It's no secret that there's a gender imbalance in the tech industry.
Only 20 per cent of tech jobs in the USA are held by women, and even some of the industry's most notable companies, such as Google (23 per cent) and Twitter (21 per cent), suffer from low female representation.
Organisations have attempted to address the imbalance by introducing quotas for the number of female interviews, and to improving female tenure by setting targets for promoting women to board level. But it isn't enough on its own; these are curative methods, whereas more needs to be done to prevent the issues in the first place.
Given recent research on employee benefits, business leaders are being encouraged to look at whether staff receive enough support to both attract and keep them in the organisation, and whether negative attitudes towards what's on offer can actually be harmful to career progression.
Fewer women work flexibly than men
Mason Frank is a specialist tech recruiter and each year surveys thousands of professionals to gauge their sentiments towards work-life balance and culture in the tech industry. In the latest report, where 30 per cent of the more than 2,500 respondents were women, we found differences in attitudes towards desired benefits as well as a difference in actual entitlement between genders.
In the survey, 22 per cent of female respondents indicated home and flexible working was important to them, compared to only 19 per cent of men. This is significant when compared to actual entitlement.
Only 58 per cent of female respondents reported working from home, compared to 64 per cent of men. There's an even greater difference when looking at flexible working hours; the benefit is enjoyed by 54 per cent of men, compared to just 42 per cent of women. These major differences in entitlement add to the challenges women already face in their careers.
Women are more susceptible to career burnout
While men and women should be paid equally for equal work and offered the same employment benefits, we must accept that there are lifestyle differences between the genders that can have an impact on both desired and enjoyed employment benefits.
For example, women can tally up to around 22 hours of childcare on top of their working week, and carry out an average of 60 per cent more unpaid work a week than men as a result. Women also tend to be elderly caregivers.
These are things that can directly contribute to career burnout, and with the issue being so prevalent in the tech sector in particular, not having employment benefits to improve work-life balance could be impacting the number of women who enter the industry as well as remaining in it.
Perceptions of flexible working are damaging to careers
It isn't just enough to offer flexible and home working, either. Despite recent research showing improved engagement for employees who work flexibly, negative attitudes towards these employee benefits can be having a detrimental effect on career progression.
A 2018 study by Heejung Chung analysed sentiments towards flexible working, with 35% of respondents believing flexible working created more work for others, and 39 per cent associating negative outcomes with a colleague working flexibly.
Of those who had worked flexibly in the past, 39 per cent experienced negative consequences as a result of it, and 18 per cent believed it impacted negatively on their career. Interestingly, working mothers were those who reported that they felt this the most.
That means employees working flexibly are being held back due to unfavourable views of their working pattern, and this anxiety around such ill feelings is also contributing to career burnout. This might explain why the number of career women going part-time and self-employed is on the rise.
A change in attitudes as well as policy
To ensure employees have equal access to benefits, you need to make them available to all staff and educate them on why they're a good thing. Not everybody will need to use them, but everyone should be entitled to if it improves their work-life balance or performance at work.
It shouldn't matter whether somebody needs to look after a dependent or use the time solely for themselves. Benefits that are there to make employees feel more relaxed, and able to integrate work and life more easily, should be applauded rather than criticised.
Nobody should feel stigmatised for leaning on the employment benefits they're entitled to. If employers can demonstrate the value of these benefits to the business by measuring the positive impact they have on engagement and productivity, this will be a relevant, tangible finding that can improve attitudes towards flexible working.
Over time, greater access to and flexibility around these benefits could vastly improve the number of women entering and staying within the tech sector.
"Zoë Morris is president at niche technology staffing firm Mason Frank International.
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