People and Culture

How to make things great for women in tech

Learn what happened when a Zühlke employee moderated an external workshop dedicated to helping the prospects for women in the technology space. Hear some of the biggest challenges faced by women in this male-dominated environment and read the seven different recommendations for organizations looking to improve both the environment and hiring process for female candidates. 

Lisa Falco, Annina Scheidegger and Caroline Nellen
  • Participants raised multiple issues of being a woman in tech. All could be condensed into two primary emotions: loneliness and dread. 
  • Coaching and mentoring tend to be offered once a problem is identified or to boost careers. But offering them to women, especially younger women, can prevent issues down the line and help overcome insecurities. 
  • By empowering men to become more active and present fathers, you'll improve conditions for women both in and outside of the company.
6 minutes to read

Zühlke engages in all kinds of external events. But ‘We Tech Together’ — a conference dedicated to and organized by women in the technology space — left its participants especially energized.

As part of this year’s event, Lisa Falco, Lead Data Consultant, together with Elizabeth Huerta from SVIN (Schweizerische Vereinigung der Ingenieurinnen) hosted a thought provoking workshop. “Women in Tech Experiences and Insights.”

In true Zühlke spirit, it involved identifying the pain points of being a woman in a male-dominated environment — and finding possible solutions to them.

We sat down with Annina Scheidegger (Regional Head People & Culture, EMEA & Partner) and Caroline Nellen (Head of Recruiting, DACH) and to get their perspectives on the workshop’s findings, and how Zühlke can turn them into actions.

Lisa Falco an Elizabeth Huerta

Loneliness and dread in the workplace

Participants raised multiple issues of being a woman in tech. All could be condensed into two primary emotions: loneliness and dread.

Repeatedly being the only woman in the room and feeling like a ‘quota woman’ captured the feeling of loneliness. As for dread, those who took part discussed the feeling of not being able to speak up when treated disrespectfully (for risk of being classed as ‘difficult’ and thus harming their career).

Both concerns amount to major elephants in the room. But what actions can companies take to expel those feelings, and make women comfortable in their working environment?

7 recommendations to elevate the experience

After interrogating their experiences at length, the workshop resulted in seven key recommendations — each with bitesize tips —  for improving women’s experiences.

Recommendation 1: Hire more women

Hiring more women is an obvious remedy to the feeling of loneliness that other women in the team feel a lot. It’s also easier said than done. Which is why one simple tip to make the process easier is to use language that appeals to women when writing job ads.

“We work with a tool called ‘Witty Works’ when writing talent-facing texts,” says Caroline Nellen. "It uses real-time suggestions and micro-learning for all communication types. That helps us overcome our own biases and ensures inclusive language.”

All of our teams want to become more diverse — but the fact that men still dominate many departments can be a bottleneck. Caroline acknowledges that while it’s not always possible, it’s worth including at least one woman in a tech role as part of the interview process:

“One can try to encourage the hiring of more women, but ultimately, everyone wants the person with the most suitable skills and character for the role. However, if we sense that a female applicant is still hesitant about working with us, we offer her a 1:1 meeting with a woman from the same or similar department.”

She continues:

“For example, once we put up a job advertisement and exclusively received applications from male candidates. There was no reason why a woman could not do the job just as well, so we removed the ad and sourced potential female candidates to balance out the candidate pipeline. This ensured we were able to create equal opportunities and find the best hire. In the end, we recruited a woman. Not because she was a woman but because she aligns with our organisational values and was best qualified for the job.”

Recommendation 2: Provide better mentoring and coaching

Coaching and mentoring tend to be offered once a problem is identified, or to boost careers. But offering them to women, especially younger women, can prevent issues down the line — and help overcome insecurities. 

In this respect, Annina believes Zühlke has taken positive steps:

“We see lots of potential when it comes to providing mentoring and coaching. We’re working on building up career advancement, which should have a direct impact on creating more female role models. Right now, most of that mentoring and coaching is done by the direct People Lead.

