How to Get Equity for Women in Tech Jobs

4 Best Practices From IBM, Dell, Monsanto, BASF

By Barbara Frankel

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s comment—at a women’s engineering conference—that it’s good karma for women not to ask for raises has set off a firestorm in corporate America about pay equity and opportunities for women in tech jobs.

With that in mind, we interviewed four DiversityInc Top 50 companies that have strong track records in hiring and promoting women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) positions. All of the companies—IBM (No. 23), BASF (No. 26), Dell (No. 32) and Monsanto (No. 46)—emphasize the importance of having an inclusive corporate culture, reaching out early and often, using the women’s employee resource group for recruitment and talent development, and making sure there is plenty of opportunity for advancement for women in tech careers.

An inclusive culture means pay and promotion equity. Consider this: The average percentage of women in the top-10-percent-highest-paid employees is 31.6 percent for DiversityInc Top 50 companies, but just 21.2 percent for tech companies participating in the Top 50 survey. And companies that are willing to share their data generally have far higher rates of diversity than those that don’t, so national averages for tech companies should be much lower.

Inequities often show up in the talent pipeline. Only 17.3 percent of Microsoft’s senior executives are women according to its website, while the DiversityInc Top 50 average is 29.3 percent.

So here are four best practices from tech/engineering companies that are making real progress moving women through the pipeline.

1. Make sure you have an inclusive and collaborative culture, from the top down.

Melissa Harper, Monsanto

“My experience is that great talent has a lot of opportunities,” says Melissa Harper, Vice President, Global Talent Acquisition, Diversity & Inclusion and HR Compliance, Monsanto. “We are not alone in building proactive pipelines. The culture becomes the best effort.”

Specifically, Melissa cites everyday people practices, performance reviews and a constant eye on succession planning. Annual incentive bonuses focus on equitable promotion rates for women and other underrepresented groups.

Monsanto also has an intentional communications plan to reinforce its emphasis on hiring women into tech jobs. For the agriculture company, that’s a particular challenge since many applicants don’t think of Monsanto as a tech company, “but 70 percent of our global workforce are in STEM positions, so this is really critical for us.”

That emphasis includes town halls with senior executives, team meetings, unconscious-bias training at all levels, and increased emphasis on workplace flexibility globally. The company recently started a campaign called Red Chair to increase the recognition and discussion of women in IT through focus groups and dialogues.

Understanding the culture is critical. Bobbi Dangerfield, Vice President, Commercial Sales Operations, Dell, is also co-chair of the North American chapter of Dell’s employee resource group WISE (Women in Search of Excellence). “My background is in IT and I have a degree in finance and math. I go out and talk to women in IT [and I tell them], ‘You don’t have to compromise or sacrifice your own individuality,” she says.

Lisa Gable, Manager, IBM Technical Programs for Women, notes that women at IBM are encouraged to feel that their contributions to technology benefit society. The company’s engagement surveys show a strong correlation between meaningful work, especially in the technical sector, and job satisfaction.

She cites IBM’s Women’s Inventors Group, an internal community that focuses on innovation and creativity. “The goal is to assist in a basic understanding of women creating patents and other intellectual property for IBM,” she says, noting the group often meets virtually and through web seminars.

2. Start early and build a pipeline.

Sundar Subramaniam, BASF

“One of the biggest problems [in getting women into tech jobs] is awareness,” says Sundar Subramaniam, Director, Project WISE (Workforce Innovations and Solutions), BASF. “It is important to reach out to young women earlier in their education, help them to see more role models of women in interesting technical careers and better understand how to prepare themselves for those roles. At BASF, ‘We create chemistry’ so the requirement for technical skills here is very high.”

BASF starts to work with students in elementary school, bringing the BASF Kids’ Lab program to locations around the region, such as the Liberty Science Center near the company’s U.S. headquarters in New Jersey. In place since 2010, the program has shown thousands of students how fun and exciting chemistry can be in an engaging, hands-on learning experience.

The company also has programs with middle schools and colleges, and emphasizes technical careers in its college recruiting for women.

Monsanto has founded a collaborative program with Washington University in St. Louis, where the company is headquartered, to provide science awareness to young students and “make it fun,” Melissa says. Since 2005, the company has given more than $8 million and impacted 47,000 elementary-school students. This includes Monsanto senior executives and scientists going directly into the schools, working with the students on projects.

The company also partners with the Girl Scouts of the USA to support FIRST Robotics (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which introduces girls to STEM careers and helps them develop confidence.

IBM has several STEM education initiatives, including P-Tech (Pathways in Technology Early College High School), a system of innovative public schools starting in ninth grade and going through the associate’s degree in college to give students a no-cost associate’s degree in applied science, engineering, computers or related disciplines.

Bobbi Dangerfield, Dell

Dell also works with the Girl Scouts and has several other global programs designed to attract girls, and young people in general, to STEM jobs. That includes the global Youth Learning program, which provides funding and technology as well as Dell team members engaging with disadvantaged youth. Dell also has a global program designed in its Dublin office called Not Just for Geeks that allows employees to go into middle schools to talk to students about tech careers.

“It’s pretty concerning that in engineering and computer majors in the U.S., we see less than 20 percent women. I’m not sure if it is the technology itself that scare them away,” Bobbi says, citing a time when her daughter in middle school was the only girl picked for a high-level math class and requested a change, saying, “I’m the only girl. … None of my friends are in there.”

3. Use your women’s employee resource group.

Effective women’s groups can be used to recruit, engage and develop the talent of women in technical roles. They also can troubleshoot potential retention programs such as women feeling that the demands of a tech job conflict with personal obligations or that the tech culture isn’t inclusive of them.

“WISE is really about attracting, developing and retaining our women in the company,” Bobbi says. “People like to work with companies where they see people who look like them. We also think it’s incredibly important to actively have male leaders participate in the ability to move women up in the organization.”

“We leverage our Women’s Network to encourage STEM leaders and employees,” says Melissa of Monsanto. She cites the global nature of the group and how it works on issues such as women’s safety in field conditions in India, an initiative that led to an award from the Indian government.

Lisa Gable, IBM

Monsanto also has a Women in IT group to focus on career development, including mentoring.

At IBM, Lisa notes the women’s employee resource groups keep tech women “focused on their careers, professional and personal development. We help them enable goal setting and we really create a community where IBM women can feel leveraged and networked.”

Part of that community is Technologista, a virtual community open to women across the company that connects them with technical mentors and provides links, videos and podcasts to questions about the technology industry.

4. Force the issue on moving women through the pipeline.

More than three-quarters of DiversityInc Top 50 companies mandate that diverse slates, including women, be presented for management openings. Companies like these three also constantly assess the assignments women have and whether they are moving through—and staying in—the pipeline.

That is especially true in STEM jobs, where women may be sidelined or not considered at all. Having at least one assigned mentor (and often more) to help navigate the career is also critical, with all of the Top 50 companies having formal, cross-cultural mentoring initiatives.


Related DiversityInc Articles:

Ask the White Guy: Karma Is Not a Career Strategy

Microsoft CEO: Women Should Rely on ‘Good Karma,’ Not Ask for Raises

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