Soft hits hard

3 tactics to break barriers for women in tech

How a focus on soft skills can help advance female tech workers
3 tactics to break barriers for women in tech
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Female-identifying tech professionals around the globe are demanding better learning and development opportunities. And if leaders at your company aren’t willing to listen, new data shows these talented women are ready to find an employer that will.

As the head of people for an enterprise tech company, I’ve seen firsthand that investing in learning and development benefits all, but targeting these investments to meet the needs of women in tech? That’s been vital to our ability to retain top talent.

It requires an open ear to feedback, an open mind to data, and an open heart to change. Leaders in tech are responsible for answering the demands of the historically underrepresented voice of women in technology.

Keeping an ear open to feedback is something my organization values—so much so that we’ve been publishing data on the experiences of women working in the tech industry since 2019. In my role, this information is incredibly illuminating, if at times concerning.

This year, 60% of women in tech roles in the US said they’d been told a lack of training or skills is holding them back—along with 76% of women in similar roles in India and 45% in the U.K. What’s more, women in the US and India say training and development is the number one non-compensation factor they would look for in a company while looking for a new job. Considering the data also shows women in all three countries find the training and development opportunities at their current employer lacking, we have what looks like a completely avoidable exodus of talented women in tech.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Many opportunities exist for leaders to build more supportive development programs for women in tech. Making these investments can improve retention, drive recruitment, and, most importantly, give women in technology the resources they need to thrive.

3 tactics to break barriers for women in tech

Making opportunities equitable is a mandate for leaders—but it’s not always easy or straightforward. Developing learning and development opportunities for women in tech is nuanced, and leaders ready to get serious about assessing their current approach can leverage these 3 tactics.

1) Listen and follow-up

Data is a great way to identify areas of improvement. Globally, statistics point to women wanting access to more training. But what’s the next step? For our organization, it meant following up. We informally polled women who attended a recent company event to dig deeper into the kind of development opportunities that would be helpful. The answer wasn’t at all what we expected. Women want to learn to manage up, own technical presentations, and manage larger teams effectively. They are seeking help with the soft skills that will help them advance in male-dominated spaces just as much as they are looking for technical training.

2) Make sure they have time and space

Classes, specialized training, and guest speakers are great ways to motivate teams to learnif they can access them. It’s no secret that women carry an outsized responsibility for family caregiving in the US and abroad, whether for a child, an aging parent, or a sick family member. Fellow HR pros know training doesn’t come cheap—and because training costs can add up so quickly, multiple sessions or makeup classes can break budgets. To avoid this, be mindful of the time your training offerings require, and be upfront about the commitment from the beginning. Women are likely to burn out trying to keep pace with a class or program they didn’t realize would be time-consuming.

3) Don’t settle

Even if you’ve made progress toward a better experience for women in tech in the past, you’re not nearly finished. In a world where almost half of girls are discouraged from STEAM careers before high school, there’s always work to do. Consider the training and resources you offer around bias, harassment, and workplace safety. When were these materials last updated? Do they make employees cringe? Do they really reflect your values? If your answers to those questions are 1995, all the time, and probably not, then it’s time to make a change. This type of training is essential to creating a hospitable, healthy working environment for all. It’s possible for it to be engaging and effective while still reflecting your values. And if it’s not, build it yourself.

Leaders have the power to improve the lives of women who work for them and women in tech everywhere. Globally, the chorus is clear: leaders can provide more accessible and useful opportunities for growth and development. Whether it’s soft skills or more empathetic communication, women in tech can benefit from thoughtful and nuanced changes that start with leadership. And if they don’t? Budgets will shift from development to recruiting very soon. 

Meredith Graham is chief people officer, Ensono