The tech industry lags woefully behind the rest of the job market when it comes to hiring women.

More worrying still is that a total of 2.5 million women left the workforce last year and were also twice as likely to be furloughed or laid off than their male counterparts.

Mamta Suri, Senior Engineering Manager, D&I Leader at Workday led a panel discussion at this year’s Future of SaaS Festival outlining why tech companies can’t seem to keep their female employees and what we can do to combat it while making the workplace more inclusive.

Mamta was joined by:

  • Sarah Johal, Global Brand Marketing & Advertising Project Management at Workday
  • Robbie O’Neil, Senior Customer Success Manager at LinkedIn
  • Jess Gosling, Civil Servant, Co-founder of Gosling & Co
  • Tet Salva, Organizational Strategy at Asana

In the article below, the panel discuss:

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Mamta: 100% of the people who lost their jobs in December were women, this is based on US data. That's a pretty high number, I've never seen a number that high. And 78% of women in tech feel that they have to work harder to prove their worth compared to their workmates.

During this pandemic, 42% of women took over all of the household work compared to only 11% of men.

These are just some of the numbers that we're seeing. And to talk more about this, and what we can do to make the workplace more inclusive for women, I'm joined by Sarah, Robbie, Jess, and Tet.

I’ll let them introduce themselves, Sarah we’ll go ahead with you.

Sarah: I'm Sarah Johal. My pronouns are she/her. I'm a senior program manager for our marketing department at Workday headquarters with 15 years experience of building brand value for tech startups.

Through that marketing journey, I've also founded and built ER's that really focus and support caregivers and parents in tech. I’ll pass the mic over to Robbie next.

Robbie: My name is Robbie and I’m a Senior Customer Success Manager working at LinkedIn for just over two and a half years.

I work with and consult with some of our largest clients specifically revolving around their talent solutions, how they acquire talent, how they retain talent, and how they build their employer brand on the platform.  

I’ll pass it across to Tet.

Tet: I'm Tet Salva, I’m a mom first and foremost, a partner, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.

I’m raising four multiracial girls, ages six, nine, 12, and 15.
I’m currently an organizational strategist at Asana and my professional career has spanned org transformation and talent strategy in various industries like advertising technology, consumer goods, you name it. I am very passionate about this topic because a lot of the women who have left the workforce were women of color. And so I actually founded a passion project in 2017 called MomWarrior, and our mission is to amplify the voices of women and caregivers of color, and hopefully, help advance them in the workplace. And with that, I'll send it off to Jess.

Jess: My name is Jess Gosling. I work by day for the UK civil service but my heart is definitely in the diversity and inclusion space. I am an award-winning entrepreneur for a social enterprise. I'm an academic, I do a lot of stuff, as I said in the inclusion space.

That's because I'm from a low socio-economic background and neurodiverse.

For me, it's always been about building networks and forging interdisciplinary thinking through working on issues like gender mainstreaming, public policy, and digital inclusivity, and I've been doing that for the past nine years. I began my Ph.D. at UCL part-time in public policy last year, building on that idea of interdisciplinary thinking, and, yes, I'm passionate about building places where women and underrepresented groups can be candidly themselves.

Q: Why do you think diversity and inclusion are important in the workplace?

Jess: Diversity and inclusion are vital in the workplace. It allows you to be innovative, be creative, stop siloed ways of working. I would never want to work in a place that didn't embrace diversity, because we all think the same things at the table.

The challenge within a lot of workplaces now is that even though there are changes with the way were working, and the future of work in the role of say, AI, machine learning, and all these amazingly impactful technologies, the status quo within the actual dynamics of companies is quite interesting.

In terms of representation if you don't see it, how do you know how to be it? So if there aren't any VPs, who are women or from different underrepresented groups, the younger people aren't going to see that there's something that they can aspire to or be. And in my case, I personally did feel that like that, and that's why diversity inclusion is important. Because if you don't embrace diversity, it can be detrimental.

Mamta: That's very well said, if you can’t see it, how can you be it?

I actually have a daughter, and one of the reasons I am very passionate about it, just like Tet, I don't want our future generations to fight these unseen battles that we are fighting.

