Recruiting, Talent

Getting Ahead of the Gender Gap in Tech: A Q&A with Julia Kanouse

The gender gap in top tech companies is continuing to grow and knows no bounds. For example, Google’s global workforce is comprised of roughly 31% women—with 22% of these women in tech roles and 26% in leadership roles. It’s the same at Facebook—women make up 36% of its global workforce, but only 22% are in tech roles and 30% in leadership roles. Twitter’s numbers are similar, it employs 38% women, but only 17% of females are in tech roles and 33% in leadership roles. Other tech companies throughout the United States have reported similar statistics over recent years. This raises the all-important question: Is there a way to pipeline more women into technology careers?


Source: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Julia Kanouse, CEO of the Illinois Technology Association, has been focused on finding an answer to this question over the last decade.  The big conclusion she’s come to is that companies are reaching out to women at the wrong time in their lives. Hiring managers are approaching women once they’ve graduated and already chosen a career path.
Kanouse says we need programs that are designed to reach women in the summer or fall of their senior year of high school. This is the crucial period when women are applying to college. In the following Q&A, Kanouse explains how we can get young, female talent interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. She also offers advice for how recruiters can get women who are re-entering the workforce interested in pursuing a STEM career.
Recruiting Daily Advisor: To recruit more women into tech, you’ve suggested that programs need to be in place to reach prospective candidates at different points throughout their life. What are some examples of these programs?   
Kanouse: There are a wide variety of programs that help young women and girls get exposure to STEM education and careers, ranging from clubs and activities like Girls Who Code, that offer after-school programs, summer camps, etc. to programs like our City-Wide Job Shadow Day.
This year on International Day of the Women (March 8th) we brought together almost 100 young women from Chicago Public Schools with about 20 of our member companies to facilitate a job shadow day. The students were matched up with local tech companies and spent the day learning about what it’s like to work in the industry.
They spent time not only in the engineering/tech department but also learning about human resources, marketing, sales, and other key functions within a fast-growing tech environment.
Recruiting Daily Advisor: When it comes to introducing tech careers to women, how young is too young? Why is it important to get high school seniors interested in the tech industry before they start college?
Kanouse: We need to capture and harness interest in STEM at a very young age. I recently saw a study from Microsoft that found roughly 75% of young girls express interest in STEM fields and computer science by the time they reach 10 years of age.
Unfortunately, by age 15, that number is down to 11%. The reasons for that vary but one of the key findings was a misperception of what STEM careers look like in the real world.  Programs like job shadow days—both in high school and even earlier—can help provide insight and knowledge into the kinds of jobs that exist within STEM.
Recruiting Daily Advisor: For women, who have already started college, what can hiring managers do to attract this demographic into the tech industry, especially if they’ve already picked a non-tech major?
Kanouse: I think it’s important for companies and hiring managers to provide insight into the career pathways that are available within the organization. Even if someone ends up not pursuing a degree in computer science or engineering there are other roles that are available within tech companies and pathways toward more technical roles.
Companies that provide training internally to help women gain more exposure to and confidence with technology have an advantage over those that don’t. There are opportunities as you build your knowledge of the companies’ products and your comfort with technology to move from sales to a sales engineering role, for example, or from marketing into product management.
Recruiting Daily Advisor: While recruiting women tech workers out of college is ideal, many women are re-entering the workforce for a variety of reasons (i.e. extended absence after childbirth, caring for family members, etc.), and some may be looking to change careers. What advice would you give these women who may be interested in getting into the tech industry?
Kanouse: I think it’s important for these women to build their networks by getting engaged in their local tech community. Attend events, get to know the kinds of companies that are in their region and identify where their background may be a good fit.
If they don’t have the technical skills, they may be able to accentuate a deep understanding of the industry as a way “in.” A former teacher might find a good fit at an ed-tech company, an accountant within fintech, etc.
Recruiting Daily Advisor: How can recruiters work with these women, to get them interested in the tech industry?
Kanouse: The first step is to ensure you have an inclusive culture. Women will not want to come into a company or environment that does not accept or support women. It’s critical that the hard work has been done to create a culture where women (and other minorities) can grow and thrive.
If you’ve done that well, you will have women within your leadership ranks. Get them out and about in the community—leverage them to help recruit and attract more woman. You can’t be what you can’t see, meaning it’s important to get strong role models in front of potential hires and recruits.