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6 ways to attract and retain female IT talent

Sharon Florentine | Nov. 3, 2014
While there's no magic formula that will instantly close the gender gap that still exists in the IT field today, business leaders can take these steps to help shift the male-dominated culture towards increased diversity.

Provide Role Models
Since the mid-1980s, the

IT industry has been dominated by men, and many women, familiar with discrimination and harassment issues, don't find it a hospitable environment in which to build their careers. That said, having female leadership - visible, accessible female leadership - can help attract and retain talent, according to Palo Alto Software CEO Sabrina Parsons.

"I often have executives from other companies call me and say, 'How do you recruit and retain women? The skills gap is huge, and we know women have these skills, but we just can't get them to apply. We want them, but we don't understand what we're doing wrong,'" Parsons says.

One of the first things Parsons says she looks at is the executive leadership team listed on their website. What she typically finds is that most of these executive leadership teams are made up of men only. "At worst, it can seem completely sexist. At best, they might have a woman in the head HR role, and that can seem neutral. But women are going to think twice about applying to a company [where] they don't feel they're accurately represented," says Parsons.

When Parsons took over as CEO, she set about recruiting and hiring other women into Palo Alto's executive leadership and to the engineering team (across the industry, women make up only a small percentage of software engineers).

Adding a woman to its development leadership team made a big difference when it came to who was applying for positions with her organization. "Once we had Lara [Fields, chief product architect] on board, we absolutely began to get more resumes from other women. Now, 30 percent of our engineering group [is made up of] women. I don't know if other women are looking at us and saying, 'There's a woman at the helm, there are a number of women in leadership positions. Hell, yes, I want to apply!' but that's the feeling I get," Parsons says.

Encourage Them Early
Experts agree that supporting organizations that encourage young girls to pursue careers in IT can hold the key to ensuring a pipeline of talent for the future. "If you don't have the foundations in place it's so hard to catch up, and the gender gap just keeps widening as IT workers get further along in their careers," says Entelo's Bischke.

While woman make up 48 percent of the U.S. workforce, they comprise only 24 percent of STEM workers, according to the Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey (ACS). In other words, half as many women are working in STEM jobs as one might expect if gender representation in STEM professions mirrored the overall workforce, according to data from a 2011 US Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration report. This underrepresentation has remained fairly consistent at 24 percent over the past decade, even as women's share of the college educated workforce has increased from 46 percent to 49 percent.


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