“They’re applicable for more than just problem solving — they can be used as a strategic advantage. Our newly formed Group Talent Team will be responsible for looking at how we use coaching and mentoring more strategically.``

Recommendation 3: Offer clear escalation paths

Women who find themselves victims of disrespectful talk or uncomfortable situations should know where to turn without fearing any consequences. A good company culture, with impactful training, goes a long way to cutting such instances at the root.

“Zühlke’s People Leads tend to be the first contact point our employees turn to. But in instances where they want to handle a matter even more discreetly, our People & Culture team are great go-to’s,” Annina adds. “They’re especially helpful in the rare instances that confidential discussions are needed with a neutral person. Complaints can also be made anonymously through an ‘integrity line,’ our internal platform.”

Women in Tech Workshop

Recommendation 4: Simplify career step-ups

The workshop’s participants frequently mentioned the obstacles they’d experienced when rising from mid-level to high-level management. A major piece of advice involves getting evaluations in written form. This ensures women get the chance to list all of their tasks, increasing the visibility of the extra, hidden work women often undertake in the workplace.

Caroline shares something Zühlke has found helpful. “We advertise our senior positions as part time (i.e. 80% or less of available working hours), and while there’s still room for improvement, a lot of senior professionals make use of it. We make an effort to ensure we’re not reliant on the same pool of already known, motivated employees who’ve proven themselves repeatedly.”

As for fair remuneration, Annina adds that “...we conduct regular reviews in which we assess individuals who have received salary increases or promotions, allowing us to gauge the gender distribution in promotions and pay rises.”

Recommendation 5: Encourage men to be allies

By empowering men to become more active and present fathers, you’ll improve conditions for women both in and outside of the company.

“The workplace needs them, especially in the right positions. Our people are highly aware of this topic.”

Should companies offer local childcare partnerships (known as Kindertagesstätten or ‘KITAs’ in German) for their employees, as proposed by some of the workshop’s participants? For Zühlke: not necessarily.

“We’re a consulting business,” states Annina. “A lot of our employees are at client sites spread across Switzerland. It’s not always feasible for men and women to drop their child off near our premises.”

Recommendation 6: Recognize that interviews are a two-way process

Amongst other pieces of valuable advice, the workshop’s participants recommended that female candidates try and explore the company culture when being interviewed. That means asking questions about what it’s like being a woman in that company; and what they’re doing to actively support female employees. Talking with existing employees before accepting any offer will give you a more realistic view of what the role is like.

Recommendation 7: Tap into the dread

Ironically perhaps, dread doesn’t have to be negative. A helpful revelation from the workshop? Try to understand where that dread comes from, analyze it, and try to use it to your advantage.

Want to experience our culture in person? Take a look at our latest job positions

Employees in our article

lisa Falco

Dr. Lisa Falco

Lead Data Consultant

CV

Lisa Falco is passionate about the positive impact that AI and machine learning can bring to society. She has more than 15 years of industry experience working in medical applications of data science and has helped bringing several AI driven MedTech products to market. Lisa has a PhD from EPFL, Switzerland, in Biomedical Image Analysis and an MSc in Engineering Physics from Chalmers, Sweden.  

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Annina Scheidegger

Regional Head People & Culture, EMEA & Partner

CV

Annina Scheidegger has been with Zühlke since 2016 and started her new role as Regional Head of People & Culture, EMEA as of 1 January 2024. After graduating in law, she worked in various HR functions at Accenture and KPMG.

Caroline Nellen

Caroline Nellen

Head Recruiting & Talent Relations DACH

CV

Caroline Nellen has been with Zühlke since 2019 and started her new role as Head of Recruiting & Talent Relations DACH as of August 1st 2023. After graduating in Human Resources Management and Services, she worked in various HR functions until she found her way to Zühlke. As Head Recruiting and Talent Relations DACH, Caroline Nellen is responsible for attracting the best talents to our workforce.