Women in tech are like gold dust, so recruiters and HR managers should be doing everything they can to encourage female candidate to apply for new roles, stick with the recruitment process and accept Europe’s most awesome tech jobs.


Of the women we surveyed, only 19.3% thought recruitment processes actively put women off - which is great news!


But 95.4% of IT professionals felt that recruiters and HR teams need to do more to engage women and improve their candidate experience.


This is a pretty staggering percentage, and means we need to take action. 


Sneak a peek at what else they said.



First up, what’s the problem?


1. The hunt for talent


Where and how startups look for new employees is problem number one.


  • Research shows that we’re instinctively more likely to hire people who are like us. And that’s a problem because 93-97% of startup founders are male. Need proof? U.S. tech startups with at least one female founder have more than 48% women. (Twice the number of tech startups with no female founders.) 


  • Most young tech companies are expanding so rapidly they have no formal hiring processes or HR oversight to oversee diverse hiring



  • Small startups are heavily influenced by their founders, so they often have an over-reliance on "cultural fit" or "gut feeling". This is a problem because it's subjective and unquantifiable. Plus, research shows that interviewees are more likely to believe candidates with similar backgrounds to existing employees are a good “cultural fit”


  • The shortage of tech talent means startups initiate referral programmes to encourage workers to hire friends, acquaintances and old colleagues - likely to be from similar social circles, cultures and backgrounds


This has been changing dramatically over the last few years, and as more women enter the tech world, startups’ networks will continue to broaden and diversify - more great news!

2. Unconscious bias


Even companies with the best intentions can suffer from unconscious bias - I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of it before. Don’t believe us?


Check out this research:


  • When identical CVs were sent out, half with a woman's name and half with a man's, 79% of applicants with a man’s name versus 49% of those with a woman’s were deemed “worthy of hire”




  • LinkedIn Search queries are more likely to produce male names than female names - the result of human-generated algorithms and machine learning from a pattern of more searches for male names 



No recruitment or HR team wants to admit they have bias in the hiring process, but unfortunately it is sometimes inevitable. Even if startups have a blind screening process, bias can occur during interviews and while making an offer.



3. Engaging candidates


As well as looking in the wrong places for passive tech talent, startups are missing out on the opportunity to engage female developers and designers who are actively looking for a new role.


Job ads and careers websites full of words like “hacker”, “competitive” and “dominant”, or images of tech teams playing table football - big surprise coming up - are not as appealing to women as they are to men.


Similarly, as we discussed in the last post, failing to openly publish maternity and paternity policies, or not having a woman on the interview panel are simple mistakes that could turn off female applicants.



We asked women in tech what needs to change:


Several of the recruiters we spoke to don’t want to favour women in the hiring process or look specifically for female candidates, as they favour “gender neutrality”. They felt the problem can only be dealt with earlier in the pipeline - encouraging more women to study tech-related subjects at school and university - rather than changing recruitment processes.


“We do not have to improve tech recruitment processes in order to hire more women. We have to tackle the root cause.”


“If the problem is as the source (which is what I believe) then the work should be done in universities. There should be more women tech leaders, role models, speaking at conferences, or giving talks at universities.”


18% of computer science degrees are held by women, but 50% of the recruiters we spoke to believe their companies actually have less than 10% women. The lack of women in tech is therefore not just a “pipeline problem”.


However, a small majority of the recruiters we spoke to believe there are aspects of the hiring process that can be improved, and felt the problem also lies in startups' “competitive natures”, “pizza and beer cultures” and “masculine management who don’t do anything about diversity”.


54% of the recruiters we spoke to do go out of their way to find female candidates, by:

  • Going to women-focused conferences, such as Women in Mobile, Barcelona
  • Using platforms such as LinkedIn, GitHub, Stack, Entelo
  • Working with associations and initiatives that promote gender diversity
  • Going to women in Tech meet-ups
  • Working on specific campaigns or roles with recruitment agencies


40% have worked in companies that have run specific campaigns to hire more women. These campaigns included:

  • Changing the wording in job descriptions
  • Analysing and removing bias from the hiring process
  • Empowering and promoting existing female employees 
  • Attending events, organising meetups and working with non-profits
  • Working with universities


It’s clear that we need to take action, and action doesn’t have to involve positive discrimination, lowering standards for women or dramatically changing hiring processes.



