Imagine going to a conference and not feeling different. Imagine no one raising an eyebrow at your presence. Imagine feeling part of a group because of who you are, not despite who you are. I guess that’s how men feel at conferences all the time. For me, the experience was surprising. I hadn’t realized how much energy it takes to be the odd one out. Spending those two days among a predominately female audience was at the very least, refreshing.
Most sponsors were focussed on hiring and presenting their companies as inclusive workplaces. I had a lot of great conversations about what inclusivity means, and what might detract women from applying for certain positions in the first place.
The myth of the office as the culture hub
An amazing office environment, fun after-work activities, opportunities of growth and flexible work hours, these were the perks used to attract female talent. The focus was very much on the location, not so much on the company structure or possible collaborations. Many companies mentioned that they viewed the office as the main tool to create a collaborative and creative work environment. Their team building activities require physical presence, and the office becomes the proxy for company culture.
That works well with unattached bachelors and recent graduates. As a mom with small kids, the idea of relocating to a new city without a social network sounds very stressful.
Companies clearly want to hire a more diverse workforce. However, they seem to run out of ideas around what how to attract women (let alone other underrepresented groups). I wonder, if companies really understand what those highly educated and experienced women want – and how that differs from what their male counterparts want, especially as they advance in life.
Maybe expecting someone to move to a different city, to work from an office, to have breakfast at that office and to enjoy after-work activities with colleagues attracts only a very narrow set of candidates. Breakfast at the office and after-work activities do not mix well with small children. Having to relocate somewhere is difficult with a partner who has their own career and a cat that hates change. Sure, those obstacles can be overcome, but why should a prospective candidate overcome them for your company?
Flexible work hours, work-from-home or remote options, child care during summer vacation, mentoring programmes for women, and paternal leave is not only interesting for parents. It also sends a strong signal to those who don’t have children yet, or do not want them, that this company values diversity in life plans. I am really curious how companies are going to solve this challenge in the current months/years.
Background: European Women in Technology took place at RAI Amsterdam on Nov 28/29, 2019. The conference is organized by Maddox Events and was attended by over 2000 (mostly female) visitors. Sponsors and stands focussed on hiring and brand visibility. Keynotes and talks covered everything from diversity, how to thrive as a woman in tech, and how to work with bias.
Find out more here: https://www.europeanwomenintech.com
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