Women Impact Tech is pushing forward a movement: they’re changing the way women are viewed in the tech industry, and therefore, the tech space as a whole. With a mission of building an inclusive community + empowering women in tech to thrive in their careers, Women Impact Tech is taking action by helping organizations with their DEI efforts – from finding great female talent to giving them tools and resources to support women working in tech fields. Women Impact Tech’s President, Paula Ratliff, will be sharing more details with us in this interview with TechBullion.
Please tell us more about yourself?
My name is Paula Bratcher Ratliff and I am the President of Women Impact Tech. I have spent the past 22 years in the staffing industry, the “People Business!” I made a career change in October of 2021 and embraced the opportunity to lead Women Impact Tech. This role is a dream come true for me. Andiamo, the parent company for Women Impact Tech, has the best values that I have seen articulated in the staffing industry: Be Amazing, Do the Essential, Have Fun, Adapt, Have Grit, Have Purpose. I am so excited that I can live these values and drive the mission to create equity in the workforce for women!
I have spent most of my professional career focused on architecting and leading sales of workforce solutions in staffing, RPO, MSP, and consulting/managed services for Fortune 500 companies in North America and Globally. My other passion for the past 20 years has been leading corporate supplier diversity initiatives, sustainability, diversity, and inclusion. Working with Women Impact Tech allows me to bridge my industry experience and my passion for diversity and inclusion into one leadership role.
Personally, my wife and I have two small children who inspire me to be the best I can be and to leave the world a better place for them and future generations.
What is Women Impact Tech and what solutions do you provide?
Women Impact Tech is a community, empowering women in tech to thrive in their career and propel organizations to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion into their culture. We provide knowledge and insights, facilitate meaningful connections, and promote equity in hiring. Our main solution is our Accelerate Event Series where we visit U.S. tech hubs and host in-person conferences to connect women in tech with local organizations.
What are the prevalent diversity, equity and inclusion issues women are facing and how is it affecting female workers globally?
There are several issues that continue to be a hurdle in the fight for equity.
- Support. Equity in pay and growth opportunities is a prevalent issue that has seen some movement, but not enough. There are many contributors to this. Women statistically stay at their jobs longer, meaning they are not getting increased pay increments as frequently. Another factor is the lack of pay transparency; often they do not realize they are getting paid less, and do not ask for more. Training and Sponsorship is another area of support that is often lacking for women in the workplace. Even when companies set goals appropriately for Diverse hiring, they often neglect to build a culture where women feel supported to grow their careers through advancement.
- Inclusion. Inclusiveness at work for decision-related meetings and conversations. It is no secret that the tech industry is known for its “bro” environment. So, when women are not included in a decision-making conversation or are the singular differentiating voice in a room, it is harder to insert an opinion or solution. If her solutions are not being considered, that will impact her perceived value and her confidence. Inclusion is felt when diverse team members feel empowered to share and give feedback, but true belonging, which is often a “norm” for male colleagues, is when their opinions are valued and celebrated.
- Flexibility. Childcare and home responsibilities. Particularly during COVID, women have been disproportionately impacted as household and family duties have fallen mostly on their shoulders. This is not exclusive to the tech industry, but childcare has been a big disrupter in most households where normal school and daycare protocols and attendance are not possible.
The tech field is way behind on equity in the workforce; what is the cause of this?
This stems from early child development. Young girls have not traditionally seen their female role models, parent figures or active adults become technologists. The toys and products that are branded toward girls focus on role playing, arts & crafts and fashion, whereas toys and products branded towards boys are often focused on building and exploring. This formulates boxes in which girls believe they should fit in.
This translates into their education, where girls are not presented with the same enthusiasm as boys on opportunities to engage with tech, like being part of robotics or a coding club. There will be more boys who sign up for these clubs– and if a brave girl does decide to participate, she will be one of only a couple. The boys will pick teams based on their friends and they will talk about the projects while they are spending time together. Now the girl is unintentionally excluded. This mirrors what we see in the workplace.
Enlighten us more on how female staff at tech companies are impacted by underrepresentation and underfunding, and the way forward?
