Women are still dramatically under represented in the tech industry and the problem worsens the higher they rise within an organisation. That’s according to a report from McKinsey and Company and leanin.org which found efforts to address gender diversity “may be stalling.”

The report, Women in the Workplace 2017, analysed data from 22 companies employing over 12 million people across North America and claims to be the largest study of its kind.

The research found manufacturing (26 per cent), telecom and IT services (33 per cent), and technology (36 per cent) to be the bottom three industries when it came to employing women in entry level roles.

Source: McKinsey & Company/Leanin.org

For women in the American tech industry their representation diminishes the further up the corporate ladder they climb, culminating in just 17 per cent at the C-suite level.

Australia has similarly poor numbers for female representation in IT executive roles at 17.6 per cent, according to a 2017 Davidson Technology report. Although there is encouraging growth in Australia – the 2016 number was 14 per cent and the report concluded the number of women in IT roles was increasing and the gender gap was closing.

The diversity problems in the American tech industry are part of larger systemic problem, according to the McKinsey report. While company commitment to gender diversity is at an all time high, much of it appears to be lip service.

“Women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America, despite earning more college degrees than men for thirty years and counting,” the authors wrote.

“Progress [on gender diversity] continues to be too slow—and may even be stalling… Many employees think women are well represented in leadership when they see only a few. And because they’ve gotten comfortable with the status quo, they don’t feel any urgency for change.”

Part of the research included surveying over 70,000 employees which uncovered that women are experiencing a significantly different workplace to men. The workplace is “skewed in favour of men” who take an overly positive view of diversity, often at odds with reality, and women of colour face even greater challenges, according to the survey results.

Source: McKinsey & Company/Leanin.org

Addressing the diversity problem

The research report argues organisations need to implement a “comprehensive top-to-bottom plan” to address the diversity issue.

Only half of employees feel their organisation is highly committed to gender diversity, a significant gap from the 90 per cent of companies that report diversity as a high priority. This gap is why the researchers argue creating a compelling case for gender diversity should be the first priority for organisations to improve their diversity. And like most major change, it starts at the top.

Employee training also needs to be improve. According to the report only 47 per cent of employees know what they need to do to improve gender diversity and less than a third of managers “regularly address gender-biased language and behaviour when it happens.”

To drive the diversity change managers need to be empowered, according to the report. “In top-performing companies, managers more frequently help both women and men navigate difficult situations and recommend them for new opportunities,” the authors said. It seems like it should be standard practice, but under half of employees reported receiving such support.

Very few organisations have “end to end processes” to endure fair unbiased hiring and performance evaluation. However leaders have dedicated programs to improve the promotion rates of women. The report recommends instituting reviews and outcome tracking to ensure improvements in the process.

Employee flexibility programs can foster a more inclusive working environment and their is a lot of room for improvement, according to the report. “Less than two-thirds of companies offer maternity leave beyond what’s required by law, and only about half offer fathers the same benefit,” the authors said. Support programs are particularly beneficial to women who are more likely to have a partner who also works, according to the report.

Most companies are tracking gender diversity at basic levels but improvement requires drilling down into the data to find the pain points and then setting targets. It is also important to offer transparency on the results – currently a roadblock to gender diversity.

“While 81 per cent of companies say they share a majority of gender diversity metrics with senior leaders, only 23 per cent share them with managers, and a mere 8 per cent share them with all employees,” the authors said.

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