‘Are we seeing a tipping point for women in tech?’ is part of a series of articles written by Duncan Stewart, and republished here with his permission. These articles are Duncan’s personal opinion and analysis, and not official Deloitte research. These article were originally posted in the last 12 months, but have not been updated. Although Duncan used to be in the investment business, these articles are not intended to provide investment advice, but merely provide information on broader trends in tech, media and telecom (TMT.) Duncan has more than three decades of experience in TMT. He has been a research analyst, investor, venture capitalist, public speaker and columnist for both radio and newspapers.
The 2020 Deloitte Canada Fast50 press release not only celebrated the 50 fastest growing Canadian tech companies, but also shared the CEO survey results that 86% of tech companies believe having an inclusive workplace is a key strategic driver of success, and the number of female job applicants they were seeing more than doubled. We were part of the team that helped design and analyse the CEO survey, we have access to the full results, and we can tell you the press release only scratched the surface for good news!
Let’s start with job applicants: improved data at both ends of the spectrum. In 2019, 42% of companies reported that 0-20% of applicants were women, and that fell to 26% in 2020. And 31% of companies said that 41% or more of applicants were women this year, up from only 15% last year.
The hiring numbers were just as good. In 2019, 37% of companies reported that 0-20% of new hires were women, and that fell to 22% in 2020. And 37% of companies said 41% or more of new hires were women this year, up from only 21% last year.
It is good that women are applying, even better that they are getting hired…but moving up into leadership would be great too. In 2019, 34% of companies reported that 0-10% of leaders were women, and that fell to 18% in 2020. And 44% of companies said that 31% or more of leaders were women this year, up from 31% last year.
Historically, there are too few women in tech (about 25% in the US, and 22% in Sweden), and the number is growing less than half a percent annually. Seeing 10-20 percentage point gains in our Fast50 survey is encouraging news: But what is causing this massive jump across the board¹ …and will it stick?
Purpose…and technology companies?
The whole concept of brand purpose is debated in the marketing community. There are some clear examples where it seems to help drive sales (fair trade coffee, sports gear) and others where it is more debatable (do people actually care if their beer is aligned with one social cause or another?) but most of the examples come from consumer-facing business world. Nobody buys technology software because of brand purpose…they just care how well it works and how much it costs, right?
We don’t have good data on that, but there is another way of looking at purpose and marketing: think of it as an internal marketing tool, not just external. Edward Nevraumont calls this “marketing to employees.” When we look at the activities of multiple global tech and telecom companies, it seems that they are changing policies around diversity and inclusion…but not due to pressure from customers or shareholders. Instead, it seems to be employee led: these companies are packed to the rafters with critical employees in their 20s and 30s, and if they will only work for firms that hire and promote women (for example), then that might be driving the tech industry to become more diverse and inclusive.
The wave of protests this spring in the US around BlackLivesMatter is so recent that one would think there hasn’t been time for much of an effect to occur. But a recent report authored by Barbara Stewart (Duncan Stewart’s wife) for Echelon Wealth Partners interviewed a number of Canadian CEOs about the effects of COVID-19. Fascinatingly, 31% of companies interviewed said that they shifted their policies around diversity and inclusion directly as a result of the mass social movement in the US, with over half of those companies being in the tech and health sciences sectors.
Working from home and better working conditions for women
The tech industry has infamously glorified work-life imbalance, with round the clock marathon coding sessions in the office to get a product out by ship date. As might not be surprising in an industry where men outnumber women by three to one or more, maternity leave policies were not great: a 2014 Fortune survey of women who had left the tech industry found that mat leave policy was a major factor for 85% of them. Even after childbirth, the burden of childcare falls disproportionately upon women: a 2018 European study showed that 33% of women had to interrupt their work for childcare compared to less than 1% of men.
Many industries are exploring working from home not just in the pandemic, but going forward, and tech companies are leading the way – Canadian software company OpenText and Canadian e-commerce leader Shopify, German conglomerate Siemens, and US social networking provider Twitter.
A October 2020 blog from Jenny Lindqvist, Vice President, Head of Northern and Central Europe for global telecom giant Ericsson was titled How lockdowns can open doors for women in tech and put it perfectly [emphasis in bold is mine]:
“We can’t deny that the pandemic has changed the way we work and how we manage our day-to-day lives. Suddenly, remote working and traveling less has become the ‘new normal’ and the efficiency of working in this remote environment has been thrust into the spotlight.
