The problem is not just attracting female talent into technology jobs, it’s keeping them there

Recent news of unconscious bias affecting the progression of women at tech giants such as Google shows that we still have a way to go when it comes to creating more equal and diverse senior management teams in some of our largest tech corporations.

The topic of the progression of women in organisations is not a new one, and, recently, all eyes have been on the ability of major organisations to meet their required ‘quotas’ of 25% female representation.

This focus on numbers has certainly helped to raise awareness of the issue and keep the role of women at the forefront of organisations, but it falls far short of the real crux of the matter.

>See also: Women in tech more than twice as likely as men to leave their jobs

It’s all very well meeting targets for getting women into organisations, but there’s a problem keeping them there and engaged in a progressive career path.

In traditionally male dominated sectors (technology included), there is a bigger challenge at play than government pressure to meet quotas.

There always seems to be much talk about the barriers to women breaking through that tough glass ceiling, and the picture portrayed is of women kicking and screaming to get through but unable to reach the position, respect or recognition that they so clearly strive for.

Whilst this may be true for some, there are many more women who have simply retreated from the entire race, after becoming disheartened and discouraged by what they’ve seen happen to others.

They’ve lost that drive to push forward and, instead, choose to remain in a ‘safer’ position lower down in the organisation. It seems many women have seen what it takes and how it’s done and they don’t want it or like it.

The challenge here is clearly a cultural one. Organisations need to get women to want to progress in the first place and this is a much bigger issue than simply facilitating the growth and development of those who already have the passion to strive for it.

So what can be done to maximise engagement, motivation, productivity and retention of women in the tech sector? ‘Leading as a host’ is a key concept that needs to be reignited within the tech sector.

It is a powerful idea. We all, at some level, know what a host does. We have all invited people round for a meal or a party. We have all been through the balance of preparation and engagements, the joy of introducing people to new friends, the balance of leading, organising and participating. 

And we have all been guests too, experiencing the skill of good host (and perhaps the clumsiness of a bad one) firsthand. 

A host doesn’t just engage people by drawing them in; they introduce people to each other, make connections and act positively to bring together synergistic groups – people who can complement and add to each other’s qualities, skills and interested. 

The art of arranging – whom to put with whom, what might make an interesting group and even thinking about keeping specific participants apart – is a key element of the host’s skill.

While the notion of being a leader seems a very big stretch for many, thinking of yourself as a host is much easier.

It gives a way in to what can be a very sophisticated and flexible leadership position. In fact, renowned research has found that organisations that focus on engagement with leaders/managers and employees experience greater success than those who simply lead.

The art of hosting is becoming a crucial aspect of business and is an important skill that needs to be learnt.

Understanding the different roles associated with being a ‘host leader’ are important to help tackle some of the core issues that could be stifling female talent in the technology sector.

Here are four roles of a host and why it is necessary that leaders and managers responsible for engaging with female talent move in and out of them in order to drive forward change in the organisation.

The initiator 

What are the ‘hopes dreams and intentions’ of the business when it comes to supporting its female workers – what does it want to achieve? What’s the bigger picture with this? What’s the business case? And then, as the ‘initiator’, what are the next small steps? Who needs to be involved? This is also about listening to what’s being called for next.

The inviter 

When looking at recruitment in particular, what are you inviting female workers into? How attractive and compelling is it? By understanding what you are inviting them to, you’ll have a better idea of what needs to change to get the results and reactions you want from the right people.

The connector 

This role is vital because it is about establishing a connection with each person, understanding them and their strengths and how they can be used in the business. This is about engagement and really connecting with the individual so that their full potential is realised by the organisation. 

The gatekeeper 

What rituals and routines exist in the organisation that are maybe supporting or working against female workers? A recent comment was about the ‘laddish’ culture that still exists in some places. In this instance, it was about seating arrangements in a meeting. The ‘gatekeeper’ might need to close the gate on certain routines and rituals that are not serving that ‘bigger picture’.

>See also: The women in IT issue is not going away, says Salesforce

Whilst this has only touched lightly on the elements that make up host leadership, hopefully it has provided an insight into how to tackle the issues facing the progression of women and female qualities in the technology sector.

Host leadership is a valuable addition to 21st Century management practices, and adopting it can help transform the way women are supported in organisations so that they actually want to rise to the challenge of career progression, rather than simply settling for being another government statistic.


Sourced from Helen Bailey, Host Leadership and co-author of ‘Host: the six new roles of engagement’

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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