A Guide to Increasing Gender Diversity in Your Tech Teams
Looking to improve your gender diversity? Here are five areas to focus on.
Part 1: Advertising
An obvious starting point for gender inclusion is the hiring process. Consider where you advertise your open positions, and know that women and men respond differently to job ads. For instance, LinkedIn behavioral data indicates that women who view job ads end up applying to 20% fewer jobs than men. Also, you need to be intentional about removing bias from your job descriptions and look to promote your maternity leave, flexible working hours and other benefits in your job ad that are important to women.
If you’re trying to target mothers, make sure your ad promotes flexibility in the role. After they’ve had children, many women don’t return to the workforce due to parental commitments. Simultaneously, few highly skilled positions advertise the ability to be part-time or flexible. If you have the budget for one full-time employee, consider changing the position to accommodate two employees three days a week as a part-time job-share arrangement. I’ve seen this done in software development and it works well. And I’d bet you’ll get way more productivity from those three days a week than you might expect.
If you’d like to learn more about removing bias from job descriptions, have a look at appendix A and B of this article by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology to see what language is recommended. You can also leverage tools like textio, which has a gender bias meter.
Where you advertise also has an impact. There are organizations that specialize in building gender-diverse teams, such as Work180, WiT, The Mom Project and ProjectF. Many of these organizations have job boards for their members or networks that provide direct access to pools of female talent.
Part 2: Hiring
Remember that the hiring process starts before you advertise. Before placing your ad, you should decide which metrics you will hold yourself accountable to. Will you hold yourself accountable for having 50% female candidates before you start the interviewing process? This is the approach taken by Philip Barlow, Director Partner Technology & CTO, Global Partner Solutions at Microsoft ANZ.
And know that it’s not enough to just tell recruiters, “I want at least x% female candidates,” and walk off. As hiring manager, you need to take an active role and show your teams and the community that you are sincere about your intent to hire females. Become active. Search LinkedIn and your network for potential female talent and reach out personally. In my experience, potential candidates respond at a much higher rate to me as CTO than to a recruiter. It’s more personal.
If you want to support more women getting into the technology space, consider partnering with a university or creating a female graduate program. Research shows that approximately 34% of STEM graduates are women, and yet only about 17% of the ICT industry are women. Clearly, there’s some work to do here. One solution is to host information sessions at universities. If you offer free food and drinks, then you’re almost guaranteed an audience.
In the advertising section above, I mention unconscious bias in job ads. Bias also exists when reading and reviewing resumes. Some organizations use tools to remove gender and other bias from resumes with the goal of creating a neutral playing field that won’t trigger unconscious bias from the reader. Allsorter.com is one such tool that does this.
Part 3: Building an inclusive culture
Even if you manage to succeed in hiring female talent, if you don’t have an inclusive culture, you may find your competitors quickly snatching up the talent you so diligently searched for. Here are some things to consider when trying to build an inclusive culture.
First, be sure you have a way to showcase female talent within your organization. According to a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, women consistently rated their performance on a test lower than men, even though both groups had the same average score. As men are generally more at ease with self-promotion than women, they are more likely to put themselves forward for a promotion. If you showcase your female leadership team and help these leaders tell their stories, you will build the confidence of your female employees.
Language is another subtle area of focus. Avoid using gender-specific language like “Mr. Customer” or “gentleman’s agreement.” More than the words themselves, the effort you put in will be recognized.
Be considerate about flexible working arrangements, and don’t place pressure on women to work on their off days, if it can be avoided. From personal experience, it means a lot when a leader says, “Please avoid Monday for setting up the workshop, this is Emma’s flex day.”
And I can’t stress enough the idea that inclusion needs to be coupled with equality. It is demoralizing for a female employee to learn she has male peers and direct reports who are paid more than her. Make a conscious effort to equalize pay. Women are less likely than men to ask for a pay rise. Men are more aggressive in these conversations so naturally tend to be more successful.
