Despite improvements in gender equality in the workplace, the tech industry continues to lag behind. Women make up over 50 percent of today’s workforce in the United States, but they’re still noticeably absent in the tech industry. Even more than simply having stagnated in outdated gender ratios, the tech industry gender gap is worsening. According to a 2013 American Association of University Women study, the percentage of computing jobs held by women in the United States was down from 35 percent in 1990 to 26 percent in 2013.
Part of the problem lies in the pipeline. According to Girls Who Code, 74 percent of young girls express interest in STEM fields and computer science. However, only 18 percent of undergraduate computer science degrees and 26 percent of computing jobs are held by women. Something is happening between early childhood and early adulthood that is discouraging women from choosing to go into technology, or is preferentially encouraging women to go into other fields.
As an employer, fixing the pipeline problem is probably not your priority. We leave that primarily for initiatives in education and nonprofits focused on getting more girls to stay in technology through university. The gender gap in technology is not, however, entirely a pipeline problem. From job ads with male-biased language like ‘rockstar’ and ‘ninja,’ to male-biased perks like free beer in the office, to unconscious gender biases in interviewing, the hiring process for tech jobs is fraught with deterrents for women and aids in maintaining the status quo.
Even if closing the gender gap in tech weren’t an important social issue, it would still be an important business issue. Diversity improves business results and that holds true for gender diversity. According to a 2013 Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology report, when Fortune 500 companies have at least three female directors, return on invested capital jumped over 66 percent, return on sales went up 42 percent, and return on equity increased 53 percent.
It’s infamously difficult to recruit women for tech positions and just as much of a struggle to retain them. Some companies, however, are excelling at doing so. Read on to find out how companies like ThoughtWorks manage to have hiring classes composed of up to 57 percent women, without sacrificing quality of hire or resorting to outlandish tactics.
After making gender diversity a hiring priority, Etsy saw minimal results. One year, Etsy even experienced a 35 percent decline in gender diversity. Finally, Mark Hedlund, Etsy’s VP of Engineering, launched ‘Etsy Hacker Grants’ to provide need-based scholarships for women enrolling in Etsy’s Hacker School, a three month course to teach people how to be better engineers.
By switching their approach from try to recruit female senior engineers to recruiting junior engineers and developing them in their Hacker School, they became successful in improving gender diversity on their tech team. After running the program in summer 2012, Etsy hired eight female engineers — free of recruiter contingency fees and already somewhat integrated into the company.
ThoughtWorks applied a similar approach to increase its number of female employees, but took it even further. By actively recruiting in industries outside of computer science and offering extensive training to those unconventional candidates, ThoughtWorks nearly doubled its percentage of women in tech roles, from 17 percent to 32 percent. “We do not just look at education and the typical boxes when meeting a candidate” says Joanna Parke, the managing director of the company’s North America division. “We look at the whole picture. Their life journey, their curiosity and of course their technical proficiency.”
With self-taught coding becoming more and more common for career changers or recent grads finding their original industry of choice less than lucrative, considering developing these unconventional candidates can be a great way to widen your talent pool, both for female developers and generally.
ThoughtWorks’ interview process is partially to thank for their great success in increasing the amount of female tech talent that they hire. They deliberately combat the unconscious biases of interviewers with their untraditional approach to interviewing. Each candidate is interviewed by at least two employees and they strive for having at least one female interviewer involved in every interview.
The interviewers then discuss their thoughts on the candidate and any vague statements, like stating that a candidate didn’t seem like a good fit, are challenged. If those statements cannot be properly supported, they are ultimately dismissed and not included in the assessment of the candidate.
To bring about real change, you must be aggressive in seeking out female candidates for your tech positions. If they haven’t considered your company before, you must be proactive in bringing your company to their attention and making it clear that you are interested in developing greater gender diversity at your company. There are many different talent diversification strategies that can work.
Building marketing and sales content that is directly targeted at women can help bring your company to the attention of female developers. Alternately, advertising open positions on media and social media outlets that are focused on women more directly puts working at your company on their minds. For a more personal touch, attend women-focused career fairs, especially if they have a tech spin. You’ll be surrounded by opportunities to diversify your tech team!
Once you have gotten your company in front of female tech talent, you need to offer them what they want. That brings us to number four.
Though women make up over 50 percent of the US workforce today, women still tend to hold a disproportionately large role in the household and in parenting. Offering generous paid parental leave allows female tech talent to stay on your team, even when growing their families. However, offering generous paid maternal leave isn’t enough if you have a stingy paternal leave policy, or don’t offer it at all.
"Equal paid leave is critical because it can help weaken the stereotypes that lead to gender inequality in the workplace," says Jen Dulski, COO of Change.org. Due to historical precedent and the still uneven distribution of household labor and parenting responsibilities among the genders, employers assume that new mothers will take longer leave than new fathers. This assumption creates biases in hiring, salary, and promotion decisions. Equalizing parental leave between the genders will help reduce those biases and promote a more gender equal workplace.
Offering generous parental leave has further benefits for your company, beyond attracting female tech talent. "If they [parents] take leave available to them, they feel the company is more supportive and is invested in their future, and they will more than likely return to the same company," says Chris Duchesne, vice president of global workplace solutions at Care.com. Inspiring greater loyalty in your tech employees can only benefit your company, especially in the poaching-prone, high churn tech industry.