Gender balance in tech is lower now than it was in 1984 (35% vs 32%) and despite there being more tech roles for women and a greater awareness of gender equality, women only represent 17% of leaders. Women, on average, earn €400,000 less than men during their careers – even though gender-diverse companies increase financial returns by 15% – and one out of two leaves tech by the age of 35.
Caroline Ramade – ex-head of innovation and chief digital officer for the mayor of Paris, and founder and CEO of social startup 50inTech – is dedicating her career to fixing tech’s big problem of female retention.
“We know that inspiration for little girls comes from the first network,” says Ramade. “We can work on education, but we first need to focus on retention of talent in the tech industry…If your mother, sister or friends are happy in tech, you can inspire a lot of women.”
Ramade, a UN Woman board member, is committed to gender equality. At the Paris Mayor’s office under Bertrand Delanoë, Ramade used tech to engage the startup population at a time when €1bn was being poured into innovation and incubators were emerging across the city. Encountering Paris Pionnières, the first incubator for female entrepreneurs in tech, was life-changing and Ramade left the Mairie in 2015 to become the organization’s MD (it was subsequently rebranded to WILLA).
She noticed that WILLA was not like the other male-dominated incubators. “There were 50% women, it was a really inclusive place, so we had gender balance, but it was also diverse in terms of age and background,” she says. “It was a different atmosphere, another way of operating and it inspired me.”
Having become aware of the difficulties that female entrepreneurs and women in tech faced finding partners to work with, she created a solution. That was the start of 50inTech: “The vision was to connect this community of female entrepreneurs and tech women to inclusive workplaces – joining two worlds that were, for me, separated.”
50inTech is, in its simplest form, a recruitment company for women in tech – but by designing and implementing tools, sharing best employer practices and raising awareness of them to foster change, Ramade is nurturing an inclusive hiring community that she believes can help to reduce the “great resignation of women in tech”.
Accenture and Girls Who Code’s Resetting Tech Culture report states that an inclusive culture is “the master key that unlocks opportunities for women who are studying and working in technology”. The study found that the main reason women leave IT is discrimination, which starts in college, where the lack of inclusive culture influences the likelihood of women taking a job in tech.
A 50inTech survey showed that work-life balance, equal pay, fair career path and anti-discrimination actions are key employment criteria for women. In response, Ramade launched the Gender Score Tool, a voluntary, free-to-use evaluation system that enables companies to assess their progress against these four criteria transparently.
The goal, explains Ramade, is to allow companies to measure their progress in gender inclusion and identify actions that promote diversity.
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Companies can assess themselves on each element and are given a badge with their overall score: Observer 0-24, Discoverer 25-40, Achiever 41-60, Pacemaker 61-80, Pioneer 81-100.
So far over 70 companies have joined the system. Companies don’t need to be high-performers to join: what is important is that they are collecting data, operating transparently, and pursuing progression.
Ramade admits her company’s own score of 59 needs to be improved and shares her frustration at how her startup is still small and not in a position to make the advancements or progress she would like. “I’m conscious of our imperfection,” she says.
Some of 50inTech’s top scorers include refurbished devices platform BackMarket with 79, BNP Paribas at 83, BlaBlaCar at 76, and OpenClassrooms at 78. Through the Tech Changer Club – 50 in Tech’s peer-to-peer mentoring system that Ramade spearheaded to inspire change through sharing best practices – she was able to learn more about OpenClassrooms’ pioneering policies.
Highlights include: employees not being blocked for promotion or salary increases after leave; days off to provide care for relatives or children; day care financing support; unlimited holidays; and – the most radical – a €1,000 bonus for any employee taking 15 consecutive days off, to “underline the need to rest and disconnect at least once a year”.
BNP Paribas’ policies are another positive example of inclusivity. Currently with 32% of women in IT, the banking company is aiming for 37% by 2024. There is also an emphasis on “life balance after parenthood”, where employees create an action plan based on a healthy personal and professional balance. Days off to care for a relative are given and 80% of the staff get childcare assistance.
Retaining women in tech becomes even more crucial in the light of the future skills shortage, which Ramade says requires thoughtful change and a “massive investment in education”.
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At science and developer boot camps, around 40% of women are looking to change careers and move into tech, says Ramade. “These ‘career change’ women are 30-35 years old and hear that tech is a world with many jobs, where you can make money.”
However, while this is a “unique opportunity”, the reality for many women joining tech at this stage means working a full-time job while studying at the same time as managing a family – and that’s if they can even find a company to hire them.
An education shift that Ramade does see working are the introduction of models, such as the Holberton School, which has come over to France from Silicon Valley. Holberton trains students up in subjects such as computer science, machine learning, algorithms, software engineering, and front- and back-end web development. The emphasis is on project-based learning rather than teacher-led lessons.
Women seeking education in this field are also turning to coding schools like 42 for its inclusivity. However, as the average age is 24 years old and study takes between three and five years, it’s a solution that doesn’t easily work for the “career change” women.
“We need to have something in between because many women are jumping into debt,” says Ramade. “We also need to value soft skills, because when you’ve had 10 years as a business leader, then try to become a developer you have something to bring, but that’s never valorised or validated.”
At 50 in Tech, Ramade is focusing on opening up job prospects for this emerging category of women. “We don’t have enough opportunities for them, but I’m now targeting companies that do – there are a few,” she says.
“I really want to find a way to solve this issue because I think it is one of the answers to our future talent shortage.”