Tech Reshuffling: While we have seen unprecedented layoffs in the tech space, the unemployment rate in tech is still under 2%; thus, talent is still in high demand. I don’t foresee this changing significantly anytime soon. We surveyed over 1500 technologists in the layoffs in Q4, and 74% had already landed new jobs by January of 2023, accepted an offer, or started a new job.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Paula Bratcher Ratliff.

Paula R Bratcher Ratliff is an Entrepreneur and Global Executive with 23+ years demonstrated experience in workforce solutions. She is the Owner and CEO of Women Impact Tech whose mission is to elevate female technologists in the workforce, and they execute that mission through Tech Events across the US, their Membership platform and Talent Solutions. Paula, her wife, Dawn and their two children reside in Southern Indiana, just outside Louisville, Ky.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

I was crowned Miss East Kentucky in 1997. That was the first time I set a goal and achieved something COMPLETELY out of my comfort zone. I entered because another girl was speaking to our high school Drama coach, and I asked what they were talking about, and she dismissed me by saying, “Oh… a beauty pageant, nothing you would be interested in!”

Challenge accepted. I studied what a pageant was, and I honestly didn’t know. I wrote my own drama piece for the talent portion, and I knew I would ace an interview, and I overcame my fears of being on a stage in a swimsuit and an evening gown. BAM… I won. I knew then that there was something amazing about doing things that made you frightened and uncomfortable. So, I haven’t stopped stepping out of my comfort zone since! The other life experience was much later in my life. After numerous years of infertility in my 30s, my wife and I adopted two children in our 40s through open adoption. The experience changed everything I thought I knew about “who” I was. Being a Mom is the most challenging job I’ve ever had and by far the most rewarding. Although I am sometimes an exhausted mom, I get sheer joy from my two young children. I’m blessed to have the birth parents engaged with our family and am forever grateful for the opportunity these generous and loving people gave me. We have a beautiful and unique family that my children love to share, and it makes them special!

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

I hope the work that organizations like Women Impact Tech and several others like ours begins to level the playing field by drawing attention to gender parity. I would like to see the workforce begin to mirror what we see in our communities. Unfortunately, women only make up 28.8% of the tech workforce today, and in 10–15 years, I would like to see that be 50%. Companies that embrace diverse talent will likely be more profitable. Women of color only comprise 4% of the computing workforce and almost no senior leadership roles despite making up 16% of the general population. Some experts estimate it could take 12 years before the United States sees equal representation in the industry. The gender divide between men (92%) and women (5%) developers is among the starkest in the knowledge work sector. Women make up 14% of total software engineers and 25% of computer science-related jobs. Women software engineer hires have only increased by 2% over the last 21 years. Women comprise 26% of computing-related jobs, African-American women hold just 3% of computing-related jobs, 6% are held by Asian women, and 2% by Hispanic women. While we are unfortunately seeing a shift back into the physical locations for work, as the demand for IT talent continues to rise, we will see more flexibility that aligns with what women want in their careers. The thing that I predict will stay the same is that employees will continue to want “meaningful” work. They will demand that their work contributes to a better society. We will continue to see companies contribute to their communities meaningfully, even if it isn’t directly through their products and services but through initiatives to “give back.” You will continue to see companies look for ways to create engaging and inclusive environments through robust BRG organizations where people can bring their whole selves to work and be admired and appreciated for their whole selves!

