By Claire Gilbert, Sr. Consultant, Moran Technology Consulting
Invariably, our client engagements include some question of people. How do I staff this major project? Is my organization structured appropriately for the strategies that we want to implement? How can we better recruit and retain employees in this increasingly competitive and nationwide (often global) market for IT talent…especially as a higher ed IT organization that hasn’t traditionally offered the same compensation portfolio as private industry?
These “people” questions have taken on a new urgency over the past two years as the impacts of the pandemic have sent shockwaves across all sectors of higher ed. There is no question that the pandemic exposed and exacerbated staffing vulnerabilities at every institution with which we work. One of the most glaring workforce setbacks in higher education IT (and IT writ large) right now is the plummeting representation of women – and especially women of color – across all levels of employment. This underrepresentation has gone from a challenge to a crisis over the past two years thanks to the mass exodus of women from the workforce during the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, this underrepresentation was a commonly acknowledged problem that has been studied for decades. Many IT organizations and their institutions have made efforts consistent with what we knew of best practices – IT organizations have created diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committees; IT orgs have gotten better at casting a broad net with their job ads – winnowing out unnecessary requirements, posting jobs in a wider range of places, using inclusive language, etc.; colleges and universities have generally invested more resources in DEI training, programming, affinity groups, etc. However, if the needle moved at individual institutions, it moved slowly in the aggregate. Some of the most recent stats highlighted by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), which were drawn from the 2021 Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, clearly illuminate both the overarching lack of women in IT as well as the very particular and less attended to representation gap between women of color and white women in the overall IT workforce:
- Only 26% of the overall computing workforce were women in 2021
- Of that 26%…
- 2% identified as Hispanic or Latina
- 3% identified as Black or African American
- 7% identified as Asian
This gap is true of the overall workforce, as well. As McKinsey found in their “Women in the Workplace: 2021” report, women continue to be significantly underrepresented in leadership, and this is exponentially worse for women of color: “Representation of women of color falls off relative to White men, White women, and men of color at every step in the corporate pipeline, leaving them severely underrepresented at the top”.
In short…we all knew that we had a long way to go when it came to workforce (and leadership) representation long before the pandemic struck. Yet, it was hard to grasp just how fragile that small amount of participation was until the pandemic punched open the sinkhole that was lurking underneath. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently studied the impact of the pandemic on women’s employment, and specifically women leaders. In that piece, Hougard, Carter, and Afton (2022) eloquently summarize the scope of this loss:
“Tens of millions of women have left the workforce since the start of the pandemic, many permanently. This has lowered women’s participation in the global labor force to a crisis level, but the impact goes even deeper…In the first year of the pandemic alone, 54 million women around the world left the workforce, almost 90 percent of whom exited the labor force completely. The participation rate for women in the global labor force is now under 47%, drastically lower than men at 72%. These losses deliver a devasting impact to gender parity, career progression, and female representation in leadership positions. But we are underestimating the scope of the problem if we are just looking at the impact on women. The collateral damage is the loss of engagement and productivity from every employee who now won’t be working for a woman, since women leaders have more engaged teams, drive better job performance, and save their organization millions of dollars as a result.”
It is equally critical to note that the losses and impacts of the pandemic were magnified for women of color who have borne a disproportionate share of its economic effects – worsening the extant representation disparities. So, not only are we losing tens of millions of women, we are feeling – and will continue to feel – the cumulative and collateral impacts of this loss reverberating across all aspects of employment and for all employees. It is not “only” an issue for or about women.
The HBR summary quote above gives some examples of the long-term collateral damage organizations face from the loss of women, and it is certainly borne out by what we have seen in decades of client engagements. Moran Technology Consulting’s (MTC) commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion as a firm comes both from our experience creating better and more useful deliverables when we have diverse teams and from helping our clients through the many types of staffing strategy questions we mentioned at the outset – organizations are stronger and more capable when they embrace the extremely well-documented benefits of diverse teams.
This issue is happening right now, and it’s one that MTC has worked hard to avoid among our own employees. Although it is a multi-faceted problem, Gallup found that there is strong evidence that many of the women departing the workforce are doing so because of childcare responsibilities. This has certainly proven true for our firm – we have team members with young children, new babies, and other care obligations who have been impacted by the disruptions to care infrastructure during the pandemic. Yet, our firm increased the number of women higher education IT consultants on our team during the pandemic. We don’t have all the answers, but we have found that our firm’s longstanding commitment to flexibility has been a particularly important asset during this time, consistent with what so much research indicates is critical right now for those with care obligations.
Moran Technology Consulting has enabled flexible schedules, modified work obligations, supported transitions to part-time, and more for our team members, and this flexibility has enabled us to retain employees during the pandemic who we otherwise would have lost. For example, we had one consultant with young children who has made multiple adjustments over the course of the pandemic, including a switch to part-time, modifying her schedule, and changing the kinds of work she is doing for our firm – first to manage remote schooling last year and then to triage the revolving door of school and daycare closures this year. She told us that this willingness to work with team members to find flexible alternatives is why she was able to continue working instead of becoming one of the departure statistics.
This kind of flexibility and proactive support for employees caught in the care dilemma caused by the pandemic has boiled down to listening to employees about what they need and figuring out ways to make that work within the framework of the business. We are all navigating this upheaval together. It is one of the reasons that MTC strongly believes in supporting organizations like EDUCAUSE and sponsoring events like “Women Advance Technology”, which comes at this critical time for women in IT, bringing together women from across higher education IT to focus on major issues across three critical tracks:
- Wellness: Creating and Supporting Balanced Work
- Allyship to Advance Women in Technology
- What’s Next: Expanding the Gender Equity Conversation
We invest back in the higher education IT community because the ideas and value that come from these sessions will benefit everyone. In the case of Woman Advance Technology, the timing could not be more critical nor could the conversations be more important. We recognize that higher education IT is at an inflection point for women, especially women of color, and that solutions that work in the pandemic era are going to come from conversations, sessions, and organizations like these that focus on critical issues and give women and allies space and time to tackle them. We are proud to be the sponsor of this event.