How to hire more women in tech: Improve candidate experience

hire more women in tech: improve candidate experience
Women in tech are like gold dust: hard to find and incredibly valuable! Recruiters and HR managers should therefore be doing everything they can to encourage female candidate to apply for new roles, stick with the recruitment process and accept Europe’s best tech jobs. We spoke to 74 women working in tech, and only 19.3% thought recruitment processes actively put women off – which is great news! But 95.4% 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 it means we need to take action. Sneak a peek at what else they said. how to hire more women in tech

In this blog post, you will discover:
  • Why there’s a shortage of women in tech:
    • where and how startups look for tech talent
    • how startups engage candidates
    • unconscious bias
  • What tech recruiters believe needs to change
  • How startups can balance the gender of their tech teams
    • include female employees in the recruitment process
    • promote family-friendly policies
    • change job descriptions
    • be aware of gender bias

Why is there a shortage of women in tech?

1. The hunt for tech talent

Problem number one: where and how startups look for tech talent.
  • Most young tech companies are expanding so rapidly they have no formal hiring processes or HR oversight to oversee diverse hiring
  • In the early stages, founders prioritise the product. And it’s easier and quicker for them to hire within their own network
  • 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.)
  • 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. And they’re likely to be from similar social circles, cultures and backgrounds

2. Unconscious bias

Even companies with the best intentions can suffer from unconscious bias. And it’s a huge problem because it’s unconscious – we don’t realise we’re doing it! 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. We will go into more detail in the next section. But in the meantime, here’s a quick summary of some of the things startups do to put active female candidates off:
  • Include words like “hacker”, “competitive” and “dominant” in their job ads
  • Fill their careers websites with images of tech teams playing table football or drinking beer on a terrace
  • Fail to openly publish maternity and paternity policies
  • Miss out on the opportunity to involve female employees in the interview process

What did the recruiters we spoke to believe needs to change? 

50% of the recruiters we spoke to believe the tech teams in their startups are made up of less than 10% women. The percentage of women graduating with a computer science degree is 18%. So startups can’t sit back and blame “the pipeline” – the number of women studying technical degrees. Startups do need to support the next generation, but they also need to do more to encourage women to apply for tech jobs and stick out the recruitment process. The recruiters we spoke to believe that startups need to change their “competitive natures”, “pizza and beer cultures” and “masculine management who don’t do anything about diversity” if they want to hire more women.  

What are recruiters already doing to hire more women? 

54% 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

What steps can recruiters take to hire more women?

There are lots of things recruiters and HR teams can do, right now, to attract and engage female candidates. Importantly, action does not have to involve positive discrimination, lowering standards for women or dramatically changing hiring processes.

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

In our blog post on startup culture, we discussed the importance of making women “visible” within the company, 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.

Nederlia research 2018


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.

Nederlia research 2018

  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

Promote family-friendly policies76% of the women we spoke to would be more likely to apply for a job if the company included policies such as maternity leave and flexible working in job descriptions and on careers websites, and discussed 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.”

Nederlia research 2018

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.

Nederlia research 2018


3. Change job descriptions

37.7% of respondents believe job descriptions need to be reviewed to exclude words such as “hacker”, “rockstar”, “competitive” and “expert”. The words used in job descriptions and careers websites influence a candidate’s perception of a company, and whether or not they apply. Words such as “hacker” and “competitive” can imply an overly masculine culture. Words such as “adaptable” and “creative” attract women, whereas “ambitious” and “assertive” appeal more to men.  So think carefully about the way you talk to candidates. You could run your job ads through this amazing gender decoder to check they’re gender-neutral.  

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).

Nederlia research 2018


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

Nederlia research 2018

  Another issue women highlighted was their lack of confidence and reluctance to apply to a job if they feel they don’t meet all the criteria. 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. Take a look at our job descriptions if you need some inspiration.  Here are six more ways you could change job descriptions to hire more women in tech.  

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.

Nederlia research 2018


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…)

Nederlia research 2018

  Gender bias is probably the hardest aspect of the recruitment process to change. But 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. 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?”
Some 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. You could write a list of what makes an “ideal candidate” (and make sure it’s objective, and based on skills and aptitude). This can help avoid the typical startup mistake of only hiring candidates who are “a good fit”.  

We’ve created a free guide to help startups hire more women in tech.

From changing startup culture and candidate experience to supporting the next generation, there are lots of simple steps you can take to attract, engage and retain more female candidates. It’s time to start finding and hiring more women!

Elisa Alston
Elisa Alston