Is tech equality possible? Some nonprofits think so, and are working tirelessly to improve the representation of women in the technology industry.

AnitaB.org, a nonprofit social enterprise committed to increasing the representation of women technologists in the global workforce, has released a new report, 2019 Top Companies for Women Technologists: Beyond Representation, Toward Equity. The report highlights that “this is the most exciting time in history for women in technology,” and notes that it is now necessary to look not only at the number of women who are employed in technology-related jobs at every level, but also the importance of policies and programs that have been implemented in the tech and government sectors.

This digital community for women, which was founded in 1997 by its namesake computer scientist Anita Borg, now works with technologists in more than 80 countries and has partnerships with academic institutions around the world, as well as many global Fortune 500 companies. It continues to work towards an ambitious goal of 50/50 intersectional tech equity by 2025.

The report was released following the August announcement that AntiaB.org had met its internal goals to have a fully staffed executive team to focus on the 50/50 goal. The three new appointees will join AnitaB.org’s President and CEO Brenda Darden Wilkerson’s leadership team as the organization continues to expand its global reach.

“We need the most ambitious, inventive and diverse leaders to propel us to global 50/50 intersectional tech equity by 2025,” said Brenda Darden Wilkerson, via a statement. “The unique backgrounds and combined experience these eleven individuals bring is remarkable. It’s an extremely powerful team who will not only drive the necessary change for AnitaB.org but also lead and inspire our partners, clients, and the tech industry holistically to achieve remarkable results.”

Top Companies Benchmark

One benchmarking program in the AnitaB.org report “Top Companies for Women Technologies” looked specifically at technical employees. This national program, which was first launched in 2011, awards companies that are making the most progress toward equity.

Top Companies for Women Technologists measured the U.S. technical workforce of more than a half a million technologists in 2019 from 76 participating companies. Of the 572,000+ technologists, 143,000 were women. This included 17 companies with a workforce under 1,000 employees; 48 companies that had a technical workforce from 1,000 to 10,000 employees; and 11 large companies that had a technical workforce greater than 10,000 employees.

At a time when women continue to be significantly underrepresented, Top Companies helps point the way to a more diverse, equitable and inclusive future.

The Five Pillars

In its 2019 report AnitaB.org suggested that 50/50 by 2025 could be achieved by improving equity in five key areas or pillars, where technical women experience the great disparities. These five pillars included pay equity, hiring, retention, VC funding and empowerment.

The study found that pay equity remained a major problem, as technical women are still only paid 87 cents for every dollar tech men make, while women also tend to work in lower-level, lower-paid positions. The pay discrepancy is even worse for women of color.

However, new research suggests that there has been a positive trend in the hiring of technical women – yet this is a positive because there is still such a ways to go. Women make up a minority of technical employees, at just 25.1% of the workforce, and even at the current improved rate of hiring, AnitaB.org’s findings are that this rate of hiring is still insufficient to meet the 50/50 by 2025 goal.

Retention is also an issue, as data has indicated that 56% of women technologists continue to leave by mid-career, a rate that is double that of men. This comes at a higher cost to the women, as well as society warned AnitaB.org. The leading reason cited for leaving a job is working conditions, which include a lack of advancement.

Dollars from Venture Funding (VC) are also failing to reach women technologists, despite the fact that women-led businesses are the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurship. According to the report women-led businesses have received just 2.2% of VC dollars, even as one study cited by AnitaB.org found that a female-led venture outperformed all-male founder investments by 63%.

Women who are empowered in the workplace are empowered in life, the study also noted, highlighting the evidence suggests that women’s empowerment and gender equality have a multiplier effect on businesses and create sustainable economies.

Tracking the Progress

The latest research also suggested that a tipping point has been reached, as participating companies had a combined representation of 29.8% of women at the entry level in 2019. This could indicate that representation could increase more rapidly – however, this year also saw flat growth at the executive level along with rapid growth at the senior level.

The hiring of women technologists increased over the past two years – from 24.0% in 2017 to 25.9% in 2019. However, in 2019 a total 9.3% of women voluntarily left organizations compared to just 8.9% of men.

On the positive side, more women technologists were promoted at a higher rate than men – 13.2% of women to 12.1% of men, and AnitaB.org noted that advancing women into visible leadership positions could signal to other women that up that upward mobility is possible, and this could impact retention in the process.

Spotlight on Policies and Programs

Several policies and programs were noted for having shown significant impact on hiring, retention, advancement and the overall representation of women by Top Companies’ historical data. These included flex time policy, leadership development programs, gender diversity training, sponsorship programs, formal policy for eliminating gender bias in performance reviews and gender equity policy.

Flex time policies were important as women were more likely to stay in jobs that accommodate the multiple roles that they play at work and beyond, and this year’s data showed that flex time was offered at a high rate.

This year’s data also showed significant correlations between companies that offered leadership development programs for women in both hiring and advancement, which is important as mid-career can be a challenging time for women. These programs can foster retention of female workers while fostering advancement.

The study found that historically, voluntary gender diversity training was recommended, but current research is less conclusive. The report suggested all genders need to be part of the solution.

Additionally, sponsorship programs could allow women to advance further and faster, and increase the executive level representation.

A formal policy that eliminated gender bias in performance reviews could significantly impact mid and executive level representation as the performance reviews impact opportunities.

Pay equity, one of AnitaB.org’s 50/50 by 2025 pillars, was reaffirmed as a top policy as equal work deserves equal pay, regardless of gender.

“Top Companies’ data and the research literature are clear,” Jacqueline Bouvier Copeland, Ph.D., AnitaB.org COO wrote in the report’s conclusion. “Progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion are necessary and possible, but there is a long way to go as a field.  If companies want to create products and gain market share, multinational, intersectional workplace diversity is essential, and women are the key. Together we can accelerate and scale representation, pay, retention, and venture funding — making equity a reality for technical women over the next five years, and empowering them to reach their full potential at work and in society.”

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.