Shelley Zalis (left) with Megan Smith, CEO, shift7, 3rd US Chief Technology Officer, and other women in The FQ Lounge, Home of Equality at Davos

We need to get more women into tech, that much is clear. In general, women bring qualities such as nurturing, empathy, and passion that are needed for the best leaders today. These qualities are also needed in the tech industry to help transform workplace culture. Moreover, getting more women in tech will lead to innovations that reflect the wants and needs of half the population.

Women make up 59% of the total US workforce, but only 30% of employees across major tech companies, according to Inc.

We have to do two things. First, we have to change company culture and upend long-established norms – like the 9 to 5 working week – in order to recruit a diverse population of workers.

Second, we have to get women interested in a career in this field long before they start hunting for a job.

Overcoming barriers

There are many barriers for women in tech, and one of them may be that men don’t recognize women as leaders, according to research conducted by Refinery29 and Berlin Cameron.

I think women bring heart to the table, which translates into passion, emotion, caring, empathy; all the soft skills needed for business, and leaders, today.

Another barrier for women in tech is legacy issues, so it’s important to have a diverse talent pool and a diverse hiring team. You can fill the pipeline with diverse candidates, but if your hiring team isn’t also diverse, you will likely end up with more of the same, since people tend to hire others who think, and act like them.

The good news is there are many ways that companies can inspire change and create a culture that welcomes and encourages women.

For instance, by enabling and empowering women who are already on the team to take opportunities, investing in them, and offering them the best career path.

Another critical way is to encourage colleagues to get to know each other, but in a way that makes everyone feel like they belong; regardless of gender, ethnicity, age or life stage. Not everyone can or wants to go out for drinks or play a round of golf. Making opportunities for connection more diverse helps to create a level playing field for access to managerial or executive teams.

Closing the gap

Exterior of The FQ Lounge, Home of Equality at Davos

According to the World Economic Forum, it will take more than 200 years to close the wage gap. Let’s figure out where the gap is and close it. There should be pay transparency: equal pay for equal work. Don’t base current salary on past compensation or else we will never close the wage gap.

There is a policy trend already which is making it illegal for employers to ask for job candidates’ salary history, with states such as Massachusetts, Delaware, California, Oregon, Hawaii and others turning it into law. Leaders inside companies can adopt the same policy even if it is not illegal in their state. Equal pay for equal work, end of story.

Offering paid equal parental leave, and encouraging men to take it, will help to minimize hiring bias and the motherhood penalty. Research shows that offering paid leave also helps improve employee productivity and workplace satisfaction, as well as helping keep women in the pipeline. Having more women in the workforce has been shown to be good for the economy.

Measure employees’ success by results, not time spent in the office. We start the workforce at 50/50 but women start to drop out of the pipeline in what we call “the messy middle,” when they stop work to start a family. Putting policies in place that help them thrive both at work and at home, such as offering flexible schedules, can help companies attract and retain the best talent. This is a big cost saver for companies since turnover is expensive.

To really make these priorities work, however, companies need to set goals, communicate those goals and hold leaders accountable just like you would with any other business objective.

It’s good for business

We also need to consider a career in tech long before the job hunt starts.

Helping women see that they belong in tech starts from an early age. In our Girls’ Lounge at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Facebook helped bring youth ambassadors from BlackGirlsCode to the lounge. BlackGirlsCode is on a mission to help young women of color break into the tech world. Its goal is to teach 1 million girls how to code by 2040.

There are dozens of case studies of companies doing it right in our Modern Guide to Equality.

This is not just about driving inclusion, it’s about driving business results.

Equality benefits everyone. It’s good for the economy, a McKinsey study found that we could add $2.1 trillion to the US economy if we close the wage gap. Women make 85% of the purchasing decisions. Imagine how much more money would get funneled back into the economy if we closed the wage gap. 

It’s good for business because gender-diverse leadership teams outperform those that are not. Companies with the highest representation of women on their senior teams reap 34% more profits than companies with the lowest female representation, according to Catalyst.

Equality will help both sexes thrive. For instance, men who mentor women will not only help women advance because men still make up the majority of leadership positions, but they’ll also expand their own networks and, therefore, their spheres of influence.

More progress will be made when we understand and integrate into our hearts and minds the reality. Equality is a choice. Parity is not a female issue or a male issue; it is a leadership issue.