If we really want more women in tech, we need to bring them back

If we really want more women in tech, we need to bring them back

Better parental leave, equal pay and targets for diversity are all important, but the tech industry should look to women returners to fill the gaps

Despite the lack of universal parental leave and the expectation that most women can return to work just a few weeks after giving birth, this year has actually been a good one for parents in the tech industry. Both Facebook and Netflix made positive changes to their maternity, paternity and adoption provision. Although in Netflix’s case you have to be in the right business unit to benefit, which doesn’t suggest a wholehearted approach but at least it’s a step in the right direction. But small steps can only take us so far, is it too much to hope that 2016 will finally be the year that women in tech start to thrive?

Much was made of Marissa Mayer’s decision to only take two weeks maternity leave after the birth of her twin daughters. Quite frankly, I’m in awe of her energy. The reality, however, is that while how much maternity leave you take should be a woman’s personal decision, when you’re in the position of power that Mayer is, your behaviour has an impact on those around you. Clearly aware of this, Mayer has doubled paid maternity leave and given Yahoo fathers eight weeks paid paternity leave but the truly ground-breaking stuff would have come if she and her other half had been prepared to show the world that babies are exhausting and they were both comfortable to take more time off and get settled.

One good sign was the move to equal pay at Salesforce. This is pioneering stuff alright but I can’t shake that slightly uncomfortable feeling at the prospect of applauding them. It’s like praising one of your children simply for not hitting their sister, rewarding the lack of bad behaviour rather than expecting good (I know it’s not just me who does this, right?).

Leading digital innovator, Avanade, hasn’t had screaming headlines about its work on gender equality but they’re quietly getting on with it. They have increased the number of women in leadership roles by 74% in 3 years and are committed to seeing 30% of their workforce represented by women by September 2018. But if tech really wants to create a balanced workplace they need to think about not only how they support women during pregnancy, but also how they encourage them back from maternity leave. Women returners is the next frontier for the tech sector and director of talent acquisition, Els Hol-Ferman and inclusion & diversity director, Jessica Brookes realised this and so are sponsoring a pilot workshop for technology professionals looking to get back into the industry after taking a break.

We need to start breaking down the stigma attached to career breaks. Time out of the workplace actually allows people to experience new ideas and different people. It means that when they do return they’re likely to come back refreshed and enthusiastic. They’ll also bring new perspectives to teams who might have been working together and in the same way for a while. Their thoughts have been interrupted and that’s what innovation is about – disruption, difference and a drive to do things better. Women and men who’ve disrupted their careers and are now driven to comeback have the potential to be some of the best hires you can make..


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