Career Counseling
Overwhelmingly, women in tech roles advise employers to offer more coaching, mentoring or career counseling, with 95% saying they are important benefits.
Women who pursue tech roles enter a male-dominated industry. Those who took Skillsoft's survey shared experiences of overt skepticism, disproportionate criticism, and even sexism and harassment.
Having a support network and coach to help navigate not only the day-to-day but challenges unique to women would undoubtedly help as they continue pursuing their aspirations in the field.
One respondent shared her advice to women pursuing careers in tech: "Find a female mentor to help navigate the landscape, assist with career planning and advise on specific situations."
As a part of Skillsoft's annual Lean Into Learning Report, Bailey Borzecki, Leadership Development Program Manager at Boston Beer Company, shared how her organization includes coaching into their talent development strategy:
“We naturally follow the 70-20-10 model for learning and development. Seventy percent comes from hands-on experiences. About 10% comes from coursework. The final piece, that critical 20%, is exposure to coaches, mentors, and masters. Skillsoft Coaching represents a huge piece of that practical magic — through relationships, conversations, encouragement, feedback, and shared expertise.”
See the entire story in the Lean Into Learning Report here.
3. Guarantee Equitable Pay
When asked about the challenges they've faced in pursuing a tech career, almost half (42%) of women said pay was a problem — actually, the second-greatest problem behind ineffective leadership. What's more, current pay and growth were the two areas women in tech roles expressed the greatest dissatisfaction.
The pay gap has been a longstanding issue, with women making 82% of what men make in the U.S., according to research by the Pew Research Center. The tech industry isn't exempt either. Another study found men are offered higher salaries than women 63% of the time. It's an issue across industries, at all ranks.
Employers must review their pay structures and policies to weed out inequitable practices that prolong this issue. Being more transparent and clearly communicating and documenting what factors go into pay and raises may also help.
"In general, it seems that transparency is instrumental in decreasing a range of inequities in the wage allocation process," Tomasz Tadeusz Obloj, associate professor of strategy at Indiana University, told Forbes. “Organizations and legislators have much to gain if they take a stand early on instead of waiting for people to find other ways of ensuring that they are getting fair treatment from their employers."
4. Foster an Equitable Work Culture
Employers that struggle with talent acquisition or retention may have problems with inequity at work, according to Gallup. Their research also shows only 28% of employees see their organizations as being equitable.
Fairness and impartiality are tied to how people feel, which can impact their perceptions of their employers and their work. Do they see resources as being allocated unfairly? Is judgement against their decisions or actions disproportionate to others?
If employees feel like they're judged unfairly or being excluded in some way, it could lead to a series of issues that end up hurting retention rates.
One respondent shared her advice:
"Offer a safe working culture so we are not pushed from our roles or prevented from growing. Hiring more women and other underrepresented groups is good, but being able to really include them and make them want to stay is key.
"Also promote girls to go into tech studies, eliminate the pervasive idea that girls are 'bad at math' and fight discrimination in schools and universities."
Equity, or fairness and impartiality, should be reflected in the culture of your organization but also demonstrated in practice and policy.
5. Offer Family-oriented Benefits
Research shows that 76% of mothers say it doesn't make financial sense for them to continue working while bearing the brunt of childcare costs.
In IT, this should sound an alarm.
The leading issues IT leaders face today have to do with attracting and retaining employees. For many, they can't afford to lose any.
As an employer, offering inclusive, supportive benefits like child-care and family leave could go a long way toward easing the stress women, parents and caregivers often experience. At Skillsoft, we recently increased our parental leave to 12 weeks fully paid and offer this benefit to all new parents to ensure we’re meeting the needs of our workforce.
One respondent shared her experience:
"It is extremely hard to compete with a man if women still remain the main family care[giver]. We cannot rest well, we cannot grow interest in career-related areas because we don't have any free time. Having a child with extra needs puts us at an impasse. There is no growth. It's like having 2 jobs and falling behind in both.”
6. Increase Diversity at Work
According to Deloitte, employees who recognize their organizations as inclusive and a proponent of diversity realize an 83% boost in business performance when it comes to innovation.
"Compared to their peers, high-gender-diversity companies deliver slightly better returns, and they have outperformed, on average, less diverse companies over the past five years," writes Elaine Montilla, the Assistant Vice President and CIO for IT at the Graduate Center, CUNY. "Companies that not only hire but also manage to retain more women put themselves in a position to automatically gain a competitive advantage, a benefit that extends to all stakeholders."
In tech, this is crucial. While the pace of tech only seems to speed up, it's important to remember the real engine behind innovation: People.
"By nature, interacting with a diverse team forces individuals to prepare better and anticipate alternative viewpoints," writes Montilla. "This enables better problem solving, which can boost performance at the business unit level."
7. Provide More Internships
Internships provide prospective tech professionals the chance to gain real-world experience, lean into hands-on learning, and capture a glimpse of the industry. What's more, they offer the chance for interns to network with peers, inroads to potential employers, and add to their resume.
Without internships, students or those changing their careers see their entry to tech blocked with many obstacles.
One respondent shared her experience:
"For career changers, there are no internship opportunities to get tech experience AND continue working a full-time typical business hours job, and when in that situation, I was unable to afford to quit my job to pursue an internship. It's exceptionally hard to get the first tech job without experience, but there's no way to get experience without the first tech job."
Like many of these benefits, internships are also a win-win for employers and employees. Employers add staff where they need extra help, while employees gain experiences that will stay with them throughout their careers.
To Close the Gap, Employers Must Center Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
For employers to overcome skills gaps, improve retention rates, and reap the benefits of a diverse team, they must review their culture, policies and practices to ensure equity remains at the center.
Otherwise, these pervasive issues — inequity in opportunities and pay, for example — will continue marginalizing women who are skilled, capable and eager to solve the very challenges companies are dealing with.
To dive deeper into this topic, read Skillsoft's Women in Tech Report today.