Women’s Path to Leadership in Tech
Companies facing intense competition for talent can take concrete steps to attract more women to tech and encourage them on their path to leadership.
Currently, layoffs are sweeping the tech industry—and disproportionately affecting women. Eightfold AI has reported that women are 65% more likely to be included in the recent tech company layoffs. We spoke with BCG’s Neveen Awad, who studies women’s careers in tech, about how women are responding to the situation and the workplace factors that contribute to successful tech careers for women.
BCG: Reports indicate that women are being disproportionately affected by the recent layoffs in tech. What does your recent survey of tech leaders and employees reveal about this?
Neveen Awad: We’re seeing that when women at senior management levels leave their jobs, it’s because they choose to leave. More of the displacement is occurring for women in middle management. Overall, though, it is true that women make up a greater proportion of the staff being laid off.
But women in tech are resilient. We’re seeing less fear of layoffs. We saw that in last year’s survey, and we saw it again this year. Women are aware of their value, and they know that they can take their talents to other organizations.
Is the gender-based differential in layoffs true for tech companies across the board?
It is not. Some companies are not displacing more women relative to men.
These companies tend to have had formal programs in place that help to advance careers for women who participate in them—programs like mentorship, sponsorship, and executive coaching. Overall, we’ve found higher retention among employees with mentors and even higher retention among those with sponsors, proving the value of these programs.
These companies also have an informal emphasis, that is part of their culture, on respecting opinions and making everyone feel respected. Another part of this culture is respect for individuality and individual paths.
It’s useful to note that the programs have an additive effect. The formal programs are necessary—but not sufficient. Those cultural elements are critical.
What’s the outlook for women in tech after the layoffs?
Like I said, women know their value.
This reflects in part the fact that company leaders everywhere now are trying to wrap their arms around how to use data and digital to optimize value for their company. The search for digital talent is one of the hottest topics, whether it’s in government or health care or auto companies or anywhere else. So I do think this situation is a good opportunity to build up digital power in other industries.
How can leaders of companies in those industries make the most of this opportunity to hire tech talent?
In our survey, we looked at what we call the “blind spots” in hiring and retention. The things that everyone says matter are benefits and pay. And these things are important.
But when you really study underlying trends, it turns out that those aren’t generally the factors that cause women and minorities to stay in a job or to leave a job, unless there’s a really big increase in benefits and pay. Otherwise, the things that really matter are:
Company leaders can emphasize these elements to attract women to their tech teams and to keep them there. Of course, they need to offer formal programs like mentorship and executive training. But they also need to be aware that candidates will be considering the environment they will work in. What’s the sentiment they get from potential future colleagues and managers regarding inclusion, respect, appreciation, authenticity, and more?
What really stood out to you in this year’s survey?
I was excited to see “the build” over the past few years.
In our first survey, we found that a woman’s first promotion is the one that she feels has had the most profound impact on her career, whereas for men, it’s the most recent promotion. This first promotion signals to women: OK, I’m in an environment where they value my work, they value me, I get an early promotion, and I can see myself continuing here.
Last year, one of our key findings was that the pandemic had surprising benefits for women. For example, in Zoom environments, middle-management women felt empowered—they felt they could better steer meetings and influence decisions. And I think that was almost a proxy for saying, we’re all being equally supported and valued because we all have the same size box and we all have the same size space.
And this year, we’re seeing more explicitly the value of the cultural elements—appreciation, respect, inclusion—that underlie those findings from previous years. These elements account for part of the resilience women are showing in the face of the layoffs. And as the value of these elements becomes more explicit, companies will wisely continue to emphasize them. Doing so can only help to propel the careers of women in tech.