Matlen Silver women leaders share their perspective on how to inspire gender equity in the staffing and tech industries.
In March, Women’s History Month welcomed so many impactful and inspiring stories about how women have shaped the world. It also, however, shined a light on the inequities still faced by women, particularly in the workplace. The efforts put forth by yesterday- and today’s leaders are immeasurable in their quest to create an equitable and inclusive environment for women. Is it making a difference? We could say yes, of course, when we can look around a room and see the power of women leaders, driving industry change and achieving success. Yet, many of us only see a small space, a sampling if you will, of how women are rising in (some) workforces. When we expand our reach, through studies, analysis and observation, we see different pictures; when we branch out and ask for perspective from female professionals in specific work environments, like tech and staffing, we unlock new insight.
Is the staffing industry getting Gender Equity right?
A recent comprehensive survey, spearheaded by top staffing support associations in the industry, notes we are seeing some progress. The 2nd WBC Survey on Gender Equity Progress in the Staffing Industry noted improvement in percentages of women on executive teams for staffing companies, as well as in CEO-roles. This is positive, but leaders noted we can also consider where those roles are concentrated and how much influence on critical leadership decisions is rendered (meaning “balance across all the executive roles is important.”)
What do women in the staffing workforce notice around them every day?
In addition to diving into recent research and industry trends, we posed a series of questions directly to women professionals working in the staffing industry, particularly focused on tech and engineering sectors, in varying roles. Their answers are intriguing and reflect a practical insight as to what we can be focusing on—grass roots—to improve gender equity in staffing, as well as in technology sectors, as they work to secure and match talent each day.
Read what they shared here:
Colleen A. Futvoye-Colburn
Senior Vice President, Sales and Operations (Matlen Silver)
As women working in the tech staffing industry, what avenues do you feel are great resources or activities for increasing women representation in tech as a whole, as well as in the staffing industry? Recent surveys show that the staffing industry is a stand-out sector for women, but technology in general, although growing, still needs some attention. What do you think companies can do to make the difference in attracting more women to the industry and also making opportunities for women?
“I tend to disagree that the staffing industry is a stand-out sector for women at a leadership level. My observation is the industry as a whole does have many women working in staffing but women in leadership roles are lacking. The staffing industry can attract women to the industry, including tech, by clearly defining the management trajectory. This can be achieved by training, mentorship, leadership conferences and education. Women must see themselves within a company and know that each opportunity men receive, they receive as well. It is about the company’s mission. Do they support women? Do they have a focus?”
When you are working with both clients and talent, have you felt an inherent difference in how a woman approaches a new opportunity vs. a male candidate? For instance, we’ve learned from studies that women are less likely to apply for a job unless they feel they meet all qualifications at 100%, as opposed to a male candidate who will take the chance if they meet 60%. Do you feel that sentiment is reflected in the behavior and approach of the women you have worked with or is that changing? And as a woman in staffing, how do you help break that barrier for them?
“My observation on how a woman approaches a new opportunity vs. a male really depends on the woman. Yes, I feel some women won’t push the boundaries until another strong person, male or female pushes them. I was raised as the youngest of 6 girls to a mother and father who pushed us to be the best we can be. My father was an executive for a large automobile company and constantly pushed me to think beyond what was in front of me, to never settle and always reach for the stars. This approach translated into my leadership style. As I moved through my career and leading individuals, I encouraged anyone working for me to always push themselves and continue to grow. My leadership success was watching someone who I managed/mentored grow to the next level.”
What path would you recommend next generation female professionals take to achieve leadership levels in their career? From a tech perspective do they start with a tech-driven role to get hands-on skills, or would the business path be better suited for them, gaining tech skills along the way?
“I think my answer above applies to the first part of this question. I do not feel you have to be tech savvy to be in the tech space, you have to have the drive and willingness to learn. It is about who you put in your circle and continue to grow as a person, personally and professionally. Great leaders are supported by many people, it is who you have in your corner and knowing you cannot do it alone.”
Avcustina “Tina” Haviaras
Director, Strategic Partnerships (Matlen Silver)
What do you think companies can do to make the difference in attracting more women to the industry and also making opportunities for women?
