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Is your company culture driving away women tech workers?

Sharon Florentine | June 19, 2015
Women enter the IT workforce at about the same rate as men. But somewhere around the mid-career point, the number of women in IT plummets. Why? It's the culture, stupid.

It's an assertion that seems simplistic, but is borne out by data. According to a recent study by Bain & Company, which asked more than 1,000 men and women about their aspirations to leadership roles in their company. Women with two years or less of work experience slightly led men in ambition. But for women who had more than two years on the job, aspiration and confidence plummeted 60 percent and nearly 50 percent, respectively. These declines came independent of marriage and motherhood status, and compared with much smaller changes for men, who experienced only a 10 percent dip in confidence, according to the survey.

The study points to three factors that influence these severe changes in women's outlook: a clash with the "ideal worker" stereotype; lack of supervisory support and a lack of role models in the workplace.

Clash with the ideal

What does success look like in your company? If it means 16-hour days, late nights and weekend work and availability 24/7/365, that could be a huge turn-off to your best talent, male and female. According to one female survey respondent, "Watching middle-aged white male after middle-aged white male tell their war stories of sacrificing everything to close the sale was demoralizing. I just kept sinking lower in my chair and thinking that I would never be able to make it to the senior ranks if this was what it took," the woman recounts.

The study revealed that the more experienced women workers were, the lower their aspiration. Women's level of aspiration remained 60 percent lower than men, whose rates shot up, according to the survey. Most jarringly, the Bain survey showed, that the percentage of male more-senior managers who have confidence that they will reach the top jobs is almost twice the percentage of female managers.

Lack of supervisory support

Another contributing factor is a real or perceived lack of support from supervisors or managers. A 2011 Harvard Business Review research report titled, The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling showed that nearly two-thirds of male executives were hesitant to have one-on-one meetings with a more junior woman.

And even when dialogue occurs, gender differences may affect the nature and success of the conversations, according to The Sponsor Effect study. For example, women are often seen as more relational while men are often seen as more transactional. Survey respondents are more than twice as likely to believe men are worse at building relationships with colleagues than women, and respondents are five times more likely to believe women are better at working with colleagues of the opposite sex. The upshot is that female employees may need a different type of dialogue than male supervisors are accustomed to having, according to The Sponsor Effect study.

 

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