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Illustration: Three mint green staircases sit behind three purple archways. A hot pink circle with a cross below it floats above the middle staircase - a metaphor for supporting and advancing women in technology.
People & Culture

A Model to Support & Advance Women in Tech

This might come as a shock, but today in 2023, there are fewer women working in technology now than in the 1980s. Coupled with that, a staggering statistic: 50% of women in tech roles leave them by the age of 35 (Accenture). How is this possible, given the overall advancement of women in the workplace?

The reasons are many but stem from two things — assumptions and biases. Companies assume that all women want and need the same things when it comes to their workplace experiences. And according to CIO, companies looking to recruit, and more importantly, retain women in highly competitive and demanding technology roles also operate with both conscious and unconscious biases that prevent women from truly embracing their work and integrating it together with their personal lives.

Start with your culture. A healthy workplace culture provides the necessary structural support for women — like benefits, paid time off, professional development — but also connection and purpose that women seek when making career choices. Often overlooked, a sense of connection drives engagement, job satisfaction and a desire to perform at the highest level. Outlined in this post is an approach on how to strategically create and foster connection with and for women in your workforce.

A Sponsor & Champion (at the very top)

Finding the right Sponsor and Champion — who influence, support, and drive positive change — is a critical component of a talent management strategy, regardless of who you’re recruiting. For women, it’s even more important. In 2020, Ally’s Chief Information, Data, and Digital Officer (CIDDO), Sathish Muthukrishnan, joined the company and prioritized a talent strategy intentionally focused the on recruitment and retention of women. He tagged several female leaders — including Donna Hart, Chief Information Security Officer, and Carrie Sumlin, Executive Director of Digital Products and Experience — to help bring Ally’s Women in Technology (WiT) community to life. With leadership’s backing, the group had a several specific objectives, including:

  • Create a forum for women in tech to interact, share learnings and grow professionally

  • Provide opportunities and coaching to grow into leadership positions

  • Create a pipeline of women who will take on technical roles

  • Be aware of and support women through major life moments, both professional and personal

Their involvement has not only been in strategic direction — Sathish, Carrie and Donna along with the broader Technology Leadership team have been champions of internal mobility, supporters of family-focused benefits, and they actively participate, engage, and spotlight women in the technology organization across all levels. Having leaders at the top — both men and women — who publicly elevate women and open doors to opportunity within the tech sets the tone and shows that the entire organization is invested in talent development and retention.

A Lightweight Leadership & Engagement Model

We recognize that capacity is fixed and oftentimes it’s women who will be quick to say “yes” and overextend themselves. Recognizing this about ourselves, Ally WiT approaches engagement in a realistic way. That means creating a lightweight leadership and engagement model, which focuses on creating a structure that has a clear focus with the right distribution of work so that individuals can efficiently flex without all the work falling onto the shoulders of a few and still drive the community forward.

Leadership Approach and Structure

  • Top-Level Leadership — Three individuals to collaborate and manage holistically

  • Three Pillars — Membership Management, Members Engagement, Community Outreach

  • Leadership Per Pillar– Three members to help develop a comprehensive approach and divide and conquer to work cross-functionally and bring it to life

  • Leadership Term — Two years in duration

  • Prerequisite to Serving — At least three years professional experience, ideally at least a year with the organization

Pillar Approach & Structure

The Membership Management Pillar focuses on driving awareness of Ally’s Women in Technology community and the benefits of getting involved. It partners with other WiT pillars to drive awareness and participation, helping women build a network to guide and support them within the technology space and overall organization.

The Members Engagement Pillar focuses on executing meaningful programming to support women in the technology organization. It partners with the other pillars to develop programming, including networking, job shadowing, technology deep dives, and guest speakers/panels highlighting internal and external women in the technology field.

The Community Outreach Pillar partners with strategic external organizations to develop and support initiatives focused on engaging and elevating girls and women in technology. It engages with other WiT pillars and the broader organization to encourage participation.

