Transcript: Talent Drain – Why Women Leave Tech Jobs

Hello, and welcome to this week’s HR Uprising Podcast – Talent Drain, Why Women Leave Tech Jobs. I’m your Host, Lucinda Carney.

And I’m inspired this week to talk about a subject that came up at the Women of Silicon Roundabout Conference that I was involved with last week for me. But by the time you hear this, it will be 2 or 3 weeks ago.

So, as a result of that, I was into a subject that I’ve been involved in before, and as you’ve seen from the title, it’s about why women leave tech jobs. Now, don’t worry, if you’re tuning in, and you think that’s not relevant to me. I’m not going to go down on some feminist route. I do think this is a much broader topic about how we retain talent. And it’s not just female talent, it could be all kinds of different types of people that we need to keep in an organisation.

So, it’s about diversity. It’s about young people, old people, people of ethnic minorities. And speaking to you as a middle-aged white female, I know there’s plenty of other people who have greater disadvantages in the workplace.

But it’s our role as HR professionals to get the best out of people and keep talent in the workplace, performing and doing us some great themes. Really, from this conversation that I facilitated, we found out some of the problems, which were causing people to leave. And most importantly, some really great suggestions of things that were going on out there, that maybe, might be of use to you.

So, hopefully, this actually will be a topic that is of interest, even though you may not have automatically thought so. Before I go into that though, I would like to just say a few thank you’s. I’ve been really, really touched by people reaching out, and either connecting with me, or giving me feedback about things that have worked for them in the podcast.

Also, obviously, if there is something that I can improve, we’re all here to learn. So, please feel free to do that. people have reached out to me through LinkedIn and other social media. Please join our LinkedIn HR Uprising Group where you’ll see people starting to talk, which is, fantastic.

So, back to the subject in question. As I mentioned, I was asked to facilitate on the topic of Why Women Leave Tech Jobs for the recent Women of Silicon Roundabout Conference. And I must admit I didn’t actually realise, that there was a difference between women leaving tech jobs. So, it was a bit of a surprise to me. I was just given a subject, and I was doing something, where my job was not to be subject matter expert, but I had to facilitate the conversation.

Women leave tech jobs at a disproportionate rate

I had about 200 people in the room, maybe slightly more. So, it was a little bit daunting. Thankfully, I did do a bit of homework at the weekend beforehand. And I did find that it is very clear that women in tech roles leave jobs or tech jobs at a disproportionate rate compared to men. I mean I only scratched the surface. But the examples were things like saying that, women were leaving tech jobs at twice the rate of men, and something like only 26 per cent of women with STEM Degrees were working in a tech field compared to 40 plus per cent of men.

Now, as I say, it’s not just about male or female. I’m actually not keen on that overly going down gender piece, because I think it can backfire. But just thinking about equality. What is it that we’re not doing? Or, what is it culturally that’s causing this lack of talent, and particularly, given that I have been involved in STEM Programmes with schools? And there’s so much work getting girls to take up these subjects. Well, it’s nonsense, isn’t it, if that once they’ve done those, they’re achieving and getting the qualifications, then they’re not able to use them, because they’re leaving the workplace.

Now, obviously, many of us would have thought, is it the old childcare thing? And of course, there is something there, and I think that stems across all industries. When women have children, you know, at the end of the day, with many of us who are in environments, where you have two parties working, or you actually have to have two incomes, and childcare is not cheap. Very often, it’s the lower-paid salary, which is, the one which will, I guess, give up work. And that doesn’t have to be the woman, but it’s more often is. Actually, personally, I’m in a situation, where we had it the other way around. My husband took redundancy in order to look after our small children.

So, if you are in a position, where you’re not particularly well paid, and that definitely is the case for tech jobs, and probably not just women. And I’m sure, if I think about healthcare services and the other ones, then you can see that, that is going to have a knock-on effect maybe not with the first child, but the second child. It just doesn’t become tenable to go back to work.

