Analysis

May 15, 2024

Women are leaving tech - we need it to stop

Despite an increasing number of diversity panels and events, knowing what to do to keep women in tech careers can be difficult

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There’s a lot of talk about how to attract and retain female talent in tech. For all the panels and events about diversity, however, knowing what to do to keep women in tech careers can be difficult.

It was the topic of conversation among female network leaders, tech employees and HR heads yesterday at the ‘Stay in Tech’ event at Berlin’s Fraunhofer Institut — an event aimed at helping companies identify ways to retain female colleagues. Women are fed up, people at the event said, and are leaving careers in tech for reasons including a lack of childcare support and career development. They also said that a pervasive “bro” culture makes them feel uncomfortable and underappreciated.

There’s been an outflux of women from European tech in the last few years. Sifted reported in 2023 that tech layoffs at startups disproportionately affected women. Many female VCs also called time on the industry last year.

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One panel yesterday highlighted that a staggering 56% of women leave careers in tech after 10 years. At work, women feel they have to prove themselves more than men to be rewarded with the same opportunities or promotions. They then hit a glass ceiling.

“The microaggressions women put up with over the years makes you think you’re not good enough,” said Gillian Arnold, managing director of Tectre, a diversity training and recruitment consultancy. “We need to break the system that puts us in that position. We don’t need to break ourselves.”

On stage, women said they weren’t given enough space to reach their potential, or even to speak up in meetings. “I often feel like I don't get enough time to talk, so I speak really quickly,” said Edna Kropp, tech lead at LivePerson, on a panel about how to retain female talent. “Part of me is always questioning whether it’s my background, whether I’m too relaxed or am not on my A game. I’ve been in this environment for 20 years and it’s just all too obvious who gets the high salary and the career options.”

Robert Baker, CEO of Potentia talent consulting, said some women he has spoken to feel they are “questioned constantly” about how they got their role in the company, while others said being talked over in meetings and ‘mansplained’ to had become unbearable.

He said men need to learn to understand the challenges women face at work to be better allies. “The best thing you can do as a man is join a board of a female network. Men are not used to being a minority. You learn so much about what it’s like to be in that situation and develop empathy,” he said.

Leaders of diversity and inclusion consultancies and female networks told me companies with men in leadership positions often don’t know how to approach finding female talent or are unable to write job descriptions that appeal to women. They’re also often looking for a silver bullet without doing the real work.

“There’s a big gap between what organisations are saying they are doing about including women, and what they are doing. And if we don’t plug that gap, more women are going to leave the industry,” said Sarah Needham, cofounder for Womxn for Climate Tech and Innovation, a network supporting women working in climate tech.

Begonia Vazquez Merayo, founder and managing director of diversity recruiting, training and coaching consultancy Why Consult_Power of Diversity said it’s important for companies to look closer at which departments are losing the most female workers, and under which managers. “It’s about knowing in which areas of an organisation you can work effectively,” she said. Things like exit interviews are a good way to do this.

So, what else can be done?

Some people suggested researching and investing in inclusive hiring processes — so asking yourself if you need someone who ticks all the boxes in a job description, or ensuring you use inclusive language. Others suggested offering flexible work hours, asynchronous work and generous parental leave policies. It goes without saying but you should also have a zero tolerance culture for bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Women at startups, we want to hear about your experience of working in tech. What has impacted your stress levels in the last year? What could your employer do to better support you at work? Are you thinking of leaving the industry this year? Please fill out our anonymous survey here — we’ll write up our findings in the coming weeks.

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Miriam Partington

Miriam Partington is a reporter at Sifted. She covers the DACH region and the future of work, and coauthors Startup Life , a weekly newsletter on what it takes to build a startup. Follow her on X and LinkedIn