Over the last couple of years, I have been lucky enough to sit on some panels with some amazing minds in the industry. The topic of women in mission critical or just women in IT as a whole has been the topic of many of these panels. I thought it would be nice to compile what I believe are some of the sagest bits of wisdom from these discussions. From construction to operations to coding, engineering, and procurement, there is a need to bring diversity into the equation. A few statistics are worth mentioning first.

According to the Nations Center for Women in Tech, 26% of professional computing occupations in the 2017 US workforce are held by women. Seventeen percent of the Fortune 500 CIO positions are held by women (2017) with 3% being African-American, 5% Asian, and 1% Hispanic women. The quit rate for women in tech is over 2x that of their male counterparts. According to the Kapor Center’s Tech Leavers 2017 Report, “Unfairness or mistreatment within the work environment was the most frequently cited reason for leaving, irrelevant of the gender or other factors like it. Unfair treatment was also twice as likely to be cited as a factor driving turnover than being recruited for a better opportunity.”

These statistics are telling. We also know that due to gender wage gaps (yes, that subject again) that women are more likely to leave the workforce for caregiver reasons as there is less financial impact to a family in more cases than not. The advantage of diversity in the workforce is undisputed.

Out of these technical summits, some amazing wisdom was shared. I will shamelessly admit that I’m swiping some of the wisdom from other co-panelists, and I also extend thanks. In all cases, it was conveyed that we need to start early with exposure to tech. Most agreed that high school is probably too late, and that earlier exposure to tech is better. In the data center/mission critical fields especially as the curriculum is not widespread, supporting industries should also be addressed (think engineering, for example). It is much easier to see oneself in a role, if a role model exists. It also helps break the cycle of out of sight — out of mind.

As a community, there are ways to reach young women through certification programs and other ways to jump-start careers. It was discussed that there are many talented individuals out there that for whatever reason, didn’t complete their four-year degree, but instead joined the workforce earlier. This industry could benefit more from using education/experience comparisons and not have hard stops at four-year degrees only. This is particularly true when building not only diversity including women, but diversity amongst nationalities as a whole. Not all people had college as an affordable path.

Further, many of the jobs in tech don’t really require a bachelor’s degree. The consensus amongst many on the panels were that the bachelor’s requirement can be arbitrary and that in many cases someone with four years’ experience can hit the ground running much faster than someone with a degree and then additional training. In many cases, it was stated that the actual experience was of greater value than a general degree or a degree in a non-related field that satisfies the degree requirement. In general, the country has moved away from technical two-year programs and apprenticeship programs, and companies are suffering from a talent perspective. In house trained employees can be some of the most loyal with better employee retention. In short, taking an interest in employees' careers provides a tangible return on investment. 

More and more organizations are awarding scholarships not only for college but also for certification programs. Infrastructure Masons has a commitment to ensure that 50% of all their scholarship dollars are awarded to women. 7x24Exchange’s WIMCO (Women in Mission Critical) and AFCOM also have mentoring programs that can be helpful to young professionals and students. Linkedin has a wealth of resources making mentors in pretty much any industry a few keystrokes away. IEEE has similar programs through Women in Engineering. As professionals in the industry, we need to advise young women in our outreach programs of these resources and encourage them to use them. It was noted that it is important to surround yourself with non-like-minded people as mentors and mentees. It is important to get out of your comfort zone to enjoy the benefits of diversity.

Another point was that as tech, we don’t do a great job of using tech to solve problems. Remote work and telecommute were great examples. In cases where 8-5 at an office, for instance, isn’t an option, we should explore all manner of facilitating teams and people to work.

Even in agile, where face to face meetings is encouraged, collaboration tools can facilitate employees that may be taking care of an elderly loved one or at home with a sick child. People should not be disposable because of circumstance. Cost of retraining is much higher than working to retain the original employee. Same note as the OJT note above.

Some companies actively work to recruit women of all backgrounds, while others do not have formal policies and procedures for female and minority hiring. Resume systems don’t always seek out female candidates, and potentially great candidates can be passed over due to lack of keyword matching in ATS systems. It takes a forward-thinking company to have the drive and ambition to balance the scales. One surprising trend to note that amongst audiences and panelists, men comprised a large share as fathers and uncles wanting to ensure the paths for the young girls in their lives were wide and varied.

A special thanks for the participation and wisdom of some great leaders in our industry as co-panelists and panelists on this topic. Hopefully one year from now, the conversation will be a little different.