Women in STEM haven't been spared from this inequity. A Northwestern University study found that across the STEM fields, women and workers with young dependents say their ability to devote time to work has been substantially affected, and these effects appear additive. Of that group? The impact is most pronounced for women.
As businesses around the world try to establish a new normal, we wanted to know: What has the experience been like for women who remain in the workforce? What is the state of women in leadership roles across the technology industry in 2021?
To find out, GetApp surveyed women in leadership and women in tech, asking women who have remained in the workforce about their 2020 experience, what they have planned for 2021, and what advice they have for working women across the country (you can find information about these surveys at the bottom of this page).
One big finding out of the gate? Despite a year of profound challenges, 65% of female business owners are optimistic about the success of their business in 2021.
Let's take a look at the major insights we heard from women in tech and how they view the state of the industry.
Abrupt COVID-induced changes to work practices and health and safety standards sent business owners scrambling to reimagine their key strategies. Valentina Lopez, co-founder of outdoor enthusiast blog Happiness Without, says that to adapt, she leaned digital:
The best tip I’d give to female business owners and CEOs is to be digitally prepared. COVID-19 just proved how technology is now a primary contributor to businesses. Its unexpected effects [caused] a lot of businesses [to suffer], especially those that [were] digitally unprepared. It just shows how your business can thrive today but may suffer tomorrow. So, don’t be comfortable where you’re familiar.
—Valentina Lopez, Happiness Without
GetApp’s women in leadership survey indicates that many of Lopez’s fellow female business owners applied the same strategy. Ninety-one percent of respondents adopted software as part of their COVID-19 response strategy, and for a little more than half of them, this software adoption was their first.
When we asked what kinds of software these business owners purchased, clear trends emerged. The most common software categories that they permanently adopted were video conferencing, manufacturing, social media marketing, and collaboration software, providing a good indication of the long-term changes they anticipate going forward.
We also asked respondents to rate their most valuable business decisions made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Business owners and C-suite executives were most likely to rank “enabling online checkout and payment” and “converting existing processes to support social distancing requirements (e.g., contactless delivery or pick-up)” as extremely valuable decisions.
Through strategic technology adoptions and a readiness to adapt to an ever-changing year, these female business leaders navigated the challenges 2020 had to offer. This was not, however, the only challenge women and their businesses faced. The pandemic also fortified existing obstacles to working women and women in the technology industry.
Of all the norms tossed aside in response to COVID-19, the difficulties women experience in male-dominated industries remained stubbornly unchanged.
When asked about recent changes to work-life balance, 67% of female business owners reported spending less time than they need or would like on their business due to increased domestic responsibilities in 2020.
The effects of these increased responsibilities spread well beyond the interpersonal lives of women in leadership positions. Increased domestic responsibilities contributed to an assortment of struggles for female CEOs and business owners:
2020 stretched these business owners thin, causing them to make difficult choices and work harder than ever to keep their companies alive. As we look to 2021 and beyond, though, the data offers some hopeful signs that these female business owners have the precise skills needed to succeed in the new normal.
A Gartner survey (full report is available to Gartner clients only) of 183 men and women in IT leadership found that a majority (61%) rank effective communication as one of the most important skills needed to successfully lead, something that couldn't be more true for the dual health and economic crises of 2020.
As it happens, GetApp’s survey of women business leaders found that they ranked communication highly among the skills and strengths that most contribute to their success as business owners.
Fifty-four percent of female business owners and CEOs say their strong communication skills contributed to their success, compared to only 44% of male business owners.
Despite a tremendously difficult year that forced many professional women to make impossible decisions between work and domestic responsibilities, these business leaders are continuing to adapt and grow, bringing clear communication and bold vision to an uncertain future of work.
In addition to software adoption and digital transformation, women found tremendous value in leaning on each other for support and career advice over the past year.
Thirty-eight percent of female business owners sought out women-focused entrepreneurial groups and/or forums to help establish their revised business strategy or next move after the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
When we surveyed women in the tech industry about their experience with women-focused entrepreneurial groups, respondents frequently cited benefits included support and connection, networking opportunities, and mentoring.
Marie Starck, a full-stack software engineer, has realized benefits from women’s groups through every stage of her career.
Women's groups have been a godsend since I started in the tech industry. After graduation, I made sure to join my local tech women Slack group. Those friendships motivated me to stay in the industry despite many women dropping off from the industry at the five-year mark. I am eternally grateful for these communities that provide a safe space for women to be vulnerable and support when we need it. I have discussed many topics such as impostor syndrome, salary negotiation, asking for promotion, taking initiative in projects, and more. This has allowed me to not only grow my skills but more importantly, my confidence. It is so much easier to put yourself out there when you know people will be there to catch you should you fall.
—Marie Starck, Freelance Software Developer
Women’s groups can give women a place to collaborate and be heard in an otherwise difficult (and sometimes hostile) industry. When GetApp surveyed women in the tech field, more than half cited “being taken seriously” as one of the biggest challenges for female tech professionals. They also included work-life balance and unequal pay distribution among their biggest challenges.
Business founder and software engineer Allison Seboldt belongs to multiple entrepreneurial women in tech groups. Like many other women in the tech sector, Allison says these groups have given her a place to problem-solve and speak freely without fear of condescension.
They've helped me immensely with navigating my career and getting my business off the ground as a self-funded, solo founder. In women-led forums, there's less fear that I won't be taken seriously, or worse, attacked. This gives me the confidence to ask questions or ask for help, and that in turn has helped me learn a lot. Regular participation also helps me build business relationships.
—Allison Seboldt, Fantasy Congress
Despite a brutal year for women across the tech industry, female business leaders remain hopeful and are applying smart, agile strategies to their businesses.
Female business leaders are evaluating and adopting software that empowers them to manage employees and connect with customers in new and adaptive ways.
They are also leaning on other women, and nurturing their networks and business connections through women's entrepreneurial groups and local small business associations.
Leaders of all genders should take note, and learn from what these women in leadership are doing to fortify their businesses in these uncertain times.
GetApp’s women in leadership study surveyed 98 women across the technology industry. Survey participants must currently serve as company president, vice president, C-suite executive, owner, or founder for a business that employs between two and 500 employees.
GetApp’s women in technology survey includes 50 women employed by the technology industry, defined as businesses that revolve around manufacturing, electronics, software creation, IT products or services.
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