Closing the Gender Gap in Tech: Insights from the Grace Hopper Conference

At Okta, we strive to create and maintain an inclusive and collaborative community. We know that diversity is key to driving innovation, which is why we continue to actively support initiatives geared towards increasing and expanding women’s roles in the tech. So when the Grace Hopper Conference (GHC), the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, invited us to participate we jumped at the chance.

Held in Houston, Texas, this year’s conference housed over 15,000 attendees from 1,100 organizations in 80 countries. Okta had an especially strong presence as a sponsor. Our booth enabled us to connect with customers, introduce the Okta platform to potential customers, and meet with recent graduates seeking opportunities in tech.

Challenges that women technologists face was a common theme in our conversations, so we wanted to share these and some of the solutions we discussed:

Challenge: Keeping women in the tech workforce
IT continues to be one of the most dominant and fastest-growing industries in the U.S.; however women’s role in the sector continues to steadily decline with only 25% making up the IT workforce, down from 36% in 1991. On average, women in their mid 20s and early 30s are twice as likely to quit at the height of their careers than their male counterparts. This imbalance is usually due to a variety of reasons, including a lack of women in leadership roles and feeling isolated with little opportunity for advancement.

Solution: Gaining greater gender diversity within a company can first be achieved by hiring and promoting more women to senior management roles and board positions. When junior and mid-level employees can see themselves in their leaders, it serves as an indicator for future growth opportunities and therefore makes them feel more inclined to stay. Another effective way to limit departures includes increasing the number of leadership development programs available to women. The right programs can help build confidence while also showing that the company is invested in their futures. Additionally, women often cite a lack of flexibility as a factor for leaving the IT sector. When possible, companies should consider relaxed schedules and creating more opportunities for remote work. Finally, it is critical that male employees are equally engaged in the promotion of gender diversity. Gender diversity training at all levels serves as a platform to foster conversation and understanding.

Challenge: Speaking up to encourage advancement
Women are traditionally less likely than their male counterparts to negotiate or actively network. Studies conducted by the Harvard Business Review attribute these behavioral differences to the disparity in “social cost” to women as compared to their male counterparts. This means women are more likely to alienate coworkers and experience backlash for being tough negotiators than men. For many women, this backlash isn’t worth the risk--which often results in money and opportunities for advancement being left on the table. In turn, women usually develop negative feelings about their work environment and eventually burnout.

Solution: Women are perceived more favorably when networking or negotiating for others, and not for their own personal gain. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg coined the strategy, “I-We,” as a solution. This approach encourages women to frame conversations so that the benefit to others is clear, even if personal gain is the end-goal like in salary negotiations. Additionally, it’s important for women to participate and strike a balance between offering expertise as well as asking for help and collaborating. Finally, men and other women must continue to be allies for one another and encourage women cohorts to speak up when they’re able to showcase their knowledge and capabilities.

Developing and maintaining a strong women’s workforce in tech is essential to the success of the industry, especially as it grows increasingly more competitive. Studies consistently indicate that companies with more women in senior “front office” positions tend to report significantly higher returns in key performance areas, like annual sales, stock performance, equity, and payouts of dividends.

We’re proud to be a part of Okta, a committed ally in the movement to achieve greater gender diversity in tech, both in principle and practice. We had a great time at GHC and can’t wait for next year!