It's very important to have representation because it matters and role models in the industry matter.

Sarah: All of us are super passionate in this space too, and selfishly, it starts with me.

Being a mother and a parent also in a multiracial family, and really trying to change the space and how we work together for her sake, but for our sakes, I think, it’s about being a little bolder to say we know better.

We know diversity, equity, and inclusion at this phase of our future of work and post-pandemic.

We know the stats and data well enough to say it's not just the morally and ethically right thing to do as a business and putting your brand values into action, but the data shows your performance improves by having more diverse talent and more inclusive thought leadership behind those principles.

Tet: Apart from diversity, one of the things that we really should be talking about is inclusion.

I am a big proponent of access, it is important to think about diversity and inclusion, but it would be even better if we thought about it a step further and talked about access as well.

Q: How does diversity make SaaS better? And why is it important for the future of SaaS?

Robbie: I think Sarah touched upon it. One of the key components is to be able to add or incorporate diversity of thought, in particular experiences and skill sets that are across all groups. And, in particular, for the SaaS industry, it's been linked towards profitability.

I've seen McKinsey reports that have said there's a 25% profit differential between the least and most diverse companies around the world and another McKinsey report that showed if gender equity was achieved, we will have upwards of 28 trillion US dollars added into the global economy. So from a business point of view, it makes complete sense.

Particularly within SaaS, when we look at the top-down approach and the leadership and representation statistics that we see, we know that 85% of CEOs whose organizations have diversity, inclusion, and belonging strategies say this has enhanced their innovation as a business. And that permeates all the way down to individual teams, individual line managers, individual contributors.

So it's so important within such a fast-paced and evolving industry, such as SaaS, to make sure that you have that diversity of thought. And to touchpoint as well, the access to those economic opportunities is so key and valuable to making sure that we can implement change at the grassroots level when people are entering into businesses, but then also facilitating and promoting the progression into management and into leadership roles as well.

Tet: I was just doing some research prior to this and there was something that was shared, that I thought was really an interesting point, which is that the problem isn't getting women in at entry-level.

The problem is making better use of their potential at the entry-level, especially in middle management, and leadership positions. That is the conundrum we face.

You have women of color, and then you have caregivers, and a big bulk of caregiving is still on women. If you take a look at this statistic of how many women have left the workforce, you have a big number of them that are caregivers.

If you take a look at all the stats, and if you take a look at who is in leadership positions, I think the gap there is honing in on the potential of the entry-level workers and especially the middle management.

Q: What are the specific skills that you have gained or developed by being in a diversity role and also being a caregiver?

Sarah: No one is better poised to face change management than a parent or caregiver. Because once you're in a potential groove, a milestone flips or changes, and you have to quickly adapt and pivot to that next stage of milestone or growth and support.

Bringing that perspective into my teams and workplace has only helped me and our organization. And likewise, being in the space of DE&I and constantly learning from other employee groups that started well before most of us were here.

They're doing that culture shift, they're doing the work of really flipping these narratives of who is a leader, there are so many templates that we still have to break down of what it is to be a leader, and learning from all of you and your leaders and communities just keeps me motivated to keep it the game here.

Jess: I'm not a caregiver, so I can't answer that, but in terms of neurodiversity, one of the things that is really important to understand is neurodiversity is a blanket term. It incorporates lots of different neurological disorders and there's a common understanding or description in the workplace, that they are unseen disabilities.

I don't think my way of thinking is a disability, I actually think it's a superpower, I can understand complex datasets that other people find really, really difficult.

And I see the world in a weird and wonderful way that no one else does.

So the first thing for me to mention is that just because you don't see it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And the challenge with neurodiversity or unseen disabilities is that in the UK you don't have to declare them under the Equality Act of 2010, you're protected. And that's not the same. For me, it's allowed me to build my leadership skills, it's allowed me to gain partnerships, and build on my stakeholder engagement skills. Lots of things that I probably would have been scared to do otherwise.

Bringing all perspectives to the table is really important. There's a quote from a fantastic book, that says diversity is having a seat at the table.