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Employers must build cultures where all employees feel empowered to contribute to the company’s success. I would ensure they have strong Affinity groups or BRGs, so employees feel they are part of a community, have support, and are valued for their diverse and innovative thoughts and ideas. Women were 22% more likely than their male counterparts to experience “Imposter Syndrome” in the workplace (the overwhelming feeling of being out of place compared to colleagues). I would create clear career paths and transparency so that you have fewer challenges with pay equity and the team members see the ability to elevate their careers. 66% of women report there is no clear path forward for them in their careers at their current companies. I would ensure you stay competitive on benefits and find ways to give back to your local communities. Companies that provide “meaning and purpose” for staff to feel that they contribute to achieving in addition to productivity and revenue generation will attract and retain top talent.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

Work flexibility is a big gap between what employees want and what employers still expect from their talent. 71% of HR leaders say remote work helped hire and retain more employees from diverse backgrounds. And only one in 10 women wants to work onsite. With this in mind, many companies have returned to in-person expectations and abandoned remote and hybrid schedules, particularly for women. One in ten states that the only reason they have taken or stayed with their employer is flexibility in the work environment. This will be essential to the workforce contributors of the future. If there are options, women particularly will choose employers with the most flexibility in scheduling and physical work environments. Companies must offer flexibility in “how” their employees work if they want to attract and retain the best talent in the market. Employer benefits will need to focus on improved Parental leave, better “care” benefits for childcare, elderly parent care, focus on Health and Wellness, and finally, the benefits packages will need to be a la carte as one size will not fit all. Future employees want choices to match their work and their benefits to their circumstances.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

During the pandemic, people were forced to evaluate how they had been balancing their work and personal lives. The shift occurred for many when they discovered how much they were missing by not having the flexibility to be truly “present” in their family lives. The “one life” decisions that emerged from the post covid world of work put employees in the driver’s seat. They want more flexibility in their work week, how many hours, and how they complete their work. They want to decide “where” to complete their work, in the office, at home, or on the beach. Employees also came through the pandemic with a heightened desire to do “meaningful work.” As employers focus on building their future workforce and being competitive, they must consider that the top talent will want more than just a paycheck.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

Specifically for women, the pandemic showed that women still burden with most of the “care” responsibilities. 33% cite that they are solely responsible for childcare responsibilities within their families. More and more women were forced to exit the workforce due to childcare necessities or even elderly parent care. However, the women that stayed in the workforce and balanced the unexpected requirements of teaching while their children did e-learning from home, worked their primary job from home and managed to keep their marriages together or even improved their marriages, those women are unstoppable now. They gained confidence and improved their already prevalent multitasking skills and gained confidence. They recognize their worth in all areas of their lives and take full advantage of that knowledge and confidence.

I know many women that elevated their careers post-pandemic due to negotiating more pay and navigating to more strategic work.

For a future of work that works for everyone, companies need to create a culture where women can survive and thrive in their careers. They need to offer flexibility, benefits to support “care” responsibilities, and transparency in pay and career advancement.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

There is significant room for improvement. As we see multiple generations working well together in the workforce coupled with ongoing demographic shifts and some groups aging out of the workforce, there is an opportunity for diverse hiring and a focus towards DE&I initiatives. As the Gen Z workforce continues to grow, we will see change, and they will lead it. Today the hiring statistics are very challenging for women in tech. Today’s staggering statistics for Women in Tech are listed below, at least some that I think we should watch:

  • 48% of women in STEM jobs report discrimination in the recruitment and hiring process.
  • 39% of women view gender bias as a primary reason for not being offered a promotion.
  • Women of color only make up 18% of entry-level positions, as opposed to 30% of white women and 35% of white men
  • In the 2020 study, 44% of female founders said they’d been harassed, and the percentage grew to 65% for LGBTQ founders.
  • Women account for 48% of entry-level hires but only 38% of first-level managers.
  • Women account for only 16% of senior-level tech jobs and 10% of executive positions
  • Women own only 5% of tech startups

However, young women are critical in building diverse and inclusive teams. They are more likely than older women to be women of color and identify as LGBTQ+. They are also more likely than more senior employees and men in their age group to practice allyship at work actively. These younger women in tech will drive improvements in gender bias for hiring and improve DE&I missions and results!

