Last week, 15,000 of the world's best and brightest technologists came together in Houston, Texas for the 26th Annual Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing. I was lucky enough to be one of those women, and I spent three days immersed in talks with topics varying from coding to career development and diversity in the workplace.
Perhaps the most eye-opening portion of the overall conference was an overview of the 2016 Anita Borg Institute Top Companies for Women Technologists benchmark program, a program that acknowledges organizations that strive to build workplaces where women technologists can thrive.
Representation of Women in Tech: The Numbers
With 60 companies containing more than 1.4 million US employees, including 552,000 technologists across 10 industries participating in the program this year, the data has suggested that representation of female technologists is now at 21.7%, a 0.9% increase from the previous year! And while that increase is worth celebrating, not surprisingly representation of females decreases at every successive level in the organization. Female representation at the executive level is at 14.5%.
Policies that Help Women Thrive
I was very excited to learn that Originate shares two of the programs that significantly differentiated the selected companies from their counterparts:
Flexible Time Policy: This policy provides technical employees the freedom to work remotely, work flexible hours, and work a flexible schedule. Originate knows that our people may not do their best work in the normal 9-to-5 setting and trusts employees to work hard on their own schedule. This flex time policy encourages all employees to be their whole self by allowing people to go out in the world and pursue their passions!
Formal Leadership Development Programs for Technical Talent: This policy provides technical employees clear and defined paths that allow them to visualize their future career trajectory. In the last year, Originate came out with an Engineering Career Ladder which contains the following three tracks: Technology Specialist Track, Technical Leadership Track, and the People Leadership Track. It contains a list of concrete skills that a person from each positional denomination would have. It is a great benchmark, both for engineers to track their growth, and for management to give promotions.
How I Sought to Help Retention
After completing my first year at Originate, I thought about what I could do to help ease the transition from university to industry and accelerate the growth of future junior-level engineers. Of course, increasing retention would, in turn, improve representation of women at the executive level. An NCWIT (National Center for Women and Information Technology) study in 2009 found that 56 percent of women leave their careers at the mid-level point . While the percentage has decreased since then, the issue still persists.
A known cause of this massive departure is the isolation of women in the workplace. According to a Harvard Business Review study, 44% of female engineers feel extremely isolated at work .
An engineer’s first year is extremely critical for his or her growth. It is the year that critical thinking skills get put to the test. It is the year to learn how to solve problems and to write robust code. Unfortunately, due to the isolation women feel in the workplace, they may not be acquiring tips and pointers that can fuel their curiosity and accelerate their growth. This year at the Grace Hopper conference, I presented the Early Career Toolkit: an open-source knowledge base created by engineers for engineers. The toolkit is relevant for experience levels ranging from one year prior to graduating to those programming for several years.
I am extremely grateful to Originate for sponsoring my attendance of the conference. Being around so many other female technologists was extremely inspirational and I'm as motivated as ever to continue to grow as an engineer. Can't wait for next year!
 Ashcraft, Catherine, Ph.D. Women in IT: The Facts(2009): n. pag. National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). NCWIT. Web.
 Hewlett, Sylvia Ann. The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology. Boston: Harvard Business School, 2008. National Science Foundation. National Science Foundation. Web.