Equity is for everyone at the table to have a seat, but on a chair, that's the same height. Inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having a voice that is heard.

Robbie: I always relate some of the parenting tasks and skills that you learn to the three P's patience, new perspective, and perseverance.

Thinking about the importance of my life balance to work, compared to what it was pre-being a caregiver, the differences are so vast, and having organizations allow for that and accommodate that, and be proactive, in terms of communicating that to their workforce, alleviates so much anxiety. There's a mental constraint there that you're holding on to because it's perceived that I'm going to have to have the same level of output with less amount of time, with less amount of energy.

I don't know if anyone else has gone through the tireless nights that I've gone through for the last two years, I hear of some children who just sleep all through the night, but they seem to be a mystery in my household. And but I know I can only really speak to my own personal experiences, in that my managers and my leaders would always promote “family first”: your family health, your family safety, and your mental and physical well-being are the most important components to you being able to bring your best self to work.

I might need to close my laptop and drive down to creche and go and pick him up if there's been an accident and the expectation from my manager is that I will only do that if I need to do it.

I have such confidence in being able to manage my own time, being able to manage the expectations of my team of collaborators, my cross-functional partners. And in that “family comes first” ethos, I think it's so important from a caregiver point of view.

I think that touches on a lot of other areas as well, where it's pretty simple and basic communication, but then it's followed up with actions outside of it.

Q: Can we talk about the impact it's having on women who are actually being pushed out of SaaS?

Tet: I think the pandemic has really forced us to look at what is most important.

A lot of women by choice or not, are furloughed and they are now looking at other avenues where they will really be valued.

The amount of small businesses that popped up during the pandemic is great, and a big number of people who have started small businesses were women of color.

There's a Forbes article that just came out that said women have lost 800 billion in wages in the last year. And a lot of those, again, are women of color who have left the workplace.

In terms of impact from a financial perspective, it’s huge, and because of this, The World Economic Forum just reported that we won't achieve equal pay for another 267.6 years.

That's over a 10-year increase from their last report.

Just sit with that for a second. 260-something years before we can get equal pay, and you wonder why you can't retain women in the workplace, specifically in tech.

I do think that there's a great opportunity for companies to really take a look at how they are, take a look at their people, processes, and systems, and see if how their infrastructure really does support underrepresented groups and women in the workplace.

There are companies now that have programs where they're bringing women in, who maybe have had gaps in their careers. So in terms of impact, it is a huge one from an economic perspective.

I think with that impact comes a lot of opportunities. I would love for companies and leaders to really think through what their talent strategies could look like. You know, with this return to office guess who is going to be impacted the most? Caregivers, people who may not have access to public transportation, because they left. I know that there was an exodus here in the San Francisco Bay Area of people who have left because of the standard of living.

So again, just really thinking through those things as you make strategic decisions about how to grow your business, and grow your workforce.

Sarah: That proactiveness from management and leadership is so important right now because we just can't assume that we're going back to any sense of normalcy from before the pandemic.

It's also really important to name the issues. I've seen several reports on this, of companies and organizations that get into a comfort level of talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion at the highest level, but when you go down to the granular level of naming what that true bias is or the challenges, that tension starts to get them to lean back from really digging in and solving that bias.

Just in the history of employee resource groups, about five or 10 years ago, there were hardly any specifically focused on career moms, parents, and caregivers in this space.

But we know from the Great Places to Work organization, parents have some of the lowest feelings of belonging and sentiment in the workplace culture, so that's a huge gap.

And that's why some of us have really leaned into adding caregivers to that DEI strategy.

That's just one example of really showing how we have to start connecting segments and communities that really are getting impacted the most here.

Q: So we talked a bit about why women are leaving the workplace, now let's talk a bit about what we can do about it. What does an inclusive return to work look like?

Robbie: This is a massively important topic and a lot of my clients are actually seeking out advice for this at the minute. There's a huge amount of conversation, a huge amount of planning that's going into it, and the nuances and the variables that come from putting a strategy in place within the United States compared to Europe. And specifically thinking about how we have a more inclusive return to work.

