How to Foster an Inclusive Workforce: 5 Key Takeaways from a Research Analysis and 5 Measures for Companies to Foster DiversityFeatured

In the digital industries, as elsewhere, an inclusive workforce is essential to reflect the diversity of society and reach different customer groups. However, women are particularly underrepresented in the digital technology sector. Even research on digital innovation processes and outcomes lacks a gender-aware perspective. Hence, our study for the International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS) 2020 conference focused on the inclusion of women in tech. Drawing on a gender-aware framework and applying computational topic modeling to analyze 560 threads in the professional women online network (Elpha), we identified the topics that preoccupy women involved in exploring and exploiting* digital innovation potentials. While accelerator programs, career transitions to launching one’s own venture, startup launches in general, and the recruitment of a diverse workforce are all topics related to the exploitation of novel business opportunities – the exploration defines identification of and experimentation with new opportunities. In fact, we provide a gendered perspective on digital innovation by classifying the topics and issues raised and discussed by women in tech on Elpha, in accordance with the gender-aware 5M framework (Brush et al. 2009)**, which covers key aspects of innovation processes: 1. Safe space is a key measure to foster knowledge exchange among women: while the majority of the discussions on these matters are seemingly gender-neutral, the success of this women-only platform indicates that such a ‘safe space’ for women in tech is a key measure to foster knowledge exchange among women, which in turn can help tackle women’s underrepresentation in respective industries. The women’s primary interest in exchanging knowledge and experiences could be explained by the nature of professional online networks that are primarily designed to foster connections and knowledge exchange. Nevertheless, it also indicates that women in tech are keen to learn from the experiences of other women, who they perceive to be like-minded and suitable to providing relevant and helpful advice on professional development and enhancement. 2. Women have an interest in human capital (management) topics: we found that women in tech are primarily concerned with topics that relate to accessing human capital (management). Access to human and organizational capital is considered to be the key enabler of exploiting innovation potentials (Brush et al. 2009). Our data clearly indicates that women in tech are particularly looking for advice – and keen to share their knowledge – on matters related to organizational and human capital, private and professional experiences, and the skills required for digital innovation. 3. Women are aware of gender biases when accessing financial resources: another obstacle that has been determined in previous research are (unconscious) gender biases that inhibit women from accessing financial resources (Greene et al. 2001). Our data indicates that women in tech are well aware of this challenge, with the role of female VCs in overcoming gender biases being explicitly discussed on Elpha. These findings support the growing recognition of the positive relationship between women’s networking activities and their access to financial capital (Brush et al., 2008).4. Women actively discuss the importance of diversity: in particular, we found that women discuss their role models, the importance of joining offline networks that connect women in tech across regions, and the general importance of diversity in workforces. Our results are aligned with previous findings stating that women feel more empowered when engaging in networks and benefiting from political empowerment (Baughn and Neupert 2006).5. Women are more concerned with topics related to the exploitation (67%) than the exploration (33%) of digital innovation potentials: This finding is suggesting that digital innovation potentials for women remain untapped. In fact, this finding indicates that women in tech are less concerned with the identification of and experimentation with new opportunities, but more with their exploitation. Moreover, our insights provide a basis for inspiring ideas for suitable support measures that companies could implement to create a more diverse workforces, particularly with regard to women in tech. Indeed, the research paper informs measures to support companies seeking to address the underrepresentation of women in tech: 1. Online: workshops, seminars, accelerators, learning journeys, online courses and other measures could focus on empowering women with knowledge and skills about market and money topics, to encourage and support women in their journey of exploring and exploiting digital innovation potentials. 2. Offline: offline networks, workshops, mentorship programs and flexible working structures.3. Resource pool: companies could create an online resource pool around these topics to equip women and other employees with the necessary tools to systematically explore and exploit novel market opportunities. Such a resource pool could be augmented by offline events, such as accelerator programs, ideation sessions, mastermind classes, skill sharing events, offline networks, and mentoring programs.4. Incentives: companies could develop incentives and workshop formats that make women aware of the importance and potential of their role in identifying digital innovation potentials that might otherwise not be discovered, given the currently still prevailing male bias. Thus, companies should implement strategies with a focus on these topics which empower women to exploit their existing potential and remove obstacles in the long term. Measures could comprise, for instance, promotions and training in the topic areas, workshops, mentorship programs, interdisciplinary networks, or personal coaching.5. New talent: to attract new female talent, companies could start initiatives and collaborations with universities and mentorship programs involving female employees and students. In fact, companies will greatly benefit from creating women-only spaces as these foster knowledge flows within organizations. Thus, greater awareness of women in tech and the topics relevant to them allows companies to transition towards a more heterogeneous work environment.Input from: Schmitt, F., Sundermeier, J., Bohn, N., Morassi-Sasso, “A.Spotlight on Women in Tech: Fostering an Inclusive Workforce when Exploring and Exploiting Digital Innovation Potentials,” ICIS 2020.If you have an interest in reading the whole research paper, please reach out to Franziska Schmitt [email protected].
Thank you for sharing! As a researcher and a huge fan of this community, I enjoy seeing the analysis you've done using Elpha posts. I hope we can take your work as inspiration for how to build an even more inclusive and helpful community here, and take that into our workplaces!
Thank you, Andreana! I couldn't agree more with you. Let me know if you have any questions about the research or any thoughts and feedback! Love, Franziska
Great research @franziskaschmitt! I've just emailed your for a copy of your paper. Best, Patricia