There is also the element, where I think anecdotally that women want to have more flexibility, in terms of once they’ve had children, they want to be able to go to the school play. They don’t want to feel that they’re actually not being a parent. I think it’s a broader toic about flexible working, and you know what, men should have that too.

But let’s focus on this topic in hand. The conversation about why women were leaving was much, much broader. I found it quite shocking. So, we had ladies in the room who had experienced this. There’s a lot of passion. So, my concern about me having to facilitate a conversation, and drag questions and responses out of people were not found. We had a very active debate. It was great. So, if anyone was listening who was part of it, thank you for that.

So, there are some courses that came up.  There is research out there. But I’m going to focus more on the stuff that people talked about. If you do want to look at the research, there was some research by ATHENA which had a great set of statistics around why people were leaving and some real hard-hitting numbers around men versus women.

4 Key Themes Indicating Why Women Leave Tech Jobs

So, I’m going to summarise the 4 themes outlined by the research:

  1. Career prospect was one of them.
  2. The second one was something I’m going to call ‘subordinate bias‘. That’s a term I’ve made up, and I’ll explain this in a moment.
  3. The third one was lack of role models or mentors.
  4. And the fourth one I’m going to call it personal criticism or personal feedback.

Career Prospect

So, if you start off with career prospect, I think that is much more obvious for many of us. But clearly, and this was backed up in the ATHENA research that I’ve read. The females did not feel that they had the opportunities that their male counterparts had. Now, given that is something which is managed by HR, or L&D, or O.D., this is something we should be able to do something about, to my mind. They felt that, if they went for the same jobs as the male, then they would be less likely to get it. They weren’t invited to apply for similar jobs.

And I just wonder whether this is that thing that’s come through in research that I’ve come across before, where women look at a job description and see the 20 percent that they can’t do, and decide not to apply, and men flip it around. There’s been research that suggested that it’s almost an attitude about going for jobs. But the way to overcome that, would be by HR or Managers identifying people with talents maybe, asking them whether they’ll be interested in that role. So, it’s almost like they felt they were looked over. No one was actually actively encouraging them to go for it.

So, career prospect, I think that there’s something we can do within HR, L&D and O.D. where this is managed. We should be doing something about this across an entire organisation, with any minority. Are we looking at not only our recruitment bias, but our inherent bias in terms of developing people? And I’m thinking back to my experience in a large organisation.

When we asked people to go on project teams, it was the usual suspects. Now, I’m not saying that they weren’t the right people. But we had no visibility really beyond Senior Managers, the route of getting people quite often was asking the Senior Managers who would be good for that job. And if that Senior Manager has an inherent bias, or just doesn’t know how good certain people are, because their Manager doesn’t promote them, or they don’t promote themselves, then it is going to be this reinforcement of habit of the status quo.

So, for me, if I was back in that environment, I would want to change that. I would look at how systems could help. I mean we didn’t really have systems with visibility then. So, the easiest way of getting nominations, was, by asking people. But maybe, we could have tried harder. We could have gone down to individual nominations. And I do remember we did do that at a later stage with high potentials, rather than nomination. We’ve got people to self-nominate and be backed up.

But again, if you self-nominate, and you’re not backed up by your Manager, because your Manager is not supportive, that wouldn’t be a perfect solution. So, they are just some ideas. That’s me thinking out loud there. But career prospect is number one. It’s one of the major ones, why people were leaving.

Subordinate Bias

Now, my second one something I’m going to call a ‘subordinate bias’. So what the term means is that these women in, tech roles particularly, were saying that they felt they were always treated as a subordinate. And a term that I came across, which I’ve never heard of before was called, ‘glue jobs’. And they said that basically, they were always given the glue jobs.

An example of a glue job would be -ah, you’re the only female at the meeting. Could you take the minutes? Ah, would you mind organising the team day out? You’re good with people. So, because of their interpersonal skills, they would get asked to do those organisational, coordination jobs.