I think at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a “yes or no” feel to it, it was almost like a T-junction that we were going to return to the office or we were going to work remotely, and what we're seeing now is that the appetite is there for both and how companies can maximize and incorporate this flexible return to work into their diversity and inclusion and belonging strategies and to offer and allow that flexibility.

I think people naturally assume the flexibility of work will relate specifically to someone either being remote or someone being in the office, and more and more so, that's falling down in terms of the work hours, the expected hours and time that we're going to be in front of our laptops and in the office.

The other component to it is do we have outspoken leadership in terms of where they're looking to drive their company, what the expectations are of the employee’s pre and post-pandemic worlds?

I know that employee voice surveys are huge components of gathering this data, and gathering feedback, also understanding what the appetite is across the different layers of the organization from a demographics point of view.

I know, a lot of companies at the moment are planning that particular strategy right now, and I think the more of the employee voices that they hear, the more that they will be able to make relevant changes for relevant audiences, it’s not a one size fits all approach that's going to work that's going to allow for inclusivity.

As we go back and reimagine the future of work, people now know what both sides will do for their work-life balance. They know both sides in terms of remote work or office work and they know what they will do from a time management point of view. I know that I gain two and a half hours every single day, by not having to commute in and out of the office. I also know that I need sometimes to be able to focus so I need to be able to go into an office, I need to put my head down, I need to be able to collaborate with people at a moment's notice.

I need to be able to have those water cooler conversations for my career progression to be able to get the visibility that I need across my organization. But it doesn't mean that I can't do it if I'm not there.

So one of the things that LinkedIn, and I know Microsoft has done as well, is to make sure that each employee’s voice and situation and their considerations are being taken into account when they're planning a strategy.

I think the organizations who are focusing on the flexibility of the return to work, as opposed to their thoughts on what the return to work is going to look like, are going to be the ones that are going to put their best foot forward and ultimately be able to attract the most diverse audience, and particularly thinking about women and underrepresented groups going back into the workforce.

I know from looking at LinkedIn data that I've shared with my clients that companies that are posting remote jobs are receiving over 25% more applications from Generation-Z and also women in particular.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to advocate for themselves on what works for them, i.e. working from home versus coming into the office?

Sarah: One is to be in a little bit of an auditing mode first, just to see what the tone is, the communications, existing resources that maybe your company has already rolled out related to flexible scheduling or a return to the office.

I specifically use “return to the office” because we're all still working. So it's not returning to work, because we have been overworking in our home capacity this past year too.

So really thinking about what already exists, who can help you navigate what exists already, whether that’s your people leader, and are you comfortable having that conversation with them? If not, that's also a great opportunity where your GS or employee resource groups really can provide a safe space to navigate those types of very intimate personal conversations of what's going to work best for you.

If you don't have any RG start one, we are here to help you and point you to resources.

It just takes one person to make a mighty difference and change, and, speaking from personal experiences, we have absolutely influenced the thought leadership of including caregivers in performance checking reviews, so people leaders are actually having that perspective of people on their teams too.

So it's really “what can you do in your own capacity of finding what works for you in your culture on your team?” But there are multiple resources, internally and externally, to help navigate what works best.

Tet: I'll just share an experience in terms of doing this work. When I joined a technology company that was pretty big, what I did first and foremost was I found my people.

I went out of my way to really figure out the people who would understand who I was, but also the people like my support community, and I found some wonderful people who are still friends to this day. Because I found my allies, and I found my advocates, that made the advocation work easier.

Q: What do you think are the best ways to conduct an inclusive interview? And do you have any practical tips that we can implement in our hiring processes?

Robbie: What I would make sure that you're doing first and foremost is to do incorporate diversity and inclusion all the way through the hiring process from sourcing and engaging with candidates through the hiring panels.

I know, some of the companies that I've worked with, and just from speaking to people within the industry as well, people will make sure that there's an accommodations list sent out to all panelists prior to the interview. So if there are any specific requirements that they have, again, whether it's in a virtual world or within the office, and that those are known prior in advance, and people can make the necessary arrangements in a virtual world.

