Women in tech - Still an untapped resource - How can tech companies attract and retain women?

Allyson Zimmermann

Executive director, Catalyst Europe AG

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Almost 8 million people work in the IT sector in the EU, and more than 80% of them are men. While it’s true that male graduates account for three-fifths of STEM graduates (those in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), the ‘education’ factor alone cannot explain the lack of women in the industry, particularly at senior levels.


It is no secret that tech-intensive industries have a poor reputation for supporting gender diversity, and the ‘brogrammer’ culture reigns. To understand the experience of women in tech, Catalyst was one of the first organisations to look at those working in business roles. What’s most interesting about these women is that they can work in any sector, so STEM industries are competing across industries for this talent.

Catalyst foundthat even in business roles, the culture of tech companies is particularly difficult for women across the board, and as a result these highly qualified women are taking their talents elsewhere. Over half of women (53%) who started out in a business role in a tech-intensive industry left to take a position in another industry, compared to just 31% of men.

Catalyst Study

The study also revealed that despite having the same level of education as their male colleagues, women are more likely to start in entry-level positions and therefore are paid less; and they’re also more likely to remain in the minority throughout the pipeline, giving them fewer female role models than other industries and fewer senior women to serve as sponsors.

Numerous studies, including Catalyst’s own, have shown the benefits that diverse thinking can bring to a company’s innovation and creativity as well as its bottom line; despite this fact, the tech world appears to continuously alienate its female workforce, leading to a severe talent drain. Furthermore, with women's global spending predicted to rise to $40 trillionby 2018, how can you serve the market if you don't look and think like the market?

stem infographic

In order to compete and attract the best talent, tech organisations must draw from the full talent pool. Right now, they're missing out on a huge proportion of the available talent, and this has significant consequences for their future bottom line.

On International Women's Day 2016, we ask tech industries to seize the opportunity to remove barriers that are stopping women's advancement and to treat this issue as they would any business objective—with targets, accountability and a commitment to make change.

Five Steps Companies Can Take

Tech-intensive organisations are losing talented women, but companies that intentionally address the barriers can transform company culture, become an employer of choice for women and potentially gain a competitive advantage:

  1. Level the playing field:

    Ensure that men and women with comparable credentials are starting out at equal levels and being paid equally and at a competitive rate with others in the industry.

  2. Evaluate the organisation’s culture. Is the lived reality in the workplace experienced differently between the genders? Are there activities or networking events that exclude women? Consider how the company can make women feel valued and included.
  3. Leverage male 'champions.'

    Inclusion is a win-win for all. Having senior male executives sponsor up-and-coming female talent can make a real difference.

  4. Make performance standards crystal clear. Are women being held to a higher standard? Are men promoted on “potential” and women on “proven performance”? Review performance standards to ensure they are fair and equitable.
  5. Provide a flexible work environment. According to Catalyst

    research, more than 20% of high-potential women left their first job in a STEM industry for a job elsewhere, due to personal reasons. These women are not opting out of the workforce; they're opting out of STEM industries. Flexible work arrangements can help them stay and keep them from taking their skills to other industries.

Editor’s note:

Catalyst is the leading nonprofit organization with a mission to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion.  In the coming weeks we will be hearing from our Chief Diversity Officer Malek Nejjai on this important issue at Amadeus.


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