Employers should offer more flexible working arrangements and mentorship opportunities, and embrace digital transformation if they want to do a better job of retaining female employees, who leave the tech industry at a much higher rate than men, according to a new report.

Following a series of roundtable discussions that took place between Sept. 2016 and April 2017 across Canada, Women in Communications and Technology (WCT) released a report, Closing the Gender Gap: A Blueprint for Women’s Leadership in the Digital Economy, summarizing the discussions. While many of the problems identified in the study were regional in nature, flexibility and mentorship were recurrent themes across the country.

Employees revealed they were judged repeatedly if they left at 4 p.m., regardless of when they arrived or what they had accomplished that day. According to the report, one company produced a brochure offering employees company-sanctioned, snappy comebacks to remarks like “You’re leaving early.” It also cited a report from Deloitte that says 75 per cent of respondents would like to work from home, or anywhere else they feel more productive, more frequently. Employers should incorporate tech that allows employees to work remotely, and collect and analyze data the same ways digital companies do to address problems and set targets.

“WCT believes [analytics] can influence improvement in the engagement of women in the digital economy,” the report says, pointing to its own program that analyzes data from Up the Numbers to track the engagement of women in tech sectors.

Companies should use tech to support employees’ desires to work flexibly, says WCT, adding women should understand the work culture of the organization they are joining.

A Blueprint for Women’s Leadership
in the Digital Economy Maturity Model. Source: WCT | FCT

Mentorship key to career advancement

According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, 56 per cent of women leave the ICT industry mid-career.

While experiences with mentoring vary, most roundtable participants said it was important for their career development.

“Be open to all models of mentorship relationship. Formal and informal, corporate and third-party models may each serve specific objectives better than others. Consider which one is best suited to your career stage and objectives,” says the report. “Working with mentors who think differently than you will broaden your perspective.”

Employers should reward those who give their time to mentor others. In addition, they should also consider developing a mentorship program if one doesn’t exist, the report suggests. In its second year, WCT’s Protégé Project, which helps senior women in CIT sectors move into top tier positions, has reported a high level of satisfaction with the impact the program has had on their careers. WCT says 30 protégés and women have been matched.

Quotas in public and private sectors need more clarity

Norway’s legislatively established 40 per cent quota for female membership in corporate boards of directors, introduced in 2003, is a prime example of a successful push for diversity, says WCT. The World Economic Forum called Norway’s economy the “most inclusive” in 2017, and pointed to the country’s sustainable growth that has spanned across different sectors for years. Quebec followed suit in 2011, and set a quota for full gender parity for boards of provincial corporations and agencies.

The benefits of quotas need to be communicated more effectively, says WCT, as it continues to receive negative knee-jerk reactions from businesses.

“Ideally, we need to see more carefully communicated and thoughtfully deployed quotas in public and private use.”

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