5 ways to attract and retain female technologists

Beth Stackpole

The report revealed that women in technical roles make about 99 cents on the dollar, while those in the management ranks were paid an estimated 96 cents on the dollar. The same report found that women represented 20% of its technical workforce and 25% of its overall employee ranks, with women in management roles hovering at around 25%.

"It's been a great recruiting tool for us, and it's about doing what's right," says Katee Van Horn, GoDaddy's vice president of HR. "We're putting our money where our mouth is and showing people that we are actually doing this because it's important to us."

Formalize mentoring and sponsorship programs

Mentoring and sponsorships are staples at most larger organizations, and essential to fostering an upward trajectory for female tech employees, who tend to lack the network breadth enjoyed by their male counterparts, experts say. The McKinsey/LeanIn.org report found that while men and women's networks were similar in size, their makeup was quite different, with women typically having fewer connections than men to senior-level executives.

Companies like Cisco and American Express are working hard to shift those dynamics with myriad formal and informal mentoring programs, including several that target high-potential female employees.

At Cisco, directors hand-pick female engineers to work with an executive mentor in three- to four-month stints -- the goal being to promote and foster retention of key talent. At American Express, advocacy efforts ensure that women are well represented in a 12-month program that pairs 16 high potential employees of both genders with senior technology leaders for mentoring, networking opportunities and the potential for sponsorship.

This kind of relationship is critical for women to gain visibility, says Katrina Roberts, vice president in the technology organization at American Express. "Women have to be encouraged to network; it's not necessarily something they feel comfortable doing," says Roberts, who went through the program. "The more people are talking about you, the more opportunities come up that might not be on your radar screen."

Roberts knows of what she speaks. Over the years, her mentoring relationship with CIO Mark Gordon evolved into a sponsorship, which just culminated in her recent promotion to head of consumer and commercial lending technology, reporting directly to Gordon. "It's so important for women to realize the power of networking and sponsorship -- it can really change your career," she says.

Modify your recruiting practices

Recruiting processes are often rife with unconscious gender bias, experts say, citing specific practices like male-dominated hiring panels or recruitment ads that are stacked with a lot of aggressive, male-oriented language.

To guard against that, training programs at Cisco condition hiring execs to push for more female candidates for every potential hire, while the company's move to promote more diversity on its hiring panels has increased the odds of hiring women by as much as 50%, says Liz Centoni, vice president of engineering. "If you're going in and sitting in front of six men who are using words like 'ninja,' it's quite likely you're going to be put off," she explains.

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