We like to believe that everyone has the opportunity to realize their career dreams in tech. Yet the reality is that women are underrepresented throughout the tech career pipeline — even more so at the leadership level. In 2021, McKinsey found that women make up just 22 percent of C-level software professionals, and that for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted. And many of us have heard the often-cited statistic that there are fewer women working in tech today than there were in 1984.
I am passionate about the cause of advancing more women into positions of tech leadership, and I have run into the reality behind many of these statistics first-hand in my career as an operator. For instance, when I was the first female product manager at Google Fiber, I struggled to find a mentor with whom I could personally identify. Given the personal nature of a mentor-protégé relationship, I wanted someone I could share specific challenges that I was encountering as a woman in the tech industry. For example, in a meeting in which I’m the only woman, how do I make my voice heard? If the external partner mistakenly thinks that I’m there as the executive assistant, how do I recover? I was extremely lucky in finding Tatyana Mamut, who has remained one of my greatest mentors and supporters. And while I was fortunate, I realize that many others who may be in the position, are not as lucky.
Over the years, I have had many conversations with male leaders who have shared that they want to help on this issue, but they don’t know where to start. What actions can they take to make their organizations more diverse? I founded the non-profit Advancing Women in Tech (AWIT) in 2017 to address gender representation in the industry, and today our organization is made up of over 20,000 women and male allies who are committed to changing the face of tech leadership. Here are some practical steps that I advise would-be allies take:
3 Steps to Take to Be a Better Male Ally to Women in Tech
- Accept that the status quo isn’t working and change is needed
- Get creative about hiring (and retaining) diverse talent
- Most importantly, be willing to mentor women
1. Accept That the Status Quo Isn’t Working and Change Is Needed
First, realize that if you continue to do what you’ve always done, you will continue to get the same results. You will have to do things differently than you have in the past to make your organization more diverse. Let’s think about recruitment. It’s a numbers game in many ways; if you are looking to recruit someone who has an identity that is underrepresented in the field, you’re going to have to try harder and insist on diverse candidate pools (that may take longer to develop). Accept that reality.
2. Get Creative About Hiring (and Retaining) Diverse Talent
Once you accept that you’ll need to change your actions, you need to be creative about ways to bring diverse talent into your organization. One way to do this is to build a recruitment pipeline into your organization that includes networks and channels that successfully attract and retain diverse candidates. For instance, AWIT’s partners work with us to connect with female product and engineering leaders to diversify their leadership recruitment pipeline. This year we are even partnering with the University of Pennsylvania’s Online School of Engineering to develop a pilot program that will connect master’s students to internship opportunities at top tech companies. I suggest that you take the time to identify organizations that serve the groups you are interested in reaching and find ways that you can form mutually beneficial long-term partnerships.
It’s not just about hiring people, though. It’s also about retaining the talent you have on your team and ensuring that they have what it takes to be promoted to greater levels of leadership. Half of all women who enter tech leave the industry by the time they are 35, according to a recent report by Accenture. The pandemic has made it even less likely that women stay in tech; a 2021 survey by New View Strategies found that 38 percent of women plan to leave their jobs within the next two years. Women are signaling that they are not satisfied with the industry by leaving in large numbers.
3. Most Importantly: Be a Mentor
What’s your role as an ally here? Be willing to mentor women.
Mentoring connects people within the organization that might not have spoken in-depth before , allowing them to learn from each other and create a trusted relationship. Pairing a mid-career employee with a person in leadership allows the mentor to leverage their knowledge and expertise to provide the advice and skills an advisee needs to advance. Mentorship allows advisees to make the connections to prepare for future leadership roles.
It’s not enough to rely on programs that match women with other female mentors, because as we know, there are too few women in leadership. According to a recent AWIT report, 49 percent of female product and tech professionals said that they struggled to find a mentor, including 18 percent who said that finding internal career guidance was hopeless. In order to break this cycle, male allies must mentor women.
What else should male allies do? Sponsor protégés from different backgrounds than their own. Research shows us that sponsorship is how people are picked for leadership roles; as individuals move up the career ladder, having more senior relationships is increasingly critical to career growth. Effective allies use their social capital to advocate for someone when the other person is not in the room and open up their networks to provide further opportunities.
There are countless ways to demonstrate allyship. Start taking steps, and see where it takes you.