I think having diversity and inclusion as a priority of each part of the process is key. So from communication between the recruiters to the hiring managers, from the hiring managers to the line managers, how you guys process your candidates through your applicant tracking system, or your career site, whatever you may use, and understanding what GDPR nuances go into it as well is extremely important. I know, certain platforms can allow for self-identification, and certain platforms can't. And at a very basic and manual level, there are things that you can do, and solutions that you can put in place that will offer the opportunity to scale.

You can look at sharing percentages and only percentages with your line manager or hiring manager to the diversity panel that you will put forward for interview and then whatever requirements you guys have from a business point of view, and your own strategies will align into those as well.

This will allow for anonymous but impactful data for you guys to be able to show.

From q1 of last year to q1 of this year, we have gone from 30% diversity within our hiring panels to 60%. They are tangible data points that you can take back to the business and celebrate and then you can again implement that type of process at scale across the organization.

Tet: Writing inclusive job descriptions is a key thing. Some companies have taken off the requirement to have a master’s or Ph.Ds., or even a bachelor’s. Also, widen your search to include diverse talent pools and groups, and tap into those pools of talent.  

Allowing for reasonable adjustments at an interview is also really important.

Q: What are the best ways to make it clear that your company is committed to inclusivity?

Sarah: Companies today have to be crystal clear on where they stand within their values, not just what they represent, but how they're going to put that into action. And the most you can do to bridge that trust is being incredibly visible and transparent, as much as you are able to share. What do your numbers look like today? Because it's about measurement, and putting the strategy in place to improve those metrics moving forward.

Just simply stating the intention of wanting to do that and committing to doing that is incredibly powerful to build that trust and inclusion in your workplace.

I've been in tech startups in the past where their all-hands meetings weren't even beginning until 5:30 in the evening That is not supportive of people that have to go pick up their kids or take care of their elder family needs after hours.

There were also signs that, you know, people were okay to bring in their pets into the office, but if heaven forbid, you brought your kiddo or family member you were given the stink eye. So there's real tension, right? If you're not being really specific about the type of atmosphere and how we can be more supportive and work with you.

Mamta:  Jess can you add to that? because a lot of times, unconsciously or even consciously people don't know how to handle neurodiversity, how do you handle that?

Jess: Most people don't know how to handle it at all. And that's why I try and set an example, and educate.

I guess the one thing that I would want anyone who's kind of looking at building diverse workforces or building more inclusive cultures to understand is that we're all different and that anyone who has a neurological disorder will have different traits, just because someone has ADHD, that means they can be an introvert. It doesn't mean that they're going to run around with loads of energy. Just because someone has dyslexia doesn't mean that, you know, they can't be on the Mensa list.

I think call working hours are really vital. I've been in previous jobs, where we had a call working hour between 10 to five and every call, like, all-hands meeting, you know everyone has to be there was between those hours. And if you did anything outside of those hours, it was an exception.

I think there's also an onus on the person themselves about putting up their barriers and boundaries. I'm doing my Ph.D., for example. I have to have very clear delineations between when I'm actually going to do that work, or when I'm not. So I have carved out my schedule and said “these are my core hours, this is when I will be around. If you put in something at a certain time, or I have class, I have class, I can't make it.”

One of the things that I've found with being neurodiverse, and building inclusive teams is active communication. Don't sit there and expect that the person is going to know what you're thinking or saying or feeling, and that’s regardless of whether you're neurodiverse or not. People aren't mind readers. I'm sure we're all guilty of that at some point.

Q: What is the one action that people can take regardless of their gender to make their workplace more inclusive?

Robbie: The most important thing on my journey towards being an ally, and being an advocate, was educating myself on the topics and understanding the paths other people have walked.  

Being able to gain perspective from team members around the world that I have access to on a daily basis is so invaluable.

There are so many resources, so many online books, podcasts, e-learning, you name it, it's out there.

Tet: I think as people who work in the tech space we sit in a very privileged position.

So if you have the opportunity to help somebody and give them access, whether that's an introduction to somebody, or talking about a colleague and the wonderful work that they've done, do it. I think that's a good start if we all created access for everybody, I think we'd be in a much better place.

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