What Smart Companies Are Doing to Address the Tech Talent Shortage

by Janice Giannini

With a deep mastering at the intersection of IT and business strategy, consultant, board adviser and former C-suite executive, Janice has been harnessing the true power of IT for more than 30 years. An Executive and Board-level digital strategist at the intersection of risk and IT, she enhances competitive position through vision and equity with large-scale risk identification, quantification and mitigation in an ever-changing marketplace, generating long-term value for clients. She engages with senior executives and teams, particularly in complex businesses where misalignment is blocking their desired success, to develop and execute practical business strategies and plans. Clients have found her especially helpful when they recognize they must integrate an eagle's eye and worm's eye view in order to identify and remove obstacles. Janice has consistently taken on those challenges that others chose to run from. This typically involves those challenging times when failure is not an option and integrating business, technology and people changes must be accomplished simultaneously. As a result, many of her clients are complex organizations who won't settle for anything less than developing widespread professional competence.

My last two articles focused on things our leaders should be doing but aren't. In August, I wrote about how many executives are advertising their values rather than living them. In September, I emphatically stated that leaders are not doing enough to recognize the importance of women in technology and become active in the fight to get them into the boardroom and C-suite.

Today, I wish to give several examples of company's response to the tech talent shortage by applying lessons learned on the product side of their businesses. All of these examples are from "The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering and Technology," an HBR research report published in 2008.

Expanding recruitment - Pfizer's Student Mentoring Program looks to stem losses among science, engineering, and technology (SET) female graduate students. Google is striving to "widen the filters" to attract top-notch individuals who may not have technical credentials.

Targeting line and technical roles - Alcoa's WOVEN and Manufacturing Manager Development Program encourage women to stay in line (vs staff) positions. Intel's Technical Leadership Pipelines Program for Women helps keep female engineers on the technical track and positions them to advance to higher levels. Cisco's Global Telepresence Coaching program permits more effective mentoring of key female talent.

Tackling the fight-or-flight moment - Johnson & Johnson's Crossing the Finish Line helps promote female multicultural employees to senior management. Microsoft's Mentoring Rings gives junior women a better shot at crossing the great divide. At IBM, female flight is combated through its Flexible Leave of Absence program. BT's flexible work program, Freedom to Work, helps keep female engineers on track.

Creating on-ramps - GE in India has developed Restart, an on-ramping program designed to attract highly qualified SET women who have taken time out. J&J's ReConnections attempts to ensure a seamless return to work by off-ramped women. MIT's Midcareer Acceleration professional development program is designed to reintroduce off-ramped SET talent.

Fighting isolation - Cisco's ETIP/ETAP program is changing the game by hiring a significant number of senior women at the VP level and above and providing support for successful assimilation.

If you're surprised at the robustness of these programs from such successful companies, you shouldn't be. Data from the HBR report clearly shows how SET corporate cultures contribute to the exodus of female talent. Here are the facts:

  • Women in SET companies are marginalized by lab coat, hard hat, and geek workplace cultures that are often exclusionary and predatory. 63% experienced sexual harassment.
  • A woman in SET is often the lone woman on a team or at a site. This makes it difficult to find support or sponsorship. 45% lack mentors; 83% lack sponsors.
  • As a result of macho cultures and isolation, women in SET find it hard to gain an understanding of the way forward. 40% feel "stalled" or "stuck" in their careers.
  • The "diving catch" culture of SET companies disadvantages women, who tend to be risk averse (35% have difficulty with risk). Without buddies to support them, they feel they can go from "hero to zero" in a heartbeat.
  • SET jobs are unusually time intensive and, because of their global scope, often involve working in multiple time zones (54% work across time zones).

Technology excellence and SET talent will drive the competitiveness of nations and the US economy for decades to come. That means we need a long-term sustainable strategy and executed solution to increase SET talent - now.

No, we can't just import the talent we need. It's too expensive and not sustainable (research indicates there isn't enough talent to go around).

The most cost effective, direct way to address the problem is to tap into the pool of already interested and highly qualified US women in SET. Consider that if we were to bring back just 25% of already qualified SET women (or perhaps prevent them from leaving in the first place), that translates to about 250,000 talented individuals.

I invite all business leaders, whether you're in the C-suite or on the board of directors, to consider the following:

  • If developing a healthy, robust, diverse culture from entry level to boardroom improves your competitiveness and therefore business opportunities, revenue, and profits, would you be interested?
  • If you are interested, what's stopping you from making it a number one priority today?
  • If you are not interested, why not? Your competition is doing this or will soon wake up and start doing it. Are you really going to be happy with declining revenue, profits, and innovations?
  • Which global team would you rather be on? The winning team that uses all talent regardless of gender, has a culture to match, has let go of stereotypes and ineffective methods? Or the heritage team who are proud of their male-centric culture and in slow decline as a result?

    It's your choice. Please choose wisely - the answer really matters!