The Michigan Council of Women in Technology Foundation (MCWT) set out to explore what is necessary for it to achieve its mission of inspiring and growing women in tech. To that end, MCWT conducted a study that involved input from a range of ages and stages for its 67-page report, Explore, Focus, Grow: A Tech Career Journey in Michigan.

Close to 500 participants were surveyed from girls as young as fifth grade to college students to women working in tech and even the people whose job it is to recruit and retain tech talent. The questions they answered revealed what motivates them to enter the field and what keeps them on the tech track. (Read We Asked Why There Aren't More Women In Tech.)

It also shared their recommendations for inspiring, recruiting and retaining women in tech, starting from middle school.

Motivations for Women in Tech Entering the Field

It all begins with motivation. For many, their motivation goes back to elementary school as a spark of inspiration from a parent or teacher who showed them the possibilities of tech. The quotes from the young women aspiring to tech careers include this one:

"Just being able to be on the forefront of all big change. I think technology has the ultimate power to make a difference, and I want to be a part of that.”

While they recognize that tech is a consistently growing field that will offer them a number of different job opportunities, they also see it as offering them the possibility of fulfillment. (Read What Do Women in Tech Want?)

They cite different motivations:

  • Opportunities to help others (33%).
  • Creativity (22%).
  • Being part of the future/innovating (19%).
  • Personal career (17%).
  • Always learning (14%).
  • Solving problems (10%).

What Concerns Women in Tech?

Over a quarter of the university level students (26%) said they were concerned about women being underrepresented in tech. Impostor syndrome is also an issue, as 23% admitted they were not as confident of their abilities as they should be.

Among the quotes recorded on that was this:

“I think my main concern is just being taken seriously and also taking myself seriously. I suffer from a textbook case of impostor syndrome which I think can sometimes hold me back.”

The concerns reported by women already working in the field are similar. About a third (34%) cite lack of representation, and 27% complain of gender bias.

One of the respondent quotes was:

“It's still very much a male-dominated field, so proving your value and demonstrating thought leadership is still challenging.”

Another observed:

“I find myself being the only woman at the table more often than not, and whether true or perceived, I often am made to feel 'less than.’” However, she added a note of optimism: “With a stronger team of women, we will be able to make a stronger impact.”

Remedies and Recommendations for Women in Tech

MCWT’s position is that the remedy for most of the women’s concerns is continued exposure to role models and getting connected to mentors. The importance of mentorship for women is a general theme among those giving advice for women in tech, as we saw in Top Career Tips for Women Working in Technology.

The difference between having a mentor and not having one can determine whether a woman will take a particular position and if she’ll stay at the company down the road. (Read 12 Top Women in Tech Right Now.)

That is consistent with what university students told MCWT when asked for their recommendations for improving the situation of women in tech as 26% recommended increasing the networking/mentorship/internship opportunities for women.

As one observed: “Seeing women in the jobs you want to be in makes it seem more possible and real.”

Increasing outreach was the second most popular recommendation (23%) That included suggestions to come to schools with some specific ideas like job fairs that would include:

“Resumé checks and mock interview sessions to help better prepare young women for the workforce.”

The events were also suggested as a way to boost exposure to “female mentors that provide a positive role model.”

Another 22% recommended stepping up these activities for the younger set:

“Get students started young, relate the love of technology to the devices that they use everyday already.”

One of these suggestions accentuate the positive outlook that this particular woman has found in her own experience:

Everyone says engineering is hard, and forget to mention that it is so much fun. I have never felt like I am being treated differently because of my gender. We should focus more on how nothing is impossible.

Given the concerns about impostor syndrome, 9% offer recommendations to reinforce confidence:

“I would tell them to make sure the young women know how smart they are and to never doubt themselves in a field like this.”

To Recruit Women in Tech: Offer Flexibility, Opportunity, and Female Leadership

From the perspective of those who want to attract women in their open tech positions, it can be valuable to know what they look for. For 35% of women already working flexibility is a priority. The same percentage expressed regard for “work-life balance in tech.”

Other priorities they noted included the opportunity to connect with mentors (26%) and further training (21%).

But they also are looking for the possibility of career advancement as shown by other women who have made it up a higher rung on the corporate ladder. It’s the consensus of 95% of the women surveyed that: “Highlighting women in leadership positions was very to somewhat effective when it came to recruiting female talent.”

What Motivates Women to Stay On

The reason there are far fewer women at the top in tech is that about half of them drop out at some point in their 30s, according to a Harvard Business Review special report.

This is why retention is as important as recruitment in achieving parity. The women surveyed offered their answers to the question: “What is your driving motivation for continuing to work in IT/technology over other fields?”

Some of the answers echoed the list of motivations for entering the field, though in somewhat different levels:

  • Always changing/cutting-edge/innovative was the answer for 24%.
  • Growth opportunities/Variety was the answer for 20%.
  • Three different categorical answers: Compensation or benefits, challenging/like to solve problems/puzzles, and always learning each garnered 18%.
  • Another three categories garnered 14% each: Positively impact people/society, work-life balance/flexibility/schedule/remote-working, and personally fulfilling/accomplishment.

But it’s not just about a fulfilling outlet or time for family. The top consideration in making a career of tech was: “Compensation for effort.”

Furthermore, which 58% of women identified among the top three reasons for working in tech.

That was followed by job stability for 45% and: "opportunities for personal growth" for 44%. Flexibility and work-life balance only ranked fourth and fifth, garnering 38% and 36% respectively.

Recommendations for Retention

The same concerns come across in the recommendations women wrote in for retention, though the percentages shift somewhat. The recommendation offered by 46% was centered on offering training, growth opportunities and support.

However, some merge that with women in leadership, as evidenced by the quotes:

“Make a conscious effort to promote female talent.” And: “More women in leadership.”

Flexibility was suggested by 29%. One of the quotes reflected the level of detail that can only come from direct experience:

  • Don’t just talk about work/life balance; nurture and demonstrate it.
  • Don’t single out women/mothers.
  • Be mindful of networking at night, and impact of travel.
  • Don’t make those activities requirement for advancement.

What this also reveals is that women don’t want to suffer any career setbacks for the perk of flexibility. They don’t want to be mommy tracked.

Close to a quarter (24%) also pointed out the need to address and correct bias in culture.

“Strive for a culture that includes women in key roles so female talent can see a career path,” suggested one.

Another put it in more concrete terms:

“Treat women with equal opportunity as men. Do not talk over women or treat women as ‘emotional’ beings.”

Final Thoughts

While pay was identified as primary priority for women, only 12% mentioned pay equity in their recommendation. It is possible, however, that they considered included in the recommendations to address bias and offer opportunities for advancement.

Certainly the cultural aspect is implied in one of the quotes: “Pay women well and hire men who are professional and capable of working well with women.”

As we saw in Minding the Gender Gap, women are far from equal in the tech field, holding just about a quarter of the positions and getting paid close to 12% less than their male counterparts.

What they want is what men want, which is to be taken seriously about their career choice and given the opportunity to advance according to their merit without any bias against their sex holding them back.