Why did you start in tech? Was it the same or different reason from why you stayed in the industry?
I’ve always loved the work I do and have felt at home in tech in my 20+ years as a female technologist with roles of increasing responsibility within technology and operations. As a Managing Vice President of Software Engineering, I currently set the technology strategy for Eno, Capital One’s proactive assistant. Yet I’ve long known that many equally talented women who pursue technology careers do not feel they belong. Much has been written about the industry’s “pipeline problem” and how we can increase the percentage of women in tech. Companies say they don’t hire women because there aren’t enough qualified female candidates, and it’s true there are fewer women than men with computer science degrees, but what if the low number of women in the pipeline is more of a symptom than a cause?
What if women enter a male-dominated field and don’t feel valued for their contributions? What if they encounter family-unfriendly policies and subtle discouragement? What if they don’t receive the most challenging work, mentorships or ongoing training? What would the result of all that look like? It might look like 56% of women leaving the tech sector after 10-15 years, which is the case in the industry today.
Capital One, in association with the Grace Hopper Celebration, recently conducted a survey to learn what drives women to stay in tech, as well as which factors influence those who choose to leave. The results of the study—which surveyed 250 women who have remained in tech careers for at least eight years, and, in order to contrast experiences, 200 who left the industry after three or more years—confirmed many of my suspicions. Women who choose a tech career stay when they feel challenged, supported, and empowered. Specifically, the survey found five top drivers of success: the work itself; pay and work-life balance; grit; purpose; and role models, peers, and networks.
Clearly, women who succeed in tech possess personal determination, but that does not mean those who leave do not. Many of these five factors are systemic, and companies should do more to ensure their female employees feel appropriately challenged, supported, and empowered in their work. Historically, we saw a time when women used to feel they belonged in the tech industry. In fact, from Ada Lovelace to Margaret Hamilton to Grace Hopper herself we’ve been a crucial part of this industry since day one. So what are some best practices companies can follow to ensure their female employees feel a sense of belonging?
Tip 1 - Foster role models and peer networks
Women who have stayed in tech tended to have stronger role models and peer networks. Our data shows that 75% of women who stayed in tech had role models, versus 56% of women who left. Meanwhile, 45% of women who stayed said peer groups were very important to career success, while only 23% of women who left said the same.
When you look around at work and see people like you—whether of the same gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, background, or any other identifier—that helps to provide a sense of belonging. At Capital One, we’ve formalized female peer networks by creating Women in Tech chapters in each of our main locations. These groups bring together women from different locations and teams for talks, training, and socializing. When I joined my first Women In Tech meeting five years ago, I was in awe at the talent and passion for technology I saw. These chapters have led to the formation of Blacks in Tech and Hispanics in Tech groups, and helped open up a space for discussion, motivation, and mentorship, where leaders like myself can be role models for younger women in tech.
Take for example, Briana Augenreich, Senior Software Engineer, Capital One. She says that coming to Capital One and being surrounded by so many great mentors and role models has been phenomenal in changing the confidence trajectory that she’s been on.
Another option could be to implement less formal networking, such as monthly women-only team lunches or lectures.
Tip 2 - Provide quality training
Women who receive regular training are more likely to stay in their tech careers than those who don’t. But for training to be beneficial, it must be high quality. According to our research, for women who stayed in tech, 56% agreed or strongly agreed the training they received was superior to their peers. Only 34% of women who left the field answered the same.
What’s more, training must happen on a regular basis. Some 40% of women who left tech only updated their skills through training on an as-needed or required basis, yet only 13% of the women who stayed took this approach, instead opting to participate in regular training. Overall, 18% of women who stayed in tech updated their skills annually, versus only 5% of women who left.
Clearly, keeping skills current is important for staying engaged at work and advancing your career. At Capital One, we’re helping our associates - regardless of gender - grow their skill sets and better prepare themselves for lengthy careers in tech. Our Tech College program offers over 250 online and in-person training classes, on everything from the latest dev ops practices, to machine learning, to newer mobile languages, to how to create better presentations. Tech College content is provided by well-regarded external training providers as well as our associates with expertise to share, giving them a way to give back. It’s open to associates in technical and non-technical roles alike, as we believe in supporting learning regardless of role or background.
Tip 3 - Give women regular feedback
Few people can succeed without receiving feedback. Our study shows that, for women, it’s especially important to offer both positive and negative feedback. Our data showed that 45% of women who stayed in tech said positive feedback was very important to their effectiveness, versus 28% of women who left the field.
That’s not to say you cannot point out areas where female employees could improve, but remember to keep the balance of positive and negative feedback in mind. For example, at Capital One, we formally review every employee’s performance two times a year. In these meetings—and also in informal feedback sessions all year long—managers don’t just talk about an associate’s performance in terms of what she delivered, but also how they collaborated with others to get it done, or how they devised creative solutions to difficult problems. In my career, I’ve found it’s better to give people candid, direct feedback in real-time and work in partnership with them on how to improve. That way people always know where they stand with no surprises, and we have productive conversations that lead to professional growth and learning opportunities.
One of the main reasons I’ve stayed in tech is because I truly feel I belong at Capital One. I share the values of this company: collaboration, respect, and data-based decision making. I stay because I feel part of a company-wide community that values me and I have strong mentors and a supportive peer network who give me regular positive feedback. And I stay because I love the challenging work. If your company has an external blog or if you have a personal Medium account, I encourage you to write about your work. There’s nothing more powerful than talking about the technology we lead and build. As a woman technologist, sharing your insights about the tech, the culture and why you belong can highlight the positive story of why we stay—and encourage other women to consider and stay in the industry long term as well.
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