Can’t Find Women for Your Tech Teams? Adjust Your Hiring Practices

Diversity in hiring

“I think it’s very important to get more women into computing. My slogan is: computing is too important to be left to men.”

~ Karen Spärck Jones, Computer Scientist, Professor at Cambridge Computer Laboratory

Where are all the women in tech? Sadly, women still make up less than 24 percent of the global IT workforce, and there are myriad reasons why companies can’t seem to find women for their tech teams. A Kapersky survey found that half the women they spoke to pursue a career in IT, and/or hear of job openings, via their own boots on the ground research. (Hint: that takes a lot of time, folks!) They also found women received very little encouragement while in school/college/university, and sadly, few had female role models who influenced their choices. In fact, almost 40 percent of the women in tech surveyed said that last factor – few women in the field – made them think twice about even entering the tech field.

We’ve written about this incredible ripple effect created by female underrepresentation in the tech industry. Scarcity of female role models for young women, lack of mentorship for those just starting in the field, missing sponsorship from senior executives as they move through the ranks, and lack of opportunities for growth, to name just a few. And we’ve also explored how important it is to have diverse teams working for your organization – and how that diversity can have a huge – and very positive – impact on a company’s bottom line.

So, what gives? Why aren’t tech companies easily filling their rosters with incredible women of all ages and ethnic backgrounds? It could be because their hiring practices are still stuck in the ’80s.

Recognize Unconscious Bias, and Adjust Your Hiring Practices

“Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels.” That fantastic adage is often used to describe the hoops women in technology jump through to survive and thrive in IT. But that’s if they get there at all. Unfortunately, when it comes to hiring, unconscious bias remains.

Hare you heard people make these statements? Or maybe thought them yourself? “Women aren’t as fearless as men. Women are weaker. Women aren’t great with numbers. They will just run off and have babies. They take too much family leave.” Sounds positively archaic, doesn’t it?

Still, there are positive steps hiring managers can take to adjust hiring practices, bring them into the 21st century, and recognize and address their personal bias so it doesn’t negatively impact their decision making.

Let’s look at a few of them:

Start as you mean to go on: Tech companies and small start-ups must prioritize gender inclusivity from the get-go. Like attracts like, making it easier to find women for future roles. Expand your networking groups to include more women either already in tech, or who use tech in their careers peripherally. Start keeping track of diversity and gender inclusivity among your teams early on and as you grow, and ensure that opportunities for growth, mentorship, and training are available to everyone. Don’t just assume it’s happening.

Don’t rely on AI for hiring: Remember back in 2018 when Amazon had to ditch its secret, AI driven resume sorting software? Launched in 2014, within the year the system had taught itself that male candidates were preferable, and the company realized the system “…was not rating candidates for software developer jobs and other technical posts in a gender-neutral way.” Sure, some AI technology can help sift through hundreds or applicants, or assist in scheduling interviews, etc., but don’t rely too heavily on software when hiring, and keep eyes peeled for statistical anomalies when sifting through selected candidates.

Check your language in job descriptions: Women are already hyper-aware of, and usually turned off by, tech’s bro culture reputation. Leave traditionally masculinized language at the door when drafting job descriptions. Terms like engineer, project manager, or developer read more gender-neutral than hacker, rock star, or guru. And the ever popular “work hard, play hard”…? Just no.

If diversity and inclusion are already part of your corporate culture – include that information: Outline benefits that set you apart from competitors – flex time, family leave, work from home options, etc. Add links to your leadership team webpage to highlight women in power, as well as opportunities for development and growth.

Create standardized interview procedures and questions: While it’s natural to use some gut instinct and emotional connection to a person when hiring, it can also create unconscious biases during the interview process. That great guy you “just clicked with” may not be the best person for the job. While it might feel a bit mechanical, a standardized interview process allows you to know exactly what you are hiring for, and rank how each person fared, gender be damned.

Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to explore creative ways to source a pool of applicants. Capital One holds hackathons in an effort to recruit more women, and, depending on where you’re located, there are outside, tech-specific hiring firms with deep knowledge of the local talent pool. Engage with tech-related networking groups and sites, and get to know freelancers who could add value to your company.

Discrimination and Bias Will Never Completely Vanish

It behooves us women already working in IT and technology to help other women and girls succeed. Need some guidance in that area? Pick up Kelley Irwin and Debra Christmas’ book Please Stay: How Women in Tech Survive and Thrive. It’s chock full of advice and personal  stories from women of every age, and every career level.

We must all work together to change behaviours and make use of more systematic levers to minimize discrimination and eventually make it a non-issue. The industry is starting to reduce this by removing names from resumes and expanding the hiring personnel to identify a diverse group of candidates. These practices will make a dent in the issue and eventually get us to the 50 percent level. But even with all those efforts, if in fact more women are hired, what dynamics in the workforce will they have to deal with? Will we exchange one set of challenges for another? That is yet to be seen, but either way, we must keep fighting for equal representation in this amazing field of technology.