This model has enabled the rapid launch and growth of Ally’s WiT organization. While it will continue to evolve, leveraging this overall approach to leadership engagement and experience will ensure it continues to be impactful.

Focus on Essentialism

At Ally, the concept of “essentialism” is the backbone of how we approach every task and conversation. Is what I’m doing or what is being asked of me essential to work toward our goals and business objectives? Using this concept as a filter for determining critical projects helps us be more efficient in decision making and execution. For Ally WiT, creating a more inclusive workplace for women in technology is a business imperative. This means focusing on:

  • Showcasing different professional journeys and pathways

  • Creating opportunities for connection to help women feel supported in the various ways that are unique to women

  • Engaging with external organizations, where we live and work to support the women and girls in STEM and offer deeper professional development opportunities (MCWT, Dottie Rose Foundation)

We partner with other internal organizations — specifically the Women ALLYs Employee Resource Group (ERG) and our fellow community, Black and Brown in Technology (BBiT) — to promote various topics of intersectionality and elevate the conversation and impact.

Moving the Professional Needle

Whether you’re thinking about bringing an organization like WiT to life or simply participating in an organization like it, it can feel daunting to figure out how to get involved on top of all the things you’re already doing. At the end of the day, it’s a cost-benefit analysis. Those of us who serve in WiT’s leadership understand that systemically interweaving involvement has significant return on investment. These include –

  • Opportunities via Ongoing Networking — Networking isn’t just a happy hour event. Networking means building and fostering relationships. If you’re consistently involved in a community like WiT you are continuously connecting with individuals who are in your field and who will be more inclined to think of you, reach out to you, refer you when an opportunity arises.

  • Identifying Your Own Power — Women are powerhouses and yet, no matter how many years go by we are still often plagued by “Imposter Syndrome.” By being involved in an organization like WiT and connecting to other women outside of your team, you may be surprised to find the power that you have by sharing your experiences and energy. Identifying your own power is transformational for confidence and will extend itself to other parts of your professional life.

  • Leverage a “stretch role” — Women will feel and/or be told they don’t have enough leadership experience to move up. Becoming a leader within a women’s technology group is a great opportunity to gain important skills while also stretching beyond your day-to-day work responsibilities. Participating is an amazing way to be seen and recognized by organizational leadership teams and get constructive feedback from peers.

Take the leap. Go to a meeting. Join in the conversation. The first step is always the hardest, but it’s important in a professional development journey.

Moving Women in Tech Forward Moves Business Forward

I have been a woman working in technology for over twenty years, and I have seen positive change, but the most important thing that I have realized is that change doesn’t just happen. People put themselves out there, build a coalition, support each other, and make it happen. As the founding member and leader of Ally’s Women in Technology community, I am so proud of the coalition that I have helped build, lead and foster. I continue to be inspired by the strength and diversity of thought and experiences from the women around me. However, it’s not enough to acknowledge the strength of women, leaders must understand the tangible business impact that will come when they invest in women. Over 80% of purchases and purchase influence are made by women and within the next decade 66% of consumer wealth will belong to women (Bankrate). If you want to engage women externally, it’s imperative you engage and retain them internally.

At Ally we have amazing women at the highest levels of leadership, including in the board room, executive council, and technology organization. We all know that representation matters, but let’s say it again, representation matters. Unless you see someone who looks like you, you won’t think it’s possible. Unless you hear them talk about their career path, you won’t know how to navigate and create your own. So take a moment to look around your organization. Are there senior level women in your technology organization? When you’re talking about new opportunities, are there women in the room weighing in on who could be a potential fit? When decisions that predominately impact women are being made, are women at the table a part of the conversation?

For women in the technology industry, there has often been an even higher barrier to entry and retention. Investing the time to champion, develop, and foster a strong woman in technology community is a sound business investment and joining in one is an even sounder professional one.

Interested in joining Ally's team of talented technologists to make a difference for our customers and communities? Check outAlly Careersto learn more.