There is an undeniable lack of diversity in tech, and more specifically lack of women in software engineering. You can simply look around any engineering class or engineering department to see the gender imbalance.
Unfortunately, this imbalance is trending in the wrong direction. According to data presented in 2018 by Pew Research, 32% of workers in computer occupations were women in 1990, and today, women's share has dropped to 25%." What underscores this drop is that computer occupations are consistently ranked as one of the fastest-growing and highest-paying STEM clusters.
Now, more than ever, tech companies need to recognize that a lack of diversity puts them at an extreme disadvantage. When designing and engineering products, and services targeted at a diverse set of consumers, it is critical to have diverse representation throughout the process. Because of this, diversity and inclusion needs to be a focus of every company— part of a company's DNA in order to drive real impact.
A first step is to focus on diversity initiatives in hiring. Recode identified that "We need more women in tech in order to get more women in tech. But when women— who have likely found support in small, women-friendly communities like Girl Develop It, Women Who Code, Black Girls Code, etc.— join your organization, suddenly your pipeline includes those very targeted groups." In other words, when you hire more women, you may also gain connections into women-friendly communities for your pipeline. Diversity in hiring and retention complement each other.
At Button we understand that it goes beyond attracting diverse talent; you need to be able to retain them by fostering an inclusive workplace— diversity and inclusion are complementary initiatives. In fact, our internal Diversity committee rebranded as the Diversity and Inclusion committee shortly after it started.
At Button, we have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) i.e. internal support networks for employees who share similar backgrounds, experiences, or interests to come together and address collective concerns. They are currently found in 90% of Fortune 500 companies and are gaining additional business support throughout the country. ERGs at Button each have an executive sponsor and a quarterly budget to work with to enable the pursuit of real initiatives. ERGs are a key part of diversity and inclusion, with Queers@Button paving the way as the first Button-sponsored ERG. These support groups play a key role in fostering diversity initiatives beyond the hiring process.
I am part of the Women Engineers of Button (WEBs) ERG, which is one of the many supportive communities within the organization. Another is our company-wide opt-in Slack channel #coffee, which pairs you with another Buttonian to connect over coffee. These casual conversations facilitate bonding across teams and departments, and several of us identified common ambitions, goals, and challenges related to being women in an engineering organization.
With these realizations, we established our first meeting as WEBs in November 2018. Our founding was seamless thanks to the existing ERG process at Button. At our first meeting, we elected our sponsor from Button's leadership team and developed our mission statement: to empower women in the engineering organization to achieve their career goals by creating a safe space for its members, supporting career development, and enabling connections with the wider community of technical women.
From the start, formalizing the ERG meant we could create and own some awesome swag, but we needed to determine how to begin fulfilling our mission. One of our first steps was to create structure by electing a rotating chair, establishing a recurring meeting, and identifying possible activities and opportunities.
Each of our bi-weekly meetings is different. Sometimes, we share knowledge and insights from our unique growth journeys. For example, a few of us were interested in speaking at a conference but weren't sure where to start. Luckily, one of our members, Jiaqi, is a director at Women Who Code. She's a regular presenter at conferences, including PyCon and Write/Speak/Code. Jiaqi led a WEBs workshop on public speaking, sharing with us her process for writing a winning proposal, and resources for tech events. This encouraged one of our members, Liwei, to give a talk recently on structuring Go Monorepos.
Other times, we help each other navigate roadblocks or motivate each other to work through challenging situations like salary negotiations and promotions. When WEBs members showed interest in negotiation tactics, we asked our VP of People, Stephanie Mardell, to lead a WEBs workshop on this topic. She shared valuable statistics and her expertise on industry hiring practices.
To expand our knowledge pool, we've also attended external workshops such as Unhumble Yourself and Letting Go of Perfectionism, which doubled as fun bonding activities. Next up, we're planning to host our own event to connect with fellow women engineers and designers and bring visibility to the unique challenges we face in our industry.
Diversity and inclusion impact us all socially, but companies are recognizing that it impacts business success too. For a company to design and engineer products to compete in today's market, they must address both sides of diversity and inclusion— hiring and retention.
Employee resource groups are one way to nurture an inclusive work environment to support diverse, talented employees. These groups might organize on their own, but employees from minority groups often already face systemic challenges, and workplace initiatives can be difficult to drive forward without company support. Organization leaders can inspire inclusivity efforts through support in the form of budget allocation, visibility, and time allotment.
At Button, the explicit leadership support for diversity and inclusion efforts facilitated the WEBs formation. Each member of WEBs has a different professional growth path and brings unique experiences and skills to the table. Over the last six months, WEBs has served as a source of inspiration to new and veteran women engineers at Button, and each individual adds to its success.
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