Some steps recruiters can take immediately:


1. Include a woman (or two!) on interview panels


We’ve already discussed the importance of making women “visible” in startups, but they also need to be visible during the recruitment process.

44.3% of the developers we asked believe there should always be at least one female interviewer.


"Most of the interviews I've been in were held by men, I would suggest also having a female conduct the interview not just a male."


"When there's an panel interview, most of the time the interviewers are all men and the management style is very much male. It would be good to show female candidates that diversity is valued and organise the process in a way they feel appreciated."


If you have female team leads, senior engineers or senior managers, this should be an easy change to implement. And if you don’t, perhaps it’s worth looking at the gender balance of your company and making some deeper changes.


2. Promote family-friendly policies


As we discussed in our previous post on startup culture, 76% of the women we spoke to believe startups should include policies such as maternity leave and flexible working in job descriptions and on careers websites, and discuss them openly during the interview process. 


Startups need to prioritise “transparency for salaries, maternity leave, health insurance, and other company policies which will encourage women to pursue a career and motherhood.”


3. Change job descriptions


37.7% believe job descriptions need to be reviewed to exclude words such as “hacker”, “rockstar”, “competitive” and “expert”.


The words used in job descriptions have a huge influence on a candidate’s perception of a company, and whether or not they apply. Words such as “hacker” and “competitive” imply an overly masculine culture, and words such as “adaptable” and “creative” attract women, whereas “ambitious” and “assertive” appeal more to men. 


Several respondents noted women's lack of confidence and reluctance to apply to a job if they feel they don't meet all the criteria.


"Women tend to lie less and be more sincere with their CVs than men. Men dare to make more of their knowledge while women tend to diminish them. Human resources companies should take this into account."


"Amongst other issues, the language is not very inclusive and the requirements are too numerous (resulting in men being hired who do not have everything that was asked, but were not shy in applying)." 


"A lot of the time, women assume they are not as good as their male counterparts, when this is in fact untrue."


Research shows that men apply for a job if they meet 60% of the qualifications, while women apply only if they meet near 100%So think about separating skills that are absolutely required from those that are desired, and keep the “required” skills to a minimum.


For more ideas of ways startups can make job descriptions more appealing to women, check out this amazing Twitter story.



4. Be aware of gender bias


“I think society perhaps considers a man to be "technically better" than a woman, although they have the same experience.”


“Some bosses prefer to hire a man over a woman because the man would be more efficient. (He can stay late for work, he doesn't get pregnant or go on a parental leave for a long time...)”


Gender bias is probably the hardest aspect of the recruitment process to change, as we don’t realise we’re doing it! But the bottom line is: we’re all biased as a result of our experiences - and unfortunately the AI software we use to screen candidates can be biased too.


But there are some things we can do:


  • Hold men and women accountable to the same standards in the interview process  


  • Avoid “affinity bias” - instinctively hiring people that have similar hobbies, went to the same university, etc


  • Replace motherhood with parenthood. Ask male employees about their life at home, implement paternity leave and avoid asking women interview questions about their family life as it can imply “are you going to be leaving us to have a child?”


Several of the recruiters we spoke to said they want to pick the “best person for the job” regardless of gender. But what counts as “best” can be biased. Taking the time to write a list of what makes an “ideal candidate” (and making sure it’s objective, and based on skills and aptitude) can help avoid the typical startup mistake of only hiring candidates who are “a good fit”.


The good news? There are a million things recruiters and HR teams can do. Take a look at the Hire More Women in Tech website for more ideas, stats and examples of how to improve hiring processes.