The National Center for Women & Information Technology found that women hold only 25% of computing-related occupations – clearly not representative of women’s representation in the population overall. But it may be even more alarming that when women do get jobs in the tech industry, they often don’t remain there: the quit rate for women in tech is 41%. That’s 25% higher than it is for men in similar roles and significantly higher than women in other non-STEM fields.
So now with coding bootcamps like Flatiron School helping more women get their foot in the door in tech, how can we not only keep them in tech but help them thrive and grow into leadership roles? That’s an enormous question, and I won’t do it full justice in just this post. That said, I’d identify two buckets our industry can focus on.
Being productive in today’s workforce — and certainly, moving into a leadership position — means more than just doing a good job executing independent work. Leaders are expected to anticipate problems, work well across teams and entire organizations, and use context about their companies and markets to develop a vision for what success means the future. Workers can’t develop these ideas in a vacuum. They come from conversations with managers, leaders, and peers, and from having the flexibility to speak freely and often outside the context of a specific meeting or deliverable.
Helping women thrive includes creating space for them build the relationships that will yield this context. Is different demographics of employees equally represented at your company’s social events? If they all take place on Sundays, older employees who have families of their own or aging parents to care for might not participate. If your company bonds on the golf course, women will, by and large, be left behind: One 2010 report stated that just 20% of U.S. golfers were women. To equalize the playing field, we could ask another 8 million women to learn golf – or, we can try to create opportunities for building social capital, like a lunch-hour fitness class, book club over breakfast, or family-friendly Friday night dinner, that appeal to a wider swath of employees.
Our industry has more work to do here – more inclusive social events alone won’t do it. But diversifying the groups where we form informal but significant bonds at work can go a long way towards supporting women, and other underrepresented individuals, to thrive in their roles and prepare for leadership.
Imposter syndrome – the feeling that you’re a fraud despite your accomplishments and abilities – is common in tech, especially for women. In one 2011 study, “half the female respondents reported self-doubt about their job performance and careers, compared with fewer than a third of male respondents.” So how can we take on imposter syndrome and identify that lacking confidence and lacking competence aren’t the same thing?
Something we’ve employed in our classes at Flatiron School is what we call “Feelings Fridays” – weekly group check-ins in which everyone shares the challenges they’re facing and the doubts they may be feeling underneath any outward presentations of confidence. We actually see this practice as a way to retain women, to break down imposter syndrome by showing that everyone struggles with self-doubt — whether you see it in their day-to-day behavior, or not. Companies have an opportunity to build their own trusted routines to bring this into the open.
But we must also go beyond just shining a light on a lack of confidence – we have to find ways to build it. As our COO Kristi Riordan says:
“Confidence isn’t something that most people wake up with – it is learned, acquired, and grown over time through short, achievable sprints that stretch your abilities. In many ways, confidence can be grown just like a muscle. To train for a marathon, we exercise in deliberate routines that sometimes push us hard and other times serve to reinforce what we’ve already mastered.”
We can all incorporate strategies into our culture to help employees build confidence – like setting up individuals for small wins, ensuring employees across demographics know that feelings of self-doubt are normal, and when things get difficult, identifying peers or mentors who can be resources as they push past discomfort.
As we’ve seen in Feelings Friday, this helps women feel more comfortable in their inevitable discomfort when facing tough challenges, but it also creates an atmosphere that helps every student thrive — especially in tech, employees are always learning, and are always a beginner at something.
Flatiron School created Women Take Tech to increase opportunity for future female software engineers and bring gender equality to tech. Already Flatiron has awarded scholarships to hundreds of women through partnerships with Birchbox, Bustle, and She Geeks Out, and they’re thrilled to continue to expand this initiative with Ellevest’s help.
“Education is one of the most powerful investments a woman will make. Across the country, women are increasingly interested in learning technical skills like coding that will open the door to their future career,” said Kristi Riordan, COO of Flatiron School. “We are thrilled to partner with Ellevest to create more opportunities for women to launch their career in tech and achieve their future goals.”