I mean actually, speaking as someone who is a CEO of a company, I usually end up doing the minutes at our Board Meetings. I should be able to delegate this out and frankly, I’m not great at taking minutes but why do we say to ourselves, oh I’ll do it? So perhaps it isn’t just about the people around us. Maybe we are letting ourselves do the ‘glue jobs’ in order to be helpful.

Anyway, those are the sorts of things that people were finding that they were almost expected to do, or at least they could feel that, because they were in the minority, because they were the only female, they were being asked to do those kinds of jobs, which were more menial and quite time-consuming. Anyone who’s organised a Christmas party or a sweepstake, that’s adding value in terms of the social aspects, will know that they do take up time, and that might well be taking them away from their professional development, or ability for them to be seen in a more elevated professional light. So, it’s almost like people are automatically putting them into a subordinate role, because of their gender.

Lack of Role Models or Mentors

The next point that came up regularly, was, a lack of role models or mentors.  I mean that is a chicken and egg thing. One point I’d make here, made by a lady who summarised well at the women in tech event was that it’s all very well looking for the female role models, but if once you get somebody up to that level s, they’re going to be in the minority then that is difficult. They can’t be the role model or mentor for every woman in that business. We have to look at men too. If you put all of that onus on the female role model, you’re going to break her, and you’re back to square one.

Again, in organisations I’ve worked in, the same people, are, the ones that are continually requested as mentors. If you don’t have a route of, what I used to do, is, make sure that there was a natural end to a mentoring relationship. Sometimes, you can have where someone comes in, the mentorship starts, but never ever ends. And so, you’d end up with a senior person with ridiculous numbers of mentors. And they can’t add value. And actually, they can’t take any new ones on.

So, I always feel there should be a beginning and end to a formalised mentoring process. And we have to be careful, not to overload people. Because again, it’s that bias towards usual suspects. They were good at that role. I’m going to recommend them for the next one.

Personal Criticism

And the final theme I’m going to call personal criticism. People gave examples of where they were just given feedback, which was, different to men. So, somebody might say, well, you were a bit aggressive in that meeting, or you’ve got a very kind nature. It’s sort of subjective feedback about their female traits. So, are they critical, if they were being assertive, that might be described as aggressive? Whereas someone of a different gender might be just called assertive or driving things through.

So, they felt that derogatory language was being applied in a professional setting. When having an appraisal, people were making valued judgments, which were derogatory or over-portraying their femininity as opposed to their capability and their professionalism to do their job. I do think that this type of feedback is probably quite unconscious. To address something like that does require Managers to receive development. They need to hear themselves saying something, to actually realise that they’re doing it, because often it is quite inherent.

Again, we know that there is evidence around that. There was a study recently about female entrepreneurs going for funding, where they showed that they were investors, asked different questions to female from men, unconsciously. But they’re different. They asked questions about risk to females, almost pushing women into defensive mode as opposed to more aggression, and success, and goal orientation to men.

So, we have these perceptions. We will often as human beings try and reinforce the way we see the world. And we have perceptions about people who are different from us, whether they’re male, female, young, old, or of different ethnicity, or religion. We have perceptions. Often, we will unconsciously try and reinforce those perceptions. And that’s not just at the interview. We know about the halo and horn effects interview.

Clearly, it still goes on more deeply in an organisation. And we need to think about how we can educate people. By the way, we know that unconscious bias training doesn’t necessarily work. So, we have to think more deeply about how we can do that.

So, we’ve talked about the problems. I think they’re real and more applicable than just to women in tech. So, what solutions have people come up with? And there were a number of great ideas. Actually, I would have loved to carry that on longer. In fact, if anyone who’s listening to this podcast, and they’ve got other brilliant ideas, please share them. Maybe, join the LinkedIn Group, and share them there. So, I’ve got them all in one place.