“I believe that attracting women talent to tech companies starts with educating leaders on unconscious bias and the benefits of diversity in the workplace, coupled with providing mentorship opportunities for women at every level and leaning on male allies. This will promote an inclusive culture for existing employees. Employees will proudly spread the word of what their employers are doing, therefore attracting more women talent.”
Senior Vice President, Client Strategy and Operations (Matlen Silver)
We’d like to think that the disruption from the pandemic affected everyone and transformed the “live-to-work” sentiment to something more balanced for everyone, particularly women, as well as working mothers. What are you seeing in terms of work-life balance as well as the concerns that some women feel that working out of the office can hinder their growth and advancement?
“In the midst of the pandemic, the answer was almost a given; working remotely became the norm, and new found work-life balance was something positive being borne from an incredibly difficult time. For women, research shows that the ability to work remotely was welcomed. As the notion of women as caregivers still rang true, a flexible work schedule, in terms of location, alleviated some of the constraints of childcare, elder care, commuting and more. I actually spoke a lot about this right around this time a year ago as we analyzed the Return of Women to the Workforce and specifically, about the ability to work remotely and care for my personal life.
Today, we are seeing the pendulum swing in terms of company policy, with RTO being introduced more and more. For women, however, and actually for many individuals, policy changes may leave them having to make hard decisions.
A recent IWG study showed that the majority of women surveyed feel that “hybrid work serves as an equalizer in the workplace.” You would think it could be the opposite, with concerns that not having that “face-time” interaction at work would create a sense of indifference or dismissiveness for semi-remote workers. On the contrary, the same study notes that hybrid work allows for women professionals to continue to improve their skills due to a flexible schedule that allows for more training; increase productivity; and avoid the biases that sometimes occur in-person – all things that will make them stand out to their employer when the time comes for advancement.
For this work environment to work, however, companies must have clear, inclusive policies in place for growth and advancement that don’t leave hybrid workers out in the cold, particularly women, since the progress in gender equity is so critical.
McKinsey’s and LeanIn.org “Women in the Workplace” study notes that giving women choices on flexibility improves outcomes – in terms of satisfaction, employee well-being and retention. If statistics are telling the truth, not considering alternative work environments could potentially set back gender equity in the workplace. The same study suggested that “only 1 in 10 women want to work mostly on-site,” and that “women pointed to remote or hybrid work options as one of the top reasons for joining —or staying—at an organization.” The aforementioned IWG survey shared that 70% of respondents would leave their jobs if hybrid work was removed. Flexible options to create opportunities for women is something that needs to be evaluated at top levels to ensure we are making the best decisions possible, as it could potentially undue so much progress in the workplace.”
How do we keep moving the needle towards increasing gender equity in the staffing industry, tech and beyond?
“We have to keep our foot on the pedal in our actions to advance women into leadership roles and attract the next generation of female leaders into the staffing and tech worlds.
- We must start young and that means partnering with educational institutions to plan a career path for girls and young women. Current female leaders must tell their stories, and partner with groups to show them it can be done. It needs to be real-life in front of them.
- We have to widen our lens for qualifications, especially in tech. Yes, I understand certain roles require extremely specific tech knowledge. But let’s identify what our top skill needs are, and offer training and upskilling to get people there who already have the foundational skills. A recent Wired article noted the top tech skills needed in 2023 – and they weren’t all necessarily “technical.” Let’s reorganize our talent pools by potential and we can grow skills.
- Look at your sourcing, recruiting and hiring metrics and don’t rely on checked boxes to spit back a selection of candidates that could be a good fit for a role. Dig into your candidate pool and ensure you are finding qualified gender-diverse candidates to present.
- Sponsor local women programs. Be guest speakers. Offer your time and expertise to women who are building skills and their resumes. In the staffing world, that is what we are supposed to be doing: preparing and elevating individuals to find meaningful work. We can make conscious efforts to find opportunities that will benefit women and diverse populations.”
How can we continue making a difference in Gender Equity in Staffing and Tech?
The consensus was clear through speaking with Matlen Silver professionals as well as research and trending information; to continue improving gender equity, we must focus on leadership advocacy and setting up mentoring and educational opportunities for women across our industries. Keeping women engaged in the conversations and keeping the premise of Gender Equity top of mind in organizations is paramount. There are wonderful ideas out there – best practices and advice for what’s working in organizations and how we can learn from each other. We simply have to make it a priority.