We have thousands of women technologists in our community working at various companies ranging from large, global Fortune 500 companies to startups. We often hear our community say they are one of a few, if not the only woman on their tech team. Having diverse teams leads to different thought processes and solutions. When you are one voice in a crowd of many loud voices, you are often not heard, or your thoughts are not supported or amplified. When your ideas are never heard or even worse, never asked for, you start to lose confidence in your ability. Imposter Syndrome is very prevalent for women in general, but is especially true for women in tech.
The answer is to ensure your teams are of diverse backgrounds and your leaders reflect that as well. In addition, continual education on working on a diverse team to maximize the benefits is essential. We all have unconscious behaviors that we need to be aware of, and given the tools to correct the ones that are the least productive is key.
How is Women Impact Tech helping organizations with their DEI efforts?
We support organizations through our core pillars: providing knowledge and insights, assisting with meaningful connections, and ensuring equity in hiring. I will break down further how we help with each of these:
- Knowledge and Insights – we provide thought leadership, data, and insights to help educate teams.
- Meaningful Connections – cultivate a community of women in technology and connect them with other women in tech and companies who have prioritized diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- Equity in Hiring – connect highly qualified women in tech looking to make a career move to companies who are offering a strong culture to promote and support women in the workplace.
DEI statements alone aren’t enough, how can good DEI programs enable a diverse workspace, and could you give us some use cases?
Correct, DEI statements are just words. Good DEI programs add meaning to those words through their actions. Best in class DEI programs have KPIs that must be met for leadership to have achieved their goals. This ensures that this effort is supported and prioritized from the top down.
In addition, a good DEI program must have a strategic plan with obtainable action items and dedicated tasks. It is quite easy to just say “we are going to do better,” and then everyone scratches their head, not knowing how they are going to get there.
And finally, it is particularly important to have someone advocating or leading the program who is passionate about ensuring equity and inclusion. The most critical component to any DEI program is what happens after we hire. Many companies can achieve the metrics but fail at retention. We must create cultures where women feel valued, respected and they are able to contribute. This is only possible if companies focus on equitable compensation, support, training, sponsorship for career advancement, and ensure they offer a flexible work-life integration that allows flexibility for being a parent.
On the issue of The Great Resignation, what is the Pandemic’s impact on women in tech?
Part of the “Great Resignation” is truly women who were forced to leave the workforce. Women have been disproportionately impacted as household and family duties have fallen mostly on their shoulders. Especially if it is easier for one parent to work from home over the other, that parent is the one providing childcare when school or daycare has also gone remote, or if there has been a Covid exposure or infection. Although companies have been far more accepting of parents having to do double duty, it has been mentally and physically challenging.
The Great Resignation was one output of this, but we are also seeing burnout and mental health issues escalate. This simple statistic shows the impact the Pandemic had on all women: 865,000 women (about half the population of Idaho), compared with 216,000 men, dropped out of the labor force as of September 2020. Women were undeniably impacted the most. They left the workforce at rates we have never seen. However, the positive aspect is that companies have now developed more flexible and hybrid environments, which will be a strong positive for women returning to work, post-pandemic.
We like your movement, do you have any available opportunities for partners or investors to help in this mission to create a diverse workplace for women in tech?
Our community of women technologists have engaged with us because they want to network with other women in tech, connect with progressive companies, receive knowledge and insights, and potentially make a career move. Organizations who want to engage with this great community can sponsor or participate in any one of our upcoming Accelerate conferences. If we do not have a conference nearby, we can host a customized, virtual event for a specific company. Otherwise, companies can post a job on our job board.
What is next on your roadmap, any other information you would like to share with our readers today?
We are excited to be expanding our Accelerate Conferences to cover 6 cities in 2022! Meaning we will have an expanded physical, in-person reach to more tech hubs across the country. Our 2022 conference line-up is San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Boston, Chicago, and New York.
We are also launching our inaugural Women Impact Tech 100 list on March 8– International Women’s Day. Although there is much to do in the form of gender equity and equality, we are encouraged by progressive companies who prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion. The best among them makes up our 2022 Women Impact Tech 100.