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The pandemic has caused women’s participation in the workforce to drop across industries, and tech is no exception. Women make up 26.7% of technologists — a 2.1% drop in representation from March 2020 and a reverse after five years of progress, according to a new report from AnitaB.org, a global non-profit focused on intersectional gender and pay parity in tech.
But throughout the pandemic, several employers have stood out in their work to help women reach parity in their technologist workforce.
AnitaB.org’s 2021 Top Companies for Women Technologists report measures data from 56 tech companies and more than 552,000 technologists between January and December 2020. Organizations are scored based on career level representation of women, as well as hiring, retention and promotion of women.
Additionally, the survey considers each employer’s policies and programs that support intersectional gender parity within their workforce, including transparency and accountability, equitable hiring, caregiving support, pay equity, leadership and advancement, inclusion, and flexible work policies.
ADP was named the top company with a large technical workforce (more than 10,000 people) out of 14 large-scale companies; The New York Times Company was named the winner out of 29 companies with a medium technical workforce (1,000 to 10,000 people); and Dev Technology Group was named the winner among companies with a small technical workforce (fewer than 1,000 people).
AnitaB.org also recognizes “leaders” in each category, or companies that fall in the top 25th percentile of scoring.
Winner: The New York Times Company
Winner: Dev Technology Group
Employers are evaluated based on the size of their tech workforce, rather than the size of their overall workforce. Companies with at least 100 U.S. tech workers are eligible to submit their information to be included in the AnitaB.org report. Notably, major influencers such as Apple, Facebook, Netflix and Google — which have received their fair share of criticism for not doing enough to advance women and workers of color — did not participate in the survey.
Reports like the one from AnitaB.org can help companies understand what gaps in hiring, retention and promotion they can improve. It can also incentivize companies to continue their work toward parity, even as they grow. For example, Wilkerson points out that The New York Times Company has appeared as a winning top company two years running in the small technical workforce category; this year, it moved into the medium category and remains a leading company for women in tech.
“Working toward diversity helps these companies win,” Wilkerson says. “When we start talking about diversity, we often discuss it as problem to solve. Instead, we’re saying this is going to benefit both the company and the people who come to work here.”
Women’s representation in 2021 stands in contrast to several years of gains pre-pandemic. In early 2020, women technologists made up 28.8% of the tech workforce. With that level of growth, AnitaB.org projected it would take 12 years for women to reach parity in the tech industry.
The backsliding is “regrettable” after several years of progress, says Brenda Darden Wilkerson, president and CEO of AnitaB.org. “The pandemic just really underscored some of the gaps we have in our process in how we hire, retain and promote,” she tells CNBC Make It.
Despite the latest numbers, Wilkerson remains “very much forward-facing about what we can do” to make up pandemic losses and accelerate work toward parity in the years ahead.
For example, companies tend to use hiring as a main mechanism to increase the diversity of their workforce, but pandemic hiring freezes led to 18% fewer women being brought into tech jobs between March and December 2020. Hiring has since rebounded in the first quarter of 2021, with women making up nearly 31% of new hires into tech jobs in January alone.
The share of women being promoted in their tech jobs remains steady, which Wilkerson sees as a positive sign. “When we first looked at this, it was the opposite. Women were promoted at half the rate as men, retention of women was half the rate as men, and women were leaving twice the rate of men.”
And while representation of women in tech decreased at nearly all career levels except for interns, the share of women as tech CEOs jumped from 3.9% in 2020 to 10.9% in 2021, which Wilkerson calls an “incredible increase” and could signal accelerated progress in 2021 and beyond.
“I’m discouraged for any loss,” she says, “but the more we see women get promoted into senior- and C-suite levels, the more [progress] is going to happen at a faster rate.” Reaching parity “doesn’t have to move at snail’s pace.”
“Now, we’re hearing companies are hungry for mid-career women,” she adds, which means employers must evaluate their efforts in hiring women into mid-level and senior roles, as well as training existing employees to take on new levels of leadership.
Gender parity efforts help not only women already working in tech, but they could also encourage women hoping to switch careers into the discipline, Wilkerson says.
For all the challenges of the pandemic, Wilkerson says companies shouldn’t lose sight of the ways they’ve adapted their workforce, particularly around new flexibilities that disproportionately benefit women caregivers.
For example, 94% of companies from the AnitaB.org report say they now have a formal flexible work policy, including the ability to work remotely, up from 78% in March 2019.
Companies participating in the AnitaB.org report also outpace industry standards in offering dependent care support, with 87% providing benefits like backup child care, dependent care assistance or discounts to child-care centers. “I’d like to see that at 100%, but that’s an amazing metric,” Wilkerson says.
The report also notes that it’s not enough to provide adequate benefits if employees, especially women, feel they could be penalized for making use of them. To get ahead of this, companies must track who’s taking advantage of benefits and whether they feel supported by leaders. For example, if it’s found women are more likely to work remotely, companies should assess whether the difference impacts women’s promotion rates, pay rates and other areas of work.
The report includes many more recommendations that organizations can use to move toward intersectional parity among their tech workers, including conducting pay equity audits multiple times a year; requiring unbias training for employees and managers; creating policies to remove gender and racial bias from the hiring process; and providing career sponsorship with an equity lens for women and women of color.
“Over time, these are important things that will make a difference,” Wilkerson says.
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