74% of young girls express an interest in STEM fields and computer science, but only 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees and 26% of tech jobs are held by women.
Historically, the tech sector has been white, young and male. Over the last two decades, the industry has worked hard to convince women to start – and stick out – careers in software engineering. Did you know there are only three female tech CEOs in the Fortune 500? What about the fact that less than 5% of total tech leadership positions are held by women? The sector clearly still has a long way to go.
Tech’s “women problem” is well-documented. But what are the solutions?
The good news is that there are some simple steps HR departments can take to hire more women.
Based on in-depth research and our experience in the industry, we’ve put together a guide to help HR teams, recruiters and talent acquisition specialists in the tech industry balance their tech teams. We spoke to 74 women working in tech, as well as women working in startups’ HR teams, to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to work in the industry and what they think needs to change.
In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to find and hire more women in tech. From supporting the next generation to changing startup culture and improving candidate experience, we’ve documented the changes you can implement to increase the number of women in your company – and retain them for longer.
Improve candidate experience
Hiring more women is a huge goal, and it can be hard to know where to begin.
As recruiters and HR managers, perhaps the best place to start is with the recruitment process itself. In theory it’s the area where HR teams exercise most control, so should be the easiest to change. Which is lucky, because women in tech believe startups still have some work to do.
Only 19.3% of the women we spoke to thought recruitment processes actively put female candidates 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.
Take a look at what else the women we interviewed had to say about candidate experience.
So, how can you improve the candidate experience for women in tech?
We’ve pulled together four steps recruiters and HR managers can take – right now – to improve candidate experience and make sure more women who apply for tech roles stick out the recruitment process.
1. Include a woman (or two!) on interview panels
Women don’t want to be the “first Senior Technical Engineer”. They’re much more likely to apply for a job if there are women in the company’s senior leadership team. They’re also more likely to accept an offer if they meet female employees during the recruitment process.
“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.”
If you have female team leads or senior engineers, balancing the gender of interviewers should be an easy change to implement. And if you don’t, perhaps it’s worth looking at the percentage of women in your company and making some deeper cultural changes.
2. Promote family-friendly policies
76% of the women we spoke to would be more likely to apply for a role if the company included policies such as maternity leave and flexible working in job descriptions and on careers websites.
Openly discussing family-friendly policies during the interview process demonstrates to female applicants that they can grow with the company and won’t have to choose between a family and a career.
Not sure what constitutes family-friendly HR? Add the following benefits to your compensation package:
- maternity and paternity leave and pay
- flexible start/finish times
- the opportunity to work from home
- carer’s leave
- childcare facilities or vouchers
- health insurance
3. Analyse job descriptions
The way a job is described has a huge impact on the type of candidates who apply. If you’re trying to hire more female engineers, do these three simple things:
- Swap words like “ambitious”, “assertive”, “hacker” or “competitive” for “adaptable”, “hard-working”, “motivated” and “creative”
- Separate skills that are absolutely required from those that are desired, and keep the “required” skills to a minimum (Men tend to apply for a job if they meet 60% of the qualifications, while women only apply if they meet near 100%)
- Run all your job descriptions through this incredible gender decoder to check they are gender-neutral
4. Tackle gender bias
Gender bias is probably the hardest aspect of the recruitment process to address. The bottom line is that we’re all biased as a result of our experiences. And, unfortunately, the AI software we use to screen candidates can be biased too.
The good news? There are three steps you can take to address innate gender bias that will help improve candidate experience:
- Avoid “affinity bias” – instinctively hiring people who have similar hobbies, went to the same university, etc
- Replace motherhood with parenthood. Ask male employees about their life at home, implement paternity leave, avoid asking women interview questions about their family life (as it can imply “are you going to be leaving us to have a child?”) and openly discuss your family-friendly HR policies
- Write an objective list of what makes an “ideal candidate”, based on skills and aptitude, to help you avoid hiring candidates based on instinct or because they’re “a good fit”
5. Actively look for female developers
Most of the recruiters we spoke to don’t favour women during the application process. But 54% do go out of their way to source female tech talent.
Is balancing your tech team a priority? Think about running a campaign specifically aimed at finding and hiring women or incorporating some of the following sourcing policies.
If you want to source more female candidates, you could try:
- 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
Change startup culture
Although the situation is improving, women working in tech still sometimes experience pay inequality, preconceived expectations or even sexual harassment. Several of the women we spoke to had faced discrimination either at work or whilst studying computer science at university.
Find out what else women in tech think startups need to change.
Even if a startup has a gender-neutral company culture, it’s understandably harder to convince a female applicant to join if they’re one of the first women in the tech team, you don’t offer a wide range of family-friendly benefits or you have discrepancies in pay between men and women.