The solution to the women in tech problem

So, I’m going to theme these into thoughts. I think it’s easier, if I give some structure around it.

  • Training was one
  • Mentoring/one-to-one was another.
  • Setting rules of conduct was the third.
  • Then finally, having a workplace pile was the fourth.

And I’ll explain what they are.


So, training was where, and there’s a particular person who runs an organisation, he does training in this area. This was actually around training the women to have more self-confidence to maybe think about how they portray themselves, and help them to stand up, if they felt downtrodden to actually have an appropriate response, with which, to kindly not do it or push it back.

So, actually, training and supporting women can work and giving people awareness and interaction around this sort of thing, the impact of it, and how to avoid it, which I think is actually about good quality feedback with whoever you’re talking to.


The second one, where this is quite a big one. And I think a few people were doing this sort of thing in different ways. So, I’ll badge it as mentoring. But one lady was talking about it. I think she was from the BBC. She said that they were doing upward mentoring. Upward mentoring would be almost, where your pairing someone who’s more junior with someone who is more senior. Maybe, a junior female with a more senior male. And they’re teaching each other.

You tend to hear it about things like, I’ve heard of it, where we’re teaching people who are from child age, are teaching the grown-ups who are like, myself or older how to use technology. For example, we’ve got somebody in our workplace, who’s actually shown us how to use YouTube, which was a mystery to most of us.

So, upward mentoring is perfect. We can all learn from each other. But that tends to be about the sort of technology things. So actually, the information was going from the individual up to the person, they were mentoring. I think it’s more that there’s a side effect of the individual if we do go to stereotypical middle age or 50 plus white man. What it has shown, what has been said a number of times, is actually, it’s when they have daughters who are going into the workplace, that they suddenly realise the obstacles.

Or, another way of helping them, is, by getting them to pair up with somebody in the workplace, build a personal relationship. Realise their capability. I’m not sure whether we’re encouraging them to be paternalistic. I’m not sure, but just realise the potential in a female, on a young female I guess and help them forward. So, that is more traditional mentoring too. Anyway, mentoring is what people are talking about.

But they also talked about just pairing people up in a sort of one-to-one. So, encouraging them to go and talk, but in a more structured way. This was a different company. So, you just would have male and female pairings. It could be of different ethnicity, and just being overt about the fact that they are paired, and they’re different. Quite often with mentoring and buddies, people get paired with people that they like. That might mean they already think the same. So, really looking for complementary pairings. And that’s where you encourage people to get them to talk about the challenges that they have in the workplace for real. So, that’s another way.

I think we probably could have a whole podcast on how to set up a quality mentoring relationship. So, I can’t go into that here. But you do need to think about the rules and the structure around that, and how it is set up for success, in my opinion. You can’t automatically pair people. Well, you can, but it won’t work 100 per cent of the time. So, I would recommend, if you are thinking of doing this sort of thing, make sure that like, if you have a coaching role, you have some sort of contracting that goes around it, to give it structure, and to give it rules.

Actually, as I said earlier, give it a start and a finish so both parties can know that this is only going on for X amount of time. If they carry on having a good relationship after that, which is absolutely fine. It will happen naturally. But, if you’re running as an organisation I think having a formal endpoint, it’s a good piece of advice.

So, that was good. Actually, I’m going to mention one of the people, this lady, she was called, Arianne Davis. She went on further on this. She said she wants mentoring relationships that are not just one-way, it’s two-way. So, it’s not just about one side helping the other. It’s about helping each other and having a truly collaborative way forward. She was the one that pointed out that the one lady at the top will break if we expect everybody to go to them.

Setting Rules of Conduct

Then our third one, our third point, let me just check my notes here. So, yes, my third point is about rules. And this is linked to the glue jobs piece. I didn’t emphasise this so much in the problems, but one of the things was also mentioned at meetings, is that people felt talked over.

