While the overall percentage of women in the tech world has increased, a few years ago I experienced a close-up look at how wide the gender gap still is.
While working at a multimedia firm, I tried to create a gender-diverse tech team to work on application delivery projects. My efforts flopped. Out of the 100 people that applied, only about 10 were women.
This, of course, is not an isolated case. Across the U.S., women hold 57 percent of all professional jobs, but only 26 percent of the jobs in the computing sector.
What can we, as tech leaders, do to increase these numbers? We cannot sit back and wait for more women to apply. A better strategy is to take more of a proactive role to find women who can fill the jobs and fill them well. Simply put, we need to go where the women are.
In this article, we are focusing on finding women with advanced technical skills – information technology architects, engineers, coders and builders of infrastructure components. These are the areas where the women in technology shortfall is most apparent.
We are not going to close the gap overnight. But there are initiatives recruiters can take to attract more women to at least apply for jobs on technical teams, such as the one I led several years ago. How do we do it? Here are five ways to go.
Increase Recruitment at Smaller Colleges
A lot of attention is paid to the number of skilled women who are graduating from larger, well known universities. Schools such as the University of California-Davis, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Duke and Princeton are regularly recognized as the top producers of women in STEM fields.
But these big schools have not cornered the market. Many small colleges are landing on national lists of technology-focused programs that are attracting women and minorities. Examples cited by BestCollegesOnline.org include: Miles College in Fairfield, AL; Cumberland University in Lebanon, TN; Kentucky State University in Frankfurt, KY; Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC; and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, NM.
In addition, there are schools that may not land on the national lists, but are still committed to providing opportunities for women in technology-related fields.
Therefore, make a commitment to include a wide cross-section of institutions in your recruiting portfolio. Focus on local colleges, state schools and historically black colleges, as well as the more publicized elites. As the number of advanced technical jobs that need to be filled grows, recruiters will have to look in more places to fill teams with a diverse collection of talent.
Network, Network, Network
Networking programs in the workplace have their benefits. At the very least, they encourage like-minded people to talk about issues, goals and blockers that are getting in the way of those goals. At their best, they can provide a vehicle for change.
One way to promote networking among women in technology is for corporations to participate in groups that already have programs up and running. These include tech groups, such as Women Who Code and Girl Develop It. Women in your company can exchange ideas with others and bring back their insights to the larger group. These networking sessions can also promote your company’s commitment to women in tech, and inform other women in the community about positions your company has available.
Another way is to create a women’s network inside your own organization. Companies such as Stanley Black & Decker have formed groups, as part of diversity and inclusion initiatives, to develop women’s leadership skills. Having more women ascend into technology leadership roles can help encourage more women to apply for highly skilled, hands-on technology jobs.
Partner with Other Organizations
There is no reason to try to do it all alone. Groups like the National Center for Women in Technology have a wealth of resources to help companies develop programs to promote women in the technology field. Benefits include guidance on how to incorporate more diversity in the workplace, and access to research-driven data to increase women in the technology workforce.
Many groups focused on women in tech hold conferences. Make sure to have someone in your organization attend these events. The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is the largest annual gathering of women working in computing. Named after the renowned computer scientist and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral, the conference series features talk tracks, workshops, awards, forums and competitions. The 2019 event is being held in Orlando, October 1-4. Other technology conference programs have “women in tech” tracks that can serve as opportunities to recruit women.
Implement the Rooney Rule When Vetting Qualified Applicants
In 2003 the National Football League passed a rule that required teams to interview at least one minority candidate before filling vacant head coaching or other senior football operations positions. Named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the rule aimed to promote diversity in the coaching ranks.
Corporations with available tech jobs can invoke similar rules to encourage more women applicants – as long as the focus is first on qualifications. Require recruiters to present a diverse pool of qualified candidates for open positions, and commit to making a hiring decision only after you have reviewed the entire pool.
Project a Positive Image to Women
It is not enough to talk the talk about attracting women to join your technology workforce; you have to walk the walk. Review all job descriptions and make sure they present the company as welcoming to women and people of color.
For example, are you promoting a “bro culture” atmosphere? This can repel some women. I once reviewed a job description for a technology executive at a startup, and every other line mentioned the requirement to be a “hustler” – “Software engineering hustler! Coding hustler! Management hustler! Willing to work long nights and weekends. Snacks and beer keg provided!” Despite the renown of the company, I came away with the impression that this firm embodied Travis Kalanick’s infamous Uber bro culture, and chose not to apply.
Is your diversity statement canned, or does it sound genuine? Bumble, among others, states its diversity and inclusion statement at the top of the job description rather than as an afterthought at the bottom.
If your company has benefits such as flexible leave, child care availability and flexible work schedules, place a greater emphasis on these in the job description. Ping pong tables and open beer kegs are a nice perk, but flexible leave and work schedules tend to be more attractive to women.
Studies show that men will apply to a position if they only meet 60 percent of the requirements, whereas most women will only apply if they feel they meet 100 percent. This holds women back. Be concise (short, simple and to the point) in the must-haves in your job descriptions, rather than including a 20-point list of nice-to-haves.
Women have come a long way in technology, but there is still work to be done. The tech field will be stronger with a more diverse complement of technical people. But we cannot simply wait for this to occur. Forget the “women are not applying” excuse. We must become proactive – and make women in tech happen.
Starr Corbin is a Founding Partner at Corbin Solutions Group.