The tech industry remains a bright spot in a global economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital transformation projects accelerated in response to the global crisis—and tech businesses large and small grew revenues and created jobs in 2020 and into 2021.
But the big picture is not all good for tech—or for underrepresented people in the industry, including women. There is an estimated $700 billion opportunity for enterprise cloud solutions, but fewer than 1% of enterprise cloud contracts globally go to tech firms founded by women.
Women, tech companies, and enterprise tech customers are held back because of the lack of diversity in the tech sector. Research has shown that more diverse teams leads to greater creativity, innovation, and ultimately, profitability. Tech is missing the leadership, expertise, creativity, perspective, and passion of women.
To add to the challenge, during the pandemic, more women than men lost their jobs. Women-owned tech businesses also saw their access to enterprise contracts shrink. As enterprises scrambled to respond to the pandemic, decision makers were less likely to onboard a new woman-owned IT vendor.
Women also make up a majority of the service sector, holding jobs that are more likely to be replaced by AI-driven automation in the coming years. Displaced women can find new careers in tech—if they have access to training and open doors at tech companies.
Women in Cloud Takes Action
In 2018, I co-founded Women in Cloud (WIC), a community-led economic development organization, to help close the gender gap in technology. Fortunately, there are leaders—women and men—in tech and the enterprise marketplace who share this goal. WIC is seeking to translate this support into real progress through our key initiatives.
Our flagship six-month Cloud Accelerator program helps women entrepreneurs co-build, co-market, and co-sell with Microsoft and the company’s distribution channels. Critically, this program provides access to enterprise influencers and decision makers. WIC also helps bring job seekers and enterprise employers together through our #CloudJobs initiative.
Collaborating on a Scholarship Program for Azure Training and Certification
Many tech companies, including Microsoft, recognize the need to diversify, while struggling to find employees with needed IT skills. On the workforce side, thousands of women want to pursue careers in tech or improve their tech skills—but they lack access to affordable training and mentorship. Job displacement caused by COVID-19 has further increased the need for IT skills training, especially for women.
Given this situation, it made perfect sense for WIC and Microsoft to collaborate to help women access digital skills training. Last month, with support from Microsoft Azure, WIC launched our Microsoft Azure Training and Certification Scholarship program. More than 600 participants will be able to access training in Azure Fundamentals, Azure AI Fundamentals, and Azure Data Fundamentals. This is the type of IT training that enterprise employers value.
This skilling program was made possible by Voices for Innovation (VFI) and its director, David Pryor. I knew that VFI helps Microsoft partners engage on tech policy issues, but the organization also fosters connections between Microsoft and other tech groups. David helped bring WIC and Microsoft’s Azure team together around our mutual goal of helping women advance their tech skills.
How VFI Members Can Help Drive Positive Change
There are many ways that VFI members can support women in technology—and drive increased diversity in tech:
- Highlight WIC’s Azure Scholarships—Please encourage anyone interested in tech careers or displaced by the pandemic to apply for an Azure Training and Certification Scholarship. Priority is given to women, but the program is open to all genders.
- Hire Women—When you have a job opening, please be sure to connect with women candidates. You may need to broaden your hiring criteria and work more closely with recruiters to ensure women candidates are recognized. When you have openings, please contact us and we can help.
- Engage with WIC—We all benefit through community. Please sign up for our newsletter, sponsor our programs, and participate as a speaker at our conferences. (You can also sign up for VFI’s weekly tech news Executive Briefing here.)
Looking ahead, WIC will be intensifying our advocacy engagement to win policy changes that expand access to the government marketplace for women-owned technology businesses. On this count, we hope to work collaboratively with VFI and its members to support policies that drive both innovation and equity in the tech sector.
Chaitra Vedullapalli is the Co-Founder and President of Women in Cloud, as well as the Co-Founder and CMO of Meylah, a Cloud Solutions Provider and Microsoft Gold Partner. An author, in-demand speaker, and change leader, she is helping to drive conversations about digital transformation and women in tech at the United Nations and among top corporations.