So, there will be a personality side of this, in terms of I think, I must be one of the people, who’s probably guilty about talking over men quite frequently. But in this context, in this environment, there was a great proportion of times, where women felt talked over. Their sentences are cut off. And they didn’t get the same amount of air space as their male counterparts.

And the way in which, a number of companies dealt with this, is, about educating people about team meetings, about making sure that every meeting was chaired. And maybe, it was chaired by a woman. So, hopefully, the woman wouldn’t also have to take the minutes. So, it’s thinking about the roles involved in a successful meeting, and making sure that they rotate around. And just setting expectations around that so we didn’t fall into habits and norms, where the woman goes and does the glu job. Actually, everybody has fair shots at doing at the chairing role and also any of the other supporting roles. So, rules around those sorts of common activities.

Having A Workplace Pal

Then finally, there was this point, which was raised by the lady that I’ve mentioned earlier, Arianne, which I really liked, in that, they had put in place something, what she called it, pal, I think. And the pal was somebody in the workplace, who’s your friend, who’s literally your pal. So, if you didn’t feel able to shout yourself, because you’re a bit too embarrassed, then they would shout about your successes, and go out, and tell others that you’d done a great job.

So, it’s having someone else, or maybe, a few people, and being in the habit of building each other up, and saying how good they are. And that’s something that I think we should all do for each other frankly as well. You know, some of the stuff going on in the communities and social media, build each other up. Together, we will become stronger. I think that’s one of the themes of the HR Uprising. And I thought that was a really fabulous way of doing it. Because very often, we feel embarrassed.  We feel immodest. It’s not necessarily the way we’re being brought up. So, having someone else build you up in the eyes of others, will help.

Again, going back to my usual suspect analogy earlier, it just means it’s not the usual suspect. You don’t have to push yourself forward. Someone else can recommend you. And that might give you that opportunity to shine. So, how could we facilitate that better in our workplaces.

So, that concludes the information I’ve got to-date on why people leave tech jobs, or why women leave tech jobs. And as I said, it could be more broad than this. And hopefully, you could see some of the problems that may or may not exist in your business, and you can perhaps address them.

Clearly, there are lots of other places, where this sort of inequality takes place. And some of the ideas to fix things. I don’t think those would go to harm in any organisation, those 4 ideas about really embedding greater equality and diversity.

So, I hope you’ve found that a little bit interesting, stimulating and perhaps, with a bit of application to it. If you would like to comment, give me feedback, LinkedIn into me, I’m really, really grateful for feedback.

Actually, I’m just going to mention one other person who gave me feedback. So, I’d really like to say thank you to the lady called, Caroline Crawley. And I hope she doesn’t mind me giving her a shout-out, because she took the time to personally give feedback, that she’d found something helpful out of one of the podcasts. I think it was the onboarding one. And it was helping her in her new role. And I think we all like to make a difference. That’s one of my biggest drivers. So, that was a massive motivator. I thought it was really kind that she’d give me that direct feedback.

And on top of that, I wanted to thank Tamasin Sutton. Some of you might know her as well, because she had recommended the podcast to Caroline. So, it’s all paying it forward. So, I really much appreciated that recommendation.

Then finally, a lady called, Shevon Goodman, who’s really been interacting. And she had suggested a new topic, which I think might have legs called, boomeranging. So, we know we talked about onboarding a couple of weeks ago. Boomeranging, which is actually off-boarding. How do we have an Alumni? This is a topic that I think might be worth for future podcasts.

So, if there’s anyone out there who’s got something to say, please communicate with me, in whichever way you feel comfortable. If this is adding value or it could be improved, let me know, and I’ll do my best to take those comments onboard. So, I’m sure everybody is sick of the sound of my voice now. So, I’m going to wrap up. I hope you’re having a great day, or whatever you’re up to, and a nice summer. And I’ll be back in touch next week.

Thank you very much for listening. It’s Lucinda Carney of The HR Uprising. And remember, when we look up together, we rise up together. Thanks.