Can mentoring help to improve gender diversity in tech?

Front view of diverse business people looking at camera while working together at conference room in a modern office

Ed Johnson, CEO and Founder of mentoring and career development platform PushFar, discusses how mentoring can help to level the playing field for women in tech.

When we look to the future, whilst much may be uncertain, one thing that we can be sure of is a world where individuals and businesses continue to be ever more reliant on technology. The technology industry is growing almost three times faster than the economy as a whole.  With that in mind, it seems increasingly important that tech companies should be represented by a gender diverse workforce.  More diverse teams will result in more diverse thought processes, meaning more inclusive innovation, better products and improved customer experiences that inspire brand loyalty, and generate stronger sales. Half of the users of technology are women, so it is pretty obvious that their input to the development of future technology is crucial.

Yet gender equality and a lack of inclusiveness remains an issue in the world of tech, with women still significantly underrepresented.

It is my belief that companies which wish to have a stronger emphasis on tangible gender diversity, equity and inclusion efforts need to be prepared to make more active and structural changes to ensure that more women not only look to join at the start of their career, but that employees also feel able to progress their career all the way to the boardroom. Retaining women throughout the business is vital for a truly diverse workplace, and it will mean that younger team members have role models to look up to and emulate.

One path that has proven time and time again to have the ability to help nurture a more diverse and inclusive workplace is putting in place a mentoring scheme. Evidence shows that employees feel motivated and supported when they see senior leaders with whom they can relate. As a result, on average it has been found that mentoring programmes boost the representation of underrepresented groups by 9% to 24%.

Work that we have done at PushFar has backed this up. Limit Break, a mentorship programme in the UK games industry, recognised the value mentoring can bring to their industry in relation to addressing diversity and inclusion issues. Their founder, Anisa Sanusi, established Limit Break when she couldn’t find a female mentor in the gaming industry and was looking for guidance and a role model. We partnered with them to put in place a programme that now means people can find mentoring relationships based on specific backgrounds and profiles. By connecting a young workforce to those with experience, there can obviously be huge benefits both for the individual and the company in the skills and knowledge that they can pass on.

Mentorships can be particularly helpful to women in tech who are mid-way through their career – a point where many seem to change direction – as the extra support and advice can help them to develop skills, be heard in the workplace, and create opportunities for promotion.

We also need to continue to encourage women to want to step into technology roles, and support them in doing so, and mentorship has been found to help achieve this too. In my view, the recruitment process can, even if inadvertently, be one of the principal hurdles to creating a diverse workforce. Applicants from ‘different backgrounds’ to the organisation they are applying for are at a disadvantage. This is not just because the interviewers may have some unconscious bias, it is because the recruitment process itself favours the ‘majority’ at the organisation. Applicants that have easy access to the community or group represented at the company they are applying for can get a huge advantage by getting insights into the process, company, politics and even gain relevant experience. This then leads to a self-perpetuating cycle that veers an organisation towards one particular group. We have worked with organisations to set up mentoring programmes providing access for all candidates to relevant current employees that could support them during recruitment.

When it comes to the issue of gender diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, there is obviously no one silver bullet, and companies in the sector need to be prepared to take a proactive and progressive approach looking at all the options available to them. Mentoring can be a key part of that puzzle though, helping the industry to better represent the consumers it serves.