What High-Tech Companies Are Doing to Increase Diversity

Ericsson, Verizon, and VMware have developed programs centered on women

12 April 2016

It’s no secret that the tech industry lacks diversity when it comes to gender. On average, women working in the tech industry were 30 percent of the workforce, according to diversity reports released in 2014 by 11 of the world’s largest tech companies.

And as with other industries, there has been a reported pay gap between male and female tech workers. A 2014 study by the American Association of University Women found that women in computer science and math-related fields earn 87 percent of what their male counterparts earn, and women in engineering are typically paid 82 cents on the dollar.

To find out what high-tech companies are doing to address such issues, The Institute interviewed human resources representatives from Ericsson, Verizon, and VMware. All three firms are sponsoring this year’s IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference, coming to San Jose, Calif., on 23 and 24 May.

BY THE NUMBERS

Headquartered in Sweden, the communications company Ericsson has more than 115,000 employees; 22 percent are women. Bina Chaurasia, Ericsson’s chief human resources officer, says she has made it her mission to ensure that 30 percent of the company’s employees are women by 2020.

Verizon, the world’s largest communication technology company, has 177,700 workers. According to its 2015 Corporate Responsibility Supplement, about 36 percent of the employees are women.

Neither Verizon nor Ericsson reports how many of its female employees hold technical jobs, but VMware does. According to Amber Boyle, the company’s diversity and inclusion program director, 20 percent of the company’s technical workers are women. The virtualization software company, based in Palo Alto, Calif., employs 19,000 people.

ELIMINATING BIAS

When it comes to closing the pay gap between the sexes, the companies say they regularly review salaries. For example, according to Boyle, a recently completed comprehensive salary review within VMware’s R&D organization, “had excellent results, demonstrating that it far exceeds the industry in fair pay for men and women.”

“Moreover,” she adds, “in the review process, VMware analyzed key pay differences to make sure they were justified and addressed.”

When Ericsson nine months ago reviewed its job descriptions, it removed male-focused references and replaced them with gender-neutral language. After that, Chaurasia reports, the percentage of female applicants to one of Ericsson’s key global job sites jumped by more than a third increasing to 21 percent from 16 percent. Verizon and VMware are putting managers at all levels through a training program to raise awareness of bias and its impact on the business, including the hiring process. Verizon ties management’s compensation to meeting a target percentage for increasing the number of women and people of color. Last year, 59 percent of Verizon's workforce was represented by women and people of color or ethnic minorities.

“We’re not just concerned about raising awareness but also what actions we can take to block bias,” says Elva Lima, the company’s director of global diversity and inclusion.

“Diversity is more than just meeting a number,” Lima says. “Having a diverse workforce is the right thing to do for the business. It helps us to be much more innovative, because there is a diversity of thought, experiences, and backgrounds.”

TRAINING AND SUPPORT

All three companies offer training programs to help their female employees get the skills they need for promotion to management. VMware partners with Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, which identifies barriers to women’s advancement and proposes ways to advance gender equality. Verizon provides in-house training along with courses from outside organizations on topics such as building executive talent and leadership capabilities.

Verizon and VMware both have groups focused on boosting the visibility of their female workers by having them participate in networking events, mentoring programs, and community activities. As part of VMware’s VMwomen initiative, for example, the company works with top managers to sponsor high-achieving female employees and promote their abilities to other managers who could help them find new assignments. “It goes beyond typical mentoring,” Boyle says. “It’s helping them get access to opportunities so that they can ultimately advance in their careers.”

FILLING THE PIPELINE

One of the challenges high-tech companies face is the shortage of students pursuing degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields—especially women and those from other underrepresented groups.

“There’s a lot of research that indicates the pipeline is not as rich as it needs to be for the jobs today and in the future,” Lima says. “Exposure to STEM needs to start in middle school and high school to really make sure we will get that pipeline of talent we need to be an innovative company.”

All three companies work with organizations aimed at interesting girls in STEM skills, such as Black Girls Code, CoderDoJo, Connect to Learn, Girl Scouts of the USA, Girls Who Code, and Makers.

Verizon’s female tech executives—including Nicki Palmer, Verizon’s chief network officer for the company’s wireless network—speak at student events and serve as role models. “The impact that Nicki and others have to help youth see themselves in those careers is enormous,” Lima says.

Ericsson sponsors Robogals, an international, student-run organization that produces enjoyable educational initiatives for girls in primary and secondary schools.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Chaurasia says. “But Ericsson believes this is what it takes—to reach out and be there early for young women. We are part of the industry that has the problem, and we must make sure we also take part in contributing to its solution

The three companies offer paid internships for university students as well. Interns at Verizon, Lima says, can pick their dream location from among the company’s 150 offices around the world. The university students work alongside employees and participate in real-world experiences, as well as volunteer in the community. Verizon also offers information sessions, career fairs, virtual events, and open houses.

For its female interns, VMware holds a “How to Ace a Technical Interview” workshop, runs hackathons, hosts networking dinners, and reviews students’ résumés. The company’s Women Connecting Other Women program pairs female interns with mentors. “We know it’s really important to inspire and grow the next generation of women technologists,” Boyle says.

“Engineers are innovators and problem-solvers,” notes IEEE Member Jean McManus, who is executive director of product architecture for Verizon Labs. “Female engineers bring additional experiences and perspectives to the table that often result in the creation of different ideas and alternative approaches to problem-solving. As a leading technology company that depends on these skills to stay competitive, Verizon continues to advocate for and advance female engineering talent.”

This article is part of our April 2016 special report on women in engineering.

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