Most organizations admittedly aren’t great at getting women into tech roles, which we addressed in our last blog post.
Obviously it’s a multi-step process: first you hire high-capacity women; then you need to keep them. That’s not something most companies are great at doing: about 56 percent of women in tech leave positions at the “mid-level” point.
If you’ve managed to recruit well, we turn to the second part of the equation: how do you retain these women, both to avoid losing them to the competition and (more importantly) to ensure they’re contributing to a diversity of thought and ideation within your walls?
The Leadership Program Conundrum
Most articles about this topic talk about instituting a leadership or mentorship program for women. It’s usually the first suggestion, and with good reason: it’s a great one. What’s often lacking, though, is that the program in question needs to be legitimately impactful.
What does that mean?
- These programs need to include actual, prominent women who have risen up in that specific company.
- The discussions must be real around the issues women are facing/have faced, including discrimination, being talked down to, questionable managerial behavior, etc.
- The group should meet frequently, in a variety of settings (in-office, happy hour, field trip, local co-working space, etc.).
- Ideally the group should pair more established, experienced women in the organization with younger, newer hires.
A lot of times, “create a women leadership program” can fall in the domain of HR; the end result lacks impact and becomes more about the organization and process of checking boxes to make sure some women meet periodically. That’s not what you need. You need to create a sense of community for the women in your organization.
This example may sound different at first, but bear with it. Julia Rice moved from SoulCycle to WeWork (two pretty impressive brands), and gave an interview to Fast Company recently, explaining why SoulCycle resonates with so many people:
One of the key values at SoulCycle is non-competitiveness. Cyclers don’t compete with each other. Rather they share the burden of the exercise together, pressing down on their pedals and bopping on their handlebars in unison, together powering their collective self-esteem and dazzling abs. But Rice says, what really kept people coming back again and again was a sense of belonging that bordered on commitment, if not obligation. It was this sense, she explains, that “If I don’t show up, somebody will be disappointed. If I don’t show up, the energy of this community will be disrupted. What I am contributing to this community is actually propelling it.”
Is SoulCycle the same thing as a leadership program for women in a tech company? No. But in many ways, the approaches have a tremendous amount of overlap. First off: it can’t be competitive. Women are naturally competitive anyway. It needs to be rooted in community: a sense of belonging akin to “commitment or obligation.”
How Do You Get There?
Some higher-level ways to think about it:
- Have the group create and refine values and rules of process together every year.
- Make sure there is executive buy-in, even if the executive pool is predominantly male.
- Have action items for each quarter beyond the quality of conversation; such-and-such topic (i.e., pay transparency) will be advanced, etc.
- Don’t force anything; this shouldn’t feel like a calendar drain, but something women want to go to. When first starting it, consider making it very happy hour-driven and organic so it doesn’t even feel like a workday necessity. It can gradually move back into the 10 A.M.-7 P.M. space.
- Make the discussion topic of the first 3-5 meetings hyper-focused: pay, treatment by males in the company, biases, preconceived notions, etc. Almost everyone has views on these topics. Having a singular focus means the discussion will stay on track, which provides comfort to a busy brain (and may keep women coming back).
- Provide opportunities for breakout 1-on-1s. You could do this in a speed dating format so that all the women get a chance to speak to each other, or you could simply put two “1s” in a hat, two “2s,” etc., and have women pair off, then pair off with a different partner at the next meeting.
- Recap emails with action items, next meeting, key learnings, and calls to arms in terms of supporting each other.
This all matters: no less an authority than Melinda Gates has said mentorship is crucialfor (a) seeing more women in tech companies, and (b) seeing more women advance in tech companies.
And it’s logical: if you knew from afar that a specific company had a fleshed-out mentorship program for women with a true sense of community, one where individual friendships and support networks were being built, wouldn’t you want to work for that company, as opposed to one that only half-addresses the issue?
Ryan Leary helps create the processes, ideas and innovation that drives RecruitingDaily. He’s RecruitingDaily’s in-house expert for anything related to sourcing, tools or technology. A lead generation and brand buzz building machine, he has built superior funnel systems for some of the industry’s top HR Tech and Recruitment brands. He is a veteran of the online community and a partner at RecruitingDaily.