The tech sector needs to be better at supporting women through their entire career – not just the start.
Globally, men dominate the tech sector; in the UK, they represent about 80% of the industry. There's been plenty of chatter about how to address that, much of it focusing on fixing the pipeline and attracting more young women.
But that hides a surprising statistic: of the women who work in technology today, half leave the sector by the age of 35. It seems that the pipeline out is much wider than the one leading in.
That's not (solely) down to feeling unwelcome; it can also relate to opportunities and career visibility.
"Families come in all shapes and sizes but only women can have babies - that's not something we've managed to share yet - so they are forced to take time away from work," said Lesley Salmon, global CDIO at Kellanova (formerly Kellogg's), giving the keynote speech at this year's Women in Tech Festival. "Before we know it, we've lost an amazing woman from the workforce."
Even for those women who manage to negotiate the return to work, IT is not a 9-5 job. Or, as Lesley put it: "The best time to do IT work is when nobody else is working."
That can't work for everyone. Lesley recalled having to call a single mother into the office to deal with a support issue at 3am: she had to wake her children up and bring them with her to sleep on the floor.
This is obviously not a perfect situation. Collaboration can help to an extent, but the onus is really on companies to "get better at welcoming mums back."
"Job shares aren't a part-time job"
Supporting the return to work can include elements like flexible working and job shares. The latter have a poor reputation, but it's not one they deserve.
"Don't sell a job share as a part-time job: I've had really, really successful experiences of having job shares in my teams, and also having some of my business partners job share with me. It works incredibly well."
On top of that, companies must recognise the value mothers bring in terms of skills:
"It's not like you're laid back, as a mum… A lot of the skills are transferrable to the workplace: multitasking; working under pressure; being agile; and knowing what to do in a crisis."
The importance of career visibility
But none of this will make a difference if women don't see value in returning to work - which, with the cost of childcare, many do not.
"Make sure your juniors understand their full career potential. If women go back to work and have nothing left in their salary at the end of the month, that can be really disheartening.
"You need to understand your future career potential. If you know that, as you continue to grow, your salary is also going to continue to go up, you're much more likely to return to the workplace and deal with a couple of years of low pay."
Lesley, fortunately, did not have to do that. She has always been the higher earner in her marriage, acknowledging her husband as "an absolute rockstar" who was "virtually a single dad" for several years while she built her career. However, when she was at home she did nothing but focus on their son.
"Focus on the things that matter."