StayInTech Conference: How to attract and retain female talent

CEPIS President: Luis Fernandez-Sanz

Together with Girls Go Circular, an EIT Community Education initiative that fosters the entrance of girls and young women into STEM, we recently particpated in the “Stay in tech! – Policies and practices for attracting and retaining female tech talent” conference in Berlin, co-organised by the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies (CEPIS), a Pledger of the EIT Deep Tech Talent Initiative.

Women remain under-represented in the tech workforce, and the number working in ICT professions has increased by only 1.5% in the last 7 years! And while the focus is on getting women and girls into tech, there also needs to be investment in retaining them.

The conference focused on the strategic advantages of diverse teams and advancing women in technology leadership. Discussions underscored the urgency of diversifying organisations to improve performance and innovation, with conference participants highlighting the inadequate representation of women in C-Level positions and stressing the importance of tackling women’s critical career-shaping years, i.e., those between the ages of 32 and 38.

The benefits of diverse teams

A significant point raised during discussions was the necessity of having women represented on company boards.

Research suggests that diverse teams outperform homogenous ones, therefore, initiatives aimed at attracting and retaining talent must prioritise diversity to unlock the full potential of teams. However, despite recent efforts the number of women in C-level positions has remained stagnant over the years.

One recommendation was for individual men to seek mentorship from women, to help them understand the unique challenges women face and gain insights into effective leadership from a female perspective. It was stressed that, ideally, all major decisions should be reviewed by a designated female representative to consider their impact on women within the organisation

On an organizational level, setting clear diversity targets and tracking progress was advised. And while adequate funding was highlighted as crucial for implementing effective changes, companies should establish specific pledges for teams to drive diversity efforts and retain more women in tech roles.

EIT Community Education: EIT Deep Tech Talent Initiative and Girls Go Circular

Attracting women into the tech industry

Several issues were identified as obstacles currently dissuading women from entering the tech industry, including unclear job descriptions, support systems, lack of encouragement for applying for lead roles, and gender disparities in salary negotiations.

The need for inclusive leadership development emerged as a key part of the solution with leadership courses focusing on diversity and inclusion, and emotional intelligence training being used to help break gender divisions in leadership and improve recruitment processes.

Alongside this, discussions centred on the crucial need to establish an inclusive company culture along with an effective implementation of codes of conduct and diversity initiatives to attract women into the tech industry, and more importantly retain them.

Additionally, with the current lack of formal support systems for women in tech, there is an urgent need for companies to establish proper mentoring, support and sponsorship channels, although for smaller companies this was recognised as a potential challenge. It was also noted that while guidance is essential for career advancement, it needs to be balanced, currently women in tech tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored.

Proactive strategies such as getting women involved in tech early on, providing educational institutions with incentives, and refusing to accept negative feedback were strongly advocated.

The need for women to balancing personal and professional responsibilities was also addressed, with suggestions including renegotiating partner contracts for caregiving responsibilities and prioritising networking for career advancement.

Key solutions to attract and retain women in tech

  • Coding boot camps and alternative education programs offer accelerated pathways to industry roles, and will help address the skills gap
  • Individuals need to advocate for themselves, challenge stereotypes, and renegotiate domestic responsibilities to thrive in the workplace.
  • Recruitment processes must be reformed to encourage diversity and discourage biases, both internally and externally.
  • Collaboration and guidance from larger organizations can help small companies bridge the mentorship gap and support talent development.