10 Best Practices to Foster Retention of Women in Technical Roles, Along with Strategies to Decrease Attrition
Palo Alto, CA. — September 24, 2013 – The Anita Borg Institute, (ABI), a non-profit organization focused on the advancement of women in computing, announced today a new report titled Women Technologists Count. It addresses the challenges of retaining women in technology jobs, examines the reasons these hurdles exist, and provides solutions to improve the retention of women technologists and curb rising attrition rates.
ABI’s Women Technologists Count report examines peer-reviewed academic and industry studies, as well as information and best practices that ABI has collected over the last three years through the Top Company Award initiative and its work with companies. A company focused on retaining its female technical talent should utilize the report’s solutions to enhance retention by building leadership accountability, promoting inclusion and collaboration, developing supportive networks and communities, and establishing helpful infrastructures and policies.
Geared for senior leaders at companies with large technical workforces, business line leaders, managers, women technologists, and HR professionals, the Women Technologists Count report is being released in advance of next week’s annual Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women In Computing Conference that brings women-in-computing’s issues to the forefront. With over 4,400 expected attendees, it is the world’s largest technical conference for women in computing.
With both the technical and monetary imperatives associated with retaining women in high technology careers, ABI’s Women Technologists Count makes clear recommendations to senior company executives of large technical workforces on how to tackle the attrition rate of women in technology.
ABI’s Top Ten Best Practices for Retention include:
1. Collect, analyze, and report retention data as it pertains to women in technical roles.
2. Formally train managers in best practices and hold them accountable for retention.
3. Embed collaboration in the corporate culture to encourage diverse ideas.
4. Offer training programs that raise awareness of and counteract micro-inequities and unconscious biases.
5. Provide development and visibility opportunities to women that increase technical credibility.
6. Fund and support workshops and conferences that focus on career path experiences and challenges faced by women technologists.
7. Establish mentoring programs on technical and career development.
8. Sponsor employee resource groups for mutual support and networking.
9. Institute flexible work arrangements and tools that facilitate work-life integration.
10.Enact employee leave policies and provide services that support work-life integration.
“Several studies have shown that mixed gender teams are more innovative, creative, and productive, so organizations that view technology innovation as a strategic imperative should be concerned with optimizing workforce diversity,” said Telle Whitney, president and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute. “It’s in the best interest of technology companies to retain women who are committed to inventing technology and making a contribution in their fields. To institute real change in the workplace, employees throughout the organization need to understand that including people of both genders, with a broad range of perspectives and backgrounds, is a business imperative.”
Increasing Attrition Rates for Women in CS and Engineering
Representing only 18% of computer science graduates today, the already small pipeline of women technologists’ narrows even more at the mid and senior levels. One study found that 56% of women technologists in the sector left over time with cumulative quit rates more than double the rate for men (Hewlett et al., 2008). A study of women engineering graduates found that 15% never entered engineering professions and another 20% working initially in engineering but left the field (mostly to other careers); among over 1,000 women who left the engineering field, the four top reasons cited were working conditions including lack of advancement opportunities and low pay (30%), work-life integration (27%), didn’t like the work (22%), and organizational climate (17%) (Fouad and Singh, 2011).
The ABI report also highlights the problems created by the high rate of attrition among women technologists including various challenges for employers and the negative impact attrition has on innovation. Direct replacement costs for companies can reach 50-60% of an employee’s annual salary. Total costs associated with turnover reach between 90 and 200% of an annual salary. There is a compelling business case to building mixed gender teams, which are more innovative, creative and productive. Studies show that diversity also in senior management positions predicts diversity of the overall workforce (Dobbin and Kalev, 2011).
One way to address the need to collect, analyze, and report retention data as it pertains to women is to participate in ABI’s Top Company for Women in Computing Award initiative. Each year, ABI awards one company its Top Company for Women in Computing Award, which recognizes companies for having demonstrated measurable forward progress in the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in technical roles at all levels. Grounded in research and based on quantitative data, each participating company is evaluated on the basis of current representation as well as retention and promotion rates and demonstrated improvement in each of these areas from the prior calendar year. This award is recognized as the definitive benchmark for progress in building diverse technical teams.
“Participating in the Top Company for Women in Computing Award helps companies focus on the best metrics to gauge their retention and advancement of women in technical roles,” says Dr. Denise L. Gammal, Director of Research at the Anita Borg Institute. “Companies that are recognized with the top honor have clearly demonstrated measurable forward progress in the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women technologists at all levels and have shown commitment to fostering diversity in their companies. Companies that have gone through the process come away with a much stronger understanding of how they stack up against industry standards and their peer participants, providing a yardstick to help them measure their progress in retaining and advancing women in their workplace.”
The ABI report, Technical Women Count, is a resource for companies to find solutions that help address the key barriers women technologists face in the workplace, including the lack of opportunities for recognition and advancement, the challenges of integrating work-life demands, and the isolation and unconscious biases women often experience in a male-dominated workplace. The ABI report emphasizes that companies focused on retaining their female technical talent should implement solutions that build leadership, accountability, inclusion, collaboration, networks, communities, and supportive infrastructures and policies. The report is available for download at anitaborg.org