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

Companies are adding affinity groups to their diversity BRGs that include “Having Difficult Conversations” and then providing topics like Race, LGBTQ+, and other issues that have previously been taboo in the workplace. While that one is harder to execute but provides a healthy outlet for their employees, we are seeing other more simplified ways to focus on Health and Wellness. In our company, we offer meditation sessions monthly. We offer Health and Wellness quarterly expense opportunities for our staff to expense memberships at a gym of their choice, YMCA memberships, and any other expense that aligns with their improved wellness. In my prior organization, we invested in a sleep app that aligned with our sales CRM and could track how our sleep aligned with our progress in sales and other production statistics. I have also heard of other apps that companies are offering staff to do meditation, relaxation, and other forms of improved health and wellness.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation .’’ The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation .’ What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

The labor market is still tight. Employees are still driving individual choices for employment. While the headlines continue to push the significant layoffs in tech, the job report released today shows tech as one of the highest hiring levels. We call it the great reshuffling in tech. We surveyed over 1500 technologists laid off in Sept — Nov 2022, and 74% of those laid off in that time have found jobs. However, the big story here is that women were lagging in the ability to land roles. Only 17% of men that were off are still looking for work, while 32% of the women laid off have yet to find jobs. Companies need to continue to focus on gender equity and pay equity. Employees seek employers who understand that talent is still in demand. They will be looking for a company that fits their needs. Employees want flexibility, to focus on health and wellness, to do meaningful work, and to be paid fairly and at market rates for their work. They still have a lot of choices in the market, and they are aligning with companies that align with their “individual” needs.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. Tech Reshuffling: While we have seen unprecedented layoffs in the tech space, the unemployment rate in tech is still under 2%; thus, talent is still in high demand. I don’t foresee this changing significantly anytime soon. We surveyed over 1500 technologists in the layoffs in Q4, and 74% had already landed new jobs by January of 2023, accepted an offer, or started a new job.
  2. Demographic Shifts: Employers need to adapt to the needs, wants, and expectations of Gen Zers. Our recent research shows that the Gen Z population is taking the tech layoffs as an opportunity to reevaluate their careers. They are 3Xs more likely than Millennials to wait on the sidelines. They are less focused on working simply for money. They want purpose, and a company focused on improving the world. They are most concerned about diversity and ensuring companies have a culture to bring one’s whole authentic self to work. This is a new way of thinking and keeps the employee in the driver’s seat, whereas in the past, it was simply about paying above the market rate. It will be interesting to see the companies that understand the shift and how they build hiring and retention strategies to adjust.
  3. Human Enhancement to Digitalization: While technology enhances all aspects of our lives and work, human elements are critical to our world of work in the future. Workers seek diversity in their collaboration, in products and services. The “people” in a company and the ability to layer creativity, social engagement, and collaboration are all cited as essential in the future world of work. So companies will need to use technology to enhance the ability to do these things remotely, but the need for human connection will remain strong regardless of technical progress.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired.

What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back.” I learned early in my career at a large Enterprise size company where I was the only woman in the leadership circle to survive. I would have to have a tribe of women in my Network to support me. I depended on those women then and still rely on them today. They have been there with me through the good and bad times. We tell each other the truth, even if it isn’t what we want to hear. We help each other see things from different lenses. If you build a “great” tribe, you make it with women who are not like you. I met a group of women early in my career through a diversity initiative where my company asked me to mentor other female entrepreneurs in our industry. I learned more from them than I’m sure they learned from me. I was fortunate that they were all so different from me and unique. One was a black, small business owner from Philly who was 20 years my senior. One was an immigrant from Albania who came to the US and started a business in Arizona while learning English as her second language. She was ten years my junior, and three other women closer to my age but with different backgrounds and political perspectives. I have leaned on this group of women for over 20 years to guide me on decisions based on how they perceive and observe things differently than I do. They have taught me to seek diverse opinions in my workplace and always accept feedback as a gift.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might see this if we tag them.

Melinda French Gates, her experience in tech and her passion for women in tech, I would love to introduce myself and our brand and gain insights from her on how she would recommend we improve our go-to-market strategy to impact our mission more quickly and turn the statistics around for female technologies and female leaders in technology.

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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.