What it will take to get more women into tech
MARCH 8, 2022 • BLOG POST • FIDELMA RUSSO, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER, HPE
IN THIS ARTICLE
- The private sector plays a significant role in establishing real-world workplace inclusion and equity
- HPE has a long-standing commitment to unconditional inclusivity and focuses on creating opportunities for women’s career advancement while prioritizing their well-being
- To address the current talent shortage, companies should hold their leadership accountable for progressive change
Reflections of a female Chief Technology Officer
International Women's Day is a moment for reflection and action – an opportunity to celebrate women's achievements and recommit ourselves to forging gender-inclusive spaces. As the world begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic while turning its attention to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine – both of which have disproportionately impacted women – this year's International Women's Day is particularly important to me. Having grown throughout my career from an engineer to CTO of a leading global technology company, I know firsthand that the tech industry has improved at attracting and retaining female talent over the years. But I also firmly believe that we can and must do better.
In the last two years, much has been said about the socio-economic inequities working women have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. McKinsey reported that one in four women in the United States considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers – the first time in years that their rate was higher than for men – with working mothers, female senior managers, and Black women facing the largest challenges. Due to the pandemic, 23% of working women with children under 10 years old contemplated workforce exits during 2020, while 75% of mothers in dual-career couples faced significant increases in their daily household responsibilities.
Although governments have supported gender equality for decades, the private sector has the most significant role in establishing real-world workplace inclusion and equity. Today, when virtually every industry has become digital-first, the tech sector needs to take full stock of the changes wrought by the pandemic, implementing policies that simultaneously support currently employed women while enabling more to join us. Our collective shortlist of priorities must include:
- Acknowledging that we face a major shortage of talent, particularly women, at a time of belated but broad recognition of diversity's value in empowering organizational success.
- Offering lucrative career opportunities and overall work experiences that respect employees’ unique circumstances, align with their values, and support personal well-being.
- Celebrating women’s differences and prioritizing women’s well-being in addition to their career advancement, focusing on not only their professional growth and development, but also opportunities for them to simultaneously succeed outside the workplace.
- Promoting more women to senior leadership roles, and holding up those women as inspiring role models to the next generation of female leaders and STEM students.
Prior to the pandemic, leading employers were already working to become more attractive places for women to grow their careers while recognizing the importance of employees’ personal and mental well-being to productivity and performance. However, the pandemic dramatically changed both workplaces and work-life balance, causing many alternative childcare options to disappear, and forcing many workers to juggle responsibilities for their young children and/or aging parents. As the world rebalances, it's critical for every technology company to ask itself hard questions, listen openly to all team members, and hold its leaders accountable for progressive change.
HPE is proud of our long-standing commitment to unconditional inclusivity and has embedded into our culture a shared understanding that innovation is fueled by an environment where team members feel appreciated for their diverse perspectives and experiences. That’s one of the reasons I came to HPE, joining a nearly 60,000-person workforce that was 32.8% women as of last year, with an increasingly positive track record on diversity. In addition to tying diversity targets to executive compensation and having quarterly Board-level reviews of our diversity performance, we are making steady progress on our previously announced goal of having at least one diverse team member on 100% of teams three or fewer levels from our CEO, increasing equity and representation at our highest levels.
Women play a key role in increasing diversity within the tech industry, and HPE is already home to many of the world's best and brightest – with our sights on hiring and promoting a wide range of amazing people. To that end, we have created an Executive Council program, providing select employees with top-level executive sponsorship and development opportunities, including leadership sessions and elevated visibility. We are also excited by our Ready Now! program, an innovative initiative that helps female HPE executives win board of directors seats across multiple industries, improving gender diversity in historically male-dominated boards.
Particularly in light of our collective pandemic experiences, companies must consider how supporting women through important life transitions will help retain them over their long-term careers. At HPE, we have a global parental leave policy that offers parents six months of paid parental leave, plus a transitional support program to provide flexibility in returning to part-time work until a child is three years old. These programs support women through a major life milestone that is known to interrupt career trajectories. Also, by being gender-neutral they help balance caregiving responsibilities by encouraging men to be more active in caring for their children.
While correcting workplace gender imbalances is a bigger challenge than any one company can solve, we each must do our part. Even during the past two challenging years – ones where the tech industry continued to lag behind others in this regard – HPE has continued to increase our gender diversity figures. And, we openly disclose our performance in Bloomberg's Gender-Equality Index.
I know that we can and will do more. HPE understands that the world is in the middle of a major realignment of workplaces, with the technology industry facing a particularly leaky talent pipeline. At this important moment in history companies must prove that they consistently offer career development and growth opportunities for women, and inclusive cultures that value women in the workforce and in leadership positions. I'm proud of the work HPE has already accomplished in this regard and look forward to making even more progress in the days and years to come.