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Leaders discuss challenges, strategies for women in IT

Women in tech still face challenges, including finding opportunities for advancement and management support. A recent panel of women in IT leadership roles discussed the challenges.

While women in IT roles isn't a new topic of discussion in the tech industry, it continues to be a challenge for companies to not just hire women but also retain them, according to participants on a panel at the recent CXNext virtual conference.

One factor in retaining women is the difficulty in advancing up the corporate ladder, according to panelists on the CXNext Reimagining Women in Tech panel.

"One hundred men are promoted and moved into manager positions, while only 72 women get to the first-time manager position -- and that continues as the ladder goes up," said Purvi Trivedi, customer engineering leader at Google Cloud.

The panel also included Nishita Roy-Pope, director of strategy and operations at Dell; Jenn Lee, director of software development at Audible; Beth Friday, vice president of Red Hat Synergy GTM technical sales at IBM; and Erica Mayshar, manager of solutions consulting at LogMeIn.

Why women in IT leave

"It's really important to give them opportunities to develop new skills. We have a very strong focus on allowing them to pursue professional certifications. They are actively being asked to build their networks," Roy-Pope said. "It's really important to make sure your brand is in order and that your differentiation is there."

It's really important to give [women] opportunities to develop new skills. … They are actively being asked to build their networks.
Nishita Roy-PopeDirector of strategy and operations, Dell

A recent Capital One survey of 250 women in IT careers for at least eight years and 200 women who had left IT found that 20% cited a lack of opportunity as a reason for departing the industry. Twenty-three percent attributed their exits to a lack of management support, while 22% said they weren't able to achieve enough of a work/life balance.

"I think the reason why women are leaving isn't always necessarily negatives," said Liz Miller, a vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. "It is also due to the fact that recruiters are actively calling women to try to get them into other organizations. I think that there is a high demand for female senior leadership because the reality is that other studies have definitively shown that women in the C-suite have also been in companies that are financially more prosperous, organizations that are doing better."

How to keep women in IT roles

Panelists did have some optimism for companies aiming to not just hire but also retain women in technology roles.

"Things are only going to change over time, the more we continue to support and promote diversity, diverse teams and allowing different perspectives to prevail and not always sticking with the same old thing that works," Mayshar said.

Constellation Research's Miller agreed, explaining that the push for women in the tech industry is not just to get them in there, but also to keep them in there and create visibility for the next generations.

"I think that more girls are going to see women in leadership positions in technology companies -- they're going to see more women founders, they're going to see more women CEOs," Miller said.

As for the new reality that is remote work in most businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ray-Pope said it could actually benefit women in IT.

"There are ways I am also maximizing my time because of being home," she said. "I do think that we in corporate are in a unique position. I do think, in some ways, I have seen the playing field leveled … [working from home] is opening doors for women who choose to take advantage of it. There is no backroom networking."

Juggling between home and work lifestyles isn't a new challenge for women, Miller said.

"Our workday has now gone from 9 to 5 to 'Where can I fit the minimum expectation of eight hours of work in a day on a 24-hour clock, and how do I make sure that I'm prioritizing time with my team and time with my team at home?'" she said.

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