The technology industry—or at least its largest players—will likely continue to close the gender gap in the year ahead. Deloitte Global predicts that large global technology firms, on average, will reach nearly 33% overall female representation in their workforces in 2022, up slightly more than 2 percentage points from 2019 (figure 1).1 The proportion of women in technical roles will also nudge up, though it has tended to lag the overall proportion of women by about 8 percentage points.
A 2-percentage-point increase, though small, actually represents notable progress. Moving the needle is difficult, and even aggressive campaigns to recruit, hire, retain, and promote women have been found to work slowly. But while this progress is a step in the right direction, going forward, tech companies may need to work even harder to improve these numbers.
Large tech companies are making progress, but they may be at risk of stalling
With research showing that diverse teams perform better and are more innovative, leaders across industries recognize that a diverse workforce—by gender, race, age, and other social factors—is good for business.2 As the tech industry seeks to shape a prosperous future for themselves, it is aiming to be more representative of that future.
Our analysis of 20 large technology companies that provide annual workforce diversity reports shows that they have maintained their momentum on the gender front in the past two years.3 Despite women being disproportionately affected by pandemic-driven spikes in global unemployment and reductions in labor force participation,4 many of these organizations have managed to keep female representation on an upward trajectory. In part, this may have been because the technology sector was better prepared than most to pivot quickly to remote work and flexible work models when the pandemic began, relying on already familiar connectivity and collaboration tools. Moreover, many large enterprises have had workforce diversity pledges and programs in place for several years, and this prior commitment to diversity (gender and otherwise) may have helped them weather the crisis. Further, employment in the tech sector, including for women, began to recover earlier than many other industries, possibly making it easier to maintain progress in gender equity.5
While high-profile tech players will likely continue to make and report gains in gender diversity, smaller tech companies with fewer resources and less stature to attract and keep women may find it harder.6 It’s difficult to pinpoint how these smaller companies are faring, since they don’t typically report diversity data, but a late 2019 study of global tech startup executives found that only 43% had established companywide hiring and promotion goals to increase diversity.7 Without targets and transparency, smaller tech organizations may well be underperforming on gender diversity compared to their larger peers—and they may have fallen even further behind during the pandemic.8
Continued progress will likely require renewed commitment and greater effort. Well-known challenges to equitable female representation persist, including factors related to the educational pipeline, recruitment and hiring, retention, pay, and promotion.9 Adding to these challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on workers’ well-being and professional prospects. Deloitte’s 2021 Women @ Work study, which polled 500 women in the global technology, media, and telecommunications (TMT) workforce, found that, compared with how they felt prior to the crisis, TMT women have experienced dramatic drops in motivation and productivity at work, job satisfaction, work/life balance, and feelings of loyalty to their employers (figure 2).10 Eighty-three percent of the TMT women surveyed reported that their workload had increased, and a majority said that they were spending more time on household chores and dependent care as well.11 Boundaries between life and work collapsed: Satisfaction with work/life balance dropped by 38 points, and the ability to “switch off” work dropped by 19 points. Perhaps more alarmingly, only 38% of women in the TMT industry feel their organization’s commitment to supporting them has been sufficient.12 Just 30% say their employer increased their access to flexible work (such as the freedom to work around caregiving responsibilities or other commitments), and only 22% say that their employers made it clear they’re not expected to be “always on.”13
Racially and ethnically diverse TMT women appear to be even more negatively affected by the pandemic than their peers. Compared to other women working in TMT, they are more likely to report spending increased time on work and home responsibilities. They’re more likely to report poor or extremely poor satisfaction with their mental and physical well-being, as well as their motivation and productivity at work and ability to switch off. Startlingly, over half of racially and ethnically diverse TMT women (52%) rate their work/life balance as poor or extremely poor versus 43% of other TMT women, and 59% feel less optimistic about their career prospects today than before the pandemic versus 48% of other TMT women. Since few tech companies report in detail on the composition of their female workforces (that is, race, age, or other social identities), it’s difficult to gauge if representation is improving in other dimensions, but it’s plausible that the pandemic’s differential impacts on racially and ethnically diverse women may be complicating diversity efforts.
These pandemic-driven pressures may result in job churn among women and may even prompt some to leave the workforce entirely. A majority of TMT women (51%) feel less optimistic about their career prospects now than before the crisis broke, and 57% expect to leave their current employer for a new role within two years, citing lack of work/life balance as the biggest reason. What’s more, a startling 22% are considering leaving the workforce altogether, motivated chiefly by workload increases that are affecting their well-being.
But these are factors organizations can mitigate. Some tech companies, including Google, Salesforce, and IBM, have responded to the pandemic by expanding programs for backup child care and paid family caregiver leave.14 Some have created new flexible-work and well-being programs, such as job sharing, free mental health counseling, collective disconnect days, and video programs with child-focused educational content.15 Tech companies that proactively craft programs and policies to help workers balance their caregiving and well-being needs with work responsibilities may be able to avoid burnout, build greater loyalty, and retain diverse talent through the crisis and beyond.