Implement these four simple changes, and we guarantee it will be easier to find and hire female tech talent:
1. Make female employees visible
Women are more likely to accept a new job if the company has female leaders. So if you have a gender-balanced leadership team, shout about it from the rooftops! If you don’t (yet), there are still actions you can take to make your female employees more visible.
To increase the visibility of female employees, you could:
- Invite women in leadership positions to publish blog posts and articles, set up and publish events, and be physically present in interviews
- Think about setting up a gender-balanced diversity board and actively publish their initiatives on the company website and social media channels
- Make a conscious effort to ensure marketing materials are gender-balanced (that means photos need to include women, but it also means limiting the number of photos that show teams drinking beer on a terrace!)
- Actively publicise all the great work you’re about to start doing to nurture the pipeline (check out our next chapter)
2. Minimise the perception of “bro culture”
The tech world is known for its “work hard, play hard” culture. Football tables, games consoles and in-house bars are understandably more appealing to young, male employees who don’t have to rush home to look after children. Did you know that encouraging workers to relieve stress by “playing hard” can actually reinforce a toxic masculine culture?
Here are 6 easy steps you could take to minimise “bro” culture:
- Take complaints by female employees seriously. Fix flirty comments rather than explaining them away with phrases such as “that’s just the way it is around here”
- Enforce a fair, indiscriminate and transparent company culture, so it’s easier to hold employees accountable
- Use the same adjectives for women and men in performance reviews, and hold them to the same standards when giving bonuses and pay rises
- Make sure social activities don’t always revolve around sports or drinking, and remove the perception that employees need to join in or be left behind
- Write to female employees who’ve left the company and ask them to be honest about what it was like to work there, why they left and what they would change
3. Prioritise and promote benefits that appeal to women
There are certain aspects of jobs that the tech industry could focus on if they’d like to appeal to more women. For instance, a woman with children is probably going to value flexibility and the option to work from home.
76% of the developers we spoke to believe startups need to do more to prioritise and actively promote family-friendly policies.
Clearly setting out the company’s family-friendly policies and including them on the careers website, in job descriptions and discussing them openly in interviews are actions you can take immediately.
And if you don’t offer flexible hours, the opportunity to work part-time or remotely, or fair maternity and paternity policies, make them a priority in 2018.
4. Show you care about equal pay
As is the case in a majority of industries, the tech world has a giant gender pay gap.
If your startup already makes a concerted effort to ensure equal pay, then mention it in your diversity statement, publish an annual report to detail your progress and discuss the issue in interviews. Even if you’re not ready to openly publish salaries, taking these steps will demonstrate to potential female candidates that you care about the issue and are doing something about it.
Support the next generation
Startups need to work on their company culture and the experience they give female candidates. But simply addressing the tech gender imbalance when a female developer applies for a job or submits their CV at a careers fair is not enough.
Women in tech believe startups also need to nurture the next generation of female developers.
It was clear from our research that women lack female role models, educational opportunities and visibility. They lacked a sense of “belonging” to a tech community, but they also lacked the facts – the doors that open as a result of a computer science degree or the amount of money developers have the potential to earn, for example. Many respondents felt that the opportunity to meet women who work in the tech industry would have been invaluable when they were making their career choices.
These are all things that startups have the power to change.
Although the results may be long term, you can take these actions to support the next generation of female tech talent now:
1. Set up a mentorship program
“One-to-one encouragement is really important for women. It’s hard to be the only female in the room and it’s easy to feel like the odd-man-out.”
Our research showed that female developers value mentors, yet there is a lack of women available to provide leadership. Startups have an opportunity to step up and fill the gap.
Setting up and promoting mentorship programmes – and encouraging female staff to participate – will not only help nurture the next generation of developers, but will also make your startup more attractive to female candidates in the short term.
2. Sponsor or organise an event
An event could be something as simple as a tech meetup, panel of speakers or evening networking drinks. If you don’t have the resources available to set up an event from scratch, think about sponsoring an existing tech conference or university event and encouraging female employees to speak.
“There should be more women tech leaders and role models speaking at conferences or giving talks at universities.”
Need to convince the Senior Leadership Team? Setting up an event to connect, encourage and inform the next generation of female developers is also an incredible networking and marketing opportunity.
And don’t forget about your current employees! Organise regular internal events so female employees can network, invite a speaker and continue building the female tech community.
3. Support students and underrepresented groups
For women from minority groups or without the resources to enrol in higher education, it’s even harder to access the opportunities that lead to a career in tech.
There are lots of incredible programmes that encourage underrepresented groups to code. And you can support them with anything from a one-off donation to becoming an ambassador. Check out Girls Who Code and She Plus Plus. Supporting underrepresented groups is also a great way to engage existing female staff in volunteering programmes or fundraising events.
You could also think about sponsoring a prize for the best female student in a relevant course, or helping to fund a university scholarship for women who enroll in courses that could lead to a career in your company’s field.
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