With a shift towards remote and flexible working already taking place long before the pandemic, many employers have now come to recognize that individuals can work well even with a less conventional working routine. For me, working from home means greater flexibility to care for my family and lead a fulfilling career, and I’m not the only woman to breathe a sigh of relief.”
Working from home and sexual harassment
Many assume that sexual harassment in the tech workplace may have been a problem ten years ago, or maybe even five…but in a post #metoo world the problem is much less severe in 2020?
According to a survey conducted in February and March of 2020 (recent, but reflecting pre-pandemic experiences) sexual harassment of women in tech is still a severe issue.
• Half of women (48%) reported experiencing harassment of various kinds.
• Of women who were harassed, it was mainly from co-workers (76%), supervisors (42%) and senior leadership (25%). Customers and clients were only 16% and 14% respectively.
• Of women who were harassed, 43% said it was sexual harassment (meaning 21% of all female employees were sexually harassed.) This was down only two points compared to 45% in the 2017 version of the survey.
• Of women who were sexually harassed, 54% reported unwanted physical contact, and 13% were groped.
The top four locations of harassment (sexual, but other kinds of harassment too) in the survey were all in the physical world, rather than the virtual world, see figure below. Of those women who were harassed:
• 88% said it was in person and in the office during the day, and 27% said in person and in the office in the evening.
• 32% said it was at a work event/offsite during the evening, and 28% said at a work event/offsite during the day.
• In contrast, virtual harassment was consistently lower: company messaging platforms such as Slack was 22%, phone 19%, texting 15%, and social media 10%.
In a world where women in tech don’t go to the office or to work events/offsites, we would assume that physical sexual harassment during lockdowns drops to close to zero. It is, of course possible for non-physical forms of sexual harassment such as ‘jokes’, slurs, propositions and being sent graphic photos (13% of women who reported sexual harassment said they had received such photos) to pick up the slack (as it were) as physical harassment decreases.
In bad news, that may be happening: the state of Victoria in Australia is the hardest hit by the pandemic, and reports of sexual harassment (across all industries, not just tech) are up six percent compared to last year.
The good news is that “Law firms have suggested that because many employees are not in their standard workplace, victims won’t be in the physical presence of their harasser and will feel more comfortable coming forward. Consequently, workers with historic experiences are now more likely to report complaints.”
IT and Retention
Women who join the tech industry are twice as likely as men to quit in their first year, and half of young women leave the industry by the time they are 35.
To quote Jerry Seinfeld: “You know how to *take* the reservation, you just don’t know how to *hold* the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation: the holding.”
As long as the tech industry hires women but can’t retain them (also known as the leaky pipeline), the percentage of female employees and female leaders will remain stubbornly low.
But if work from home makes the industry less female unfriendly around work life balance and harassment, retention will improve. And if applications and hiring go up in response to social movements, we will see gains across all parts of the pipeline at the same time…which will translate into double digit gains in applications, hires and leaders.
1. The usual data caveats apply of course. The Deloitte survey was not a random sample, but only the fastest growing tech companies in Canada. All the numbers by gender are self-reported by the companies, and not externally validated. Sample size is relatively small, with 60 companies participating. That said, all the same factors were true last year, and the shifts seen were large (double digit percentage point swings seen in every category) so the changes seen year over year are likely to be meaningful, even if the data may not be representative of the overall Canadian tech industry.
Duncan Stewart is an engaging, energetic speaker and visionary, providing companies with the insight they need to plan for the future. Duncan has co-authored one of Deloitte’s premier publications, TMT Predictions, since 2008 in addition to other research. With more than two decades of experience in the TMT industry, Duncan provides insight about what’s going to happen next – a key strategic driver for companies in all industries. As an analyst and portfolio manager, Duncan has provided research or made investments in the Canadian technology and telecommunications sector, winning the Canadian Technology Fund Manager of the Year award in its inaugural year.
You can watch a replay of Duncan’s most recent (virtual) stop in Windsor-Essex & Chatham-Kent for his 2021 TMT Predictions presentation HERE.