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High-Tech Industry Making Progress at Building More Inclusive Environments but Barriers Still Face Women Working In Technology

Dissatisfaction with supervisory relationships and companies' approaches to fairness in decision-making processes identified as hurdles for women in technology

Technology companies are making progress at creating more diverse work environments, and women surveyed were less likely to perceive barriers compared to those surveyed earlier in the decade, according to Women in Technology: Maximizing Talent, Minimizing Barriers, the latest in Catalyst’s landmark reports examining the climate for women working in technology and in technical fields. Despite the positive findings, women in the high-tech workforce still face barriers to advancement such as a lack of role models, mentors, and access to networks. Technical women expressed particular concern around supervisory relationships and around company decisions and opportunities to voice opinions during decision-making processes. These issues represent substantial obstacles in the increasingly competitive war for talent in the high-tech industry, and companies that do not address them will lose out on valuable and well-qualified employees who serve as assets to their organizations.

Since the dot-com bust at the beginning of the decade, the demand for employees with technical skills has dramatically increased. “This study comes at a critical time for companies seeking to attract and retain top talent,” said Ilene H. Lang, President of Catalyst. “The job market in technology has become increasingly competitive; companies must provide a work environment where women can succeed in order to maintain a competitive edge in today’s global marketplace. We applaud the progress being made so far, and encourage companies to go further in creating workplaces that allow all of their employees to flourish and advance.”

While the overall percentage of jobs held by women in technical fields has declined in recent years, the findings revealed that technical women were relatively satisfied with their jobs and workplace cultures. However, the study also showed that technical women were less satisfied with their interactions with supervisors and their companies’ approaches to fairness and voice compared to men in technical roles and women and men in non-technical roles. Furthermore, failure of companies and supervisors to provide employees with opportunities to speak up and participate in decision-making processes posed another significant hurdle for technical women. These barriers can lead to lower employee satisfaction, commitment, and performance appraisals.

Catalyst believes building a truly diverse and inclusive workplace can provide a competitive advantage in an industry that is driven by the best and brightest talent, and should be a business imperative for the rapidly expanding high-tech sector. Catalyst knows through its strategic advisory engagements that people join companies but leave supervisors. This study highlights the importance of taking action to improve employee-supervisor interactions. Management training is essential to retain top talent, and companies that attend to employees’ concerns around fairness and voice, as well as supervisory relationships, will deepen levels of organizational commitment among women, signal the importance companies place on their employees, and reduce the cost of losing employees to competitors.

Women in Technology: Maximizing Talent, Minimizing Barriers is sponsored by IBM Corporation, with contributing sponsors Cisco Systems, Inc., Dell Inc., and the National Center for Women and Information Technology. For more information about the study, please visit www.catalyst.org. For media inquiries, please contact Serena Fong, 646-388-7757, [email protected]; Susan Nierenberg, 646-388-7744, [email protected]; or Jeff Barth, 646-388-7725, [email protected].

 

ABOUT THIS STUDY
Phase 1: Catalyst embarked on Phase I of this study in 2005, in partnership with ISR (subsequently Towers Perrin-ISR), to more fully understand the management of women’s talent in technology companies. Specifically, Catalyst used Towers Perrin-ISR employee survey satisfaction data to compare the attitudes of women to men and to subgroups of women based on features such as job roles, employee age, and type of company. The analyses used Towers Perrin-ISR employee survey data from 211 global high-tech companies.2

Phase 2: The online survey in Phase 2 was fielded from January through February of 2007. Participants were recruited using the “snowball” technique. The survey examined two groups of women: 1) women working for technology companies in any role; and 2) women working for non-technology companies in technical roles. Catalyst received 471 completed responses to the survey.

ABOUT CATALYST
Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit corporate membership research and advisory organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women and business. With offices in New York, Sunnyvale, Toronto, and Zug, and the support and confidence of more than 350 leading corporations, firms, business schools, and associations, Catalyst is connected to business and its changing needs and is the premier resource for information and data about women in the workplace. In addition, Catalyst honors exemplary business initiatives that promote women’s leadership with the annual Catalyst Award.

SOURCES

1 While the data represent 21 high-tech companies, there were 23 “survey events,” meaning that, for two companies, more than one division was surveyed. The surveys were administered from 2002 to 2005.

2Towers Perrin-ISR defined “high technology” based on products, as well as the research and development (R&D) intensity of the organization. The R&D intensity was based on two factors: first, the relatively higher proportion of scientists, engineers, and technicians employed by the companies (vis-à-vis non-tech companies); and second, the nature of the R&D activities undertaken. Eligible product categories included: software development; office machinery and computer manufacturing; electronics (especially those with a communications function); and biotechnology. The definition did not include scientific instrument manufacturing and non-electrical machinery.