Advancing women in tech into positions of power
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Technology is an increasingly pervasive influence in every sphere of life, with access to full participation in technology an emergent human right. To advance equity for all women in technology, we must measure what matters and implement policies and practices responsive to gaps and opportunities. Top levels of leadership need to collaborate, advancing public awareness and policies that remove barriers toward an inclusive tech ecosystem.

For over 30 years, AnitaB.org has been a leading voice for women in the technology workforce, driving programmatic efforts to build an inclusive tech ecosystem. Our data driven primary research initiatives, including BRAID and Top Companies for Women Technologists, are elevating effective strategies to advance women in learning and work. There is no single solution or silver bullet for achieving intersectional gender and pay equity in tech. It requires a cross sector, multifaceted strategy that engages stakeholders across the technology, employment, women’s rights, education and workforce preparedness, and policy arenas. Under the leadership of CEO Brenda Darden Wilkerson, AnitaB.org is building a policy and advocacy agenda to galvanize leaders within the technology community, leveraging the organization’s unique position at the intersection of corporate tech employers, training institutions, and individual women technologists.

Unfortunately, the current status of women in power in the tech ecosystem is bleak. Women are abysmally represented at executive levels in the technology sector and beyond, with only 20 percent of Fortune 500 Chief Innovation officers identifying as women in 2018. Women are choosing to leave their technical roles at higher rates than their male counterparts. In 2018, female-founded companies received only 2.9 percent of total venture capital investment. Advancing women technologists into positions of power requires a concerted effort to build inclusive cultures, hold leaders accountable, and develop and promote women.

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Policy interventions need to improve the recruitment, retention and advancement, and pay equity of female technologists. This includes enhancing workforce preparedness; combatting pay inequities; ensuring that women are winning a representative share of entrepreneurial and intellectual investments; preventing identity-based workplace discrimination; and supporting working women and families.

Leaders should regularly collect and review their company’s recruitment, retention, advancement, and pay data across intersections of demographics, using iterative evaluation and nimble strategies to address inequities in opportunity and compensation. The government must ensure the national systems designed to protect workers’ rights, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), are diligent in collecting industrywide data on employment and pay across demographic lines. Decisions like the Sept. 11 announcement to discontinue pay data collection in EEO-1 Component 2 reports are a disservice to the pursuit of women’s workplace equity.

Data and policies supporting equity go hand in hand. Recently released Census data show no progress in eliminating the pay gap from last year, which makes passing legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 7) all the more necessary. Women are grossly underrepresented among patent holders, despite their growing presence in invention prone disciplines. Measures like the SUCCESS Act, passed into law in October 2018, direct the collection and review of intersectional patent data to inform legislative recommendations to increase the number of women, minorities and veterans who participate in entrepreneurship activities and apply for patents. Data transparency and iterative review and evaluation are necessary to drive leadership accountability and inform strategies that will advance women technologists.

Evaluative efforts alone will not advance women into tech power. Those learnings must be turned in to action. The participants in the Top Companies program showcase myriad strategies that can and should be widely implemented and infused within scalable and systemic change. This includes intentional and structured leadership development trainings, and efforts that encourage and provide access to mentors and sponsors. Women who have access to formal leadership training can be twice as likely to receive promotion in their technical careers. Important supports that amplify the critical value of these relationships across all critical junctures—from K to grey—such as the Building Blocks of STEM Act which recently passed the Senate, are important legislative levers. Additional promising policies and practices include gender pay equity policies, flex time initiatives, leadership development programs, and gender diversity training.

By creating a foundation of policy priorities rooted in robust and intersectional data and built on what’s important to women technologists and their allies, AnitaB.org works toward a future where women are leading the creation of ethical technology and compensated equally for their contributions. Corporate policies and thoughtful legislation are critical to ensuring the technology ecosystem builds a culture in which diverse talent can incubate and thrive.

Dr. Stephanie Rodriguez is vice president of policy & engagement at AnitaB.org.