What is the best way to help women thrive in the workplace? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
This is an important question. NCWIT found that-- quite clearly not representative of women's representation in the population overall -- but it may be even more alarming that when women do get jobs in the tech industry, they often don't remain there: the quit rate for women in tech is 41%. That's 25% higher than it is for men in similar roles, and significantly higher than women in other non-STEM fields.
So how can we not only keep women in tech, but help them thrive and grow into leadership roles there? That's an enormous question, and I won't do it full justice in just this post. That said, I'd identify two buckets our industry can focus on.
- Help women build social capital. Being productive in today's workforce -- and certainly, moving into a leadership position -- means more than just doing a good job executing independent work. Leaders are expected to anticipate problems, work well across teams and entire organizations, and use context about their companies and markets to develop a vision for what success means the future. Workers can't develop these ideas in a vacuum. They come from conversations with managers, leaders and peers, and from having the flexibility to speak freely and often outside the context of a specific meeting or deliverable.
Helping women thrive includes creating space for them build the relationships that will yield this context. Are different demographics of employees equally represented at your company's social events? If they all take place on Sundays, older employees who have families of their own or aging parents to care for might not participate. If your company bonds on the golf course, women will, by and large, be left behind: One 2010 stated that just 20% of U.S. golfers were women. To equalize the playing field, we could ask another 8 million women to learn golf -- or, we can try to create opportunities for building social capital, like a lunch-hour fitness class, book club over breakfast, or family-friendly Friday night dinner, that appeal to a wider swath of employees.
Our industry has more work to do here -- more inclusive social events alone won't do it. But diversifying the groups where we form informal but significant bonds at work can go a long way towards supporting women, and other underrepresented individuals, to thrive in their roles and prepare for leadership.
- Help women develop and project confidence. Imposter syndrome - the feeling that you're a fraud despite your accomplishments and abilities - is common in tech, especially for women. In one 2011 study, "
Something we've employed in our classes at is what we call "Feelings Fridays" - weekly group check-ins in which everyone shares the challenges they're facing and the doubts they may be feeling underneath any outward presentations of confidence. We actually see this practice as a way to retain women, to break down imposter syndrome by showing that everyone struggles with self-doubt -- whether you see it in their day-to-day behavior, or not. Companies have an opportunity to build their own trusted routines to bring this into the open.
But we must also go beyond just shining a light on a lack of confidence - we have to find ways to build it. As our COO says:
"Confidence isn't something that most people wake up with - it is learned, acquired, and grown over time through short, achievable sprints that stretch your abilities. In many ways, confidence can be grown just like a muscle. To train for a marathon, we exercise in deliberate routines that sometimes push us hard and other times serve to reinforce what we've already mastered."
We can all incorporate strategies into our culture to help employees build confidence - like setting up individuals for small wins, ensuring employees across demographics know that feelings of self-doubt are normal, and when things get difficult, identifying peers or mentors who can be resources as they push past discomfort.
As we've seen in Feelings Friday, this helps women feel more comfortable in their inevitable discomfort when facing tough challenges, but it also creates an atmosphere that helps every student thrive -- especially in tech, employees are always learning, and are always a beginner at something. ." So how can we take on imposter syndrome and identify that lacking confidence and lacking competence aren't the same thing?
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