If you’d like to increase your focus on inclusion, you might consider enlisting the help of an external organization to advise you on how to become a gender-inclusive organization. One such company is ProjectF and their Program 50/50. This company can help you build an executable roadmap to invest and cultivate your female talent.
Part 4: Programs
Organizations that truly succeed in building gender diversity in male-dominated industries rarely just stumble across female candidates in the market. They must be deliberate in how they go to market, how they hire, the cultures they build and the programs they run. These may be informal, internal programs or structured public-facing programs. Here are some I’ve come across:
Cross-skilling and upskilling: There is a shortage of females with technology expertise in the technology market. Why not invest in growing this pool of talent? Identify female talent in non-technical roles such as customer service, product marketing or business operations who have an interest in technology. Offer them the opportunity to cross-skill. Then, support them with training, resources, mentoring and time. Make sure there is a role for them to move into once they’ve successfully completed training.
Internal mentoring: It’s ideal if you can coordinate a mentorship between a female leader or a less senior female team member, but a passionate male supporter can also be a great mentor. There are also external mentoring programs that you could encourage and support your female talent to join. I am part of the ProjectF mentoring program, and there are many others out there. Mentoring plays a key role in combatting imposter syndrome.
Internships and graduate programs: These programs are a direct link to female students or individuals looking to cross-skill. Internships offer a low-pressure opportunity for students to try new roles while building familiarity with your organization. This improves the chances they will apply for a full-time role once out of college. Partnering with a university is a straightforward way to establish one or both of these programs. It will raise your visibility to top female talent and ideally lead to adding new female members to your team.
Workshops: Google has an internal program called #Iamremarkable. This workshop empowers women and underrepresented groups to speak openly about their accomplishments in the workplace and beyond.
Don’t forget that returning to work after a break in the technology space can be intimidating. The industry moves so quickly that you can feel out of touch or behind the trends even after just one year. Imagine how it would feel after five or more years. Mothers who’ve been away for a while and are considering a return to work will often take a role that is a step down in seniority from their previous role, if they decide to return at all. To encourage mothers to return to work, VMware runs Return to Work programs that offer free technical education on their products and technology to bridge any gaps returning-to-work mothers might have.
Part 5: Organizations
Finally, throughout this article I mention many organizations that can help advise or bolster your efforts in building a gender-diverse team. I’m not officially endorsing these companies; they are just some I have come across or spoken with. If you decide to engage any of these companies, go through your own due-diligence process.
- The Mom Project - U.S.-based, job advertising - Serena Williams is on their team as strategic advisor
- Recruit at universities through organizations like Society of Women Engineers
- Women who code - U.S.-based, not-for-profit organization that offers resources to members and job advertising for companies
- Work 180 – AU/U.S./U.K.-based company that offers job advertising and other services
- ProjectF – AU-based company that provides membership services (networking, mentoring etc.) and advisory services to companies
- Allsorter.com – Reformat candidate resumes to remove bias
- Predictive Hire – Remove bias from the interview process through the innovative use of AI
- textio – Remove bias from job ad / descriptions.
Tech Recruiters: Stop Recruiting Women in IT. Do This Instead.
About the Authors
Emma has over 20 years’ experience in the tech industry. After technical roles such as night shift service desk operator, Windows administrator, DBA, Ad platform SME and technical project manager, Emma quickly worked her way up to management and leadership roles. She built and drove teams to deploy and support at scale web platforms, build cloud management software back before cloud in Australia was a thing, and provide cloud consulting to some of Australia’s largest organizations. Prior to becoming the APJ regional CTO, Emma built out the Professional Services and AWS Practices in Australia. She subsequently went on to lead technical Rackers across three teams: Architecture, Public Cloud Build and Professional Services for APJ. She contributes to global public cloud, professional services and product strategies and is a member of the global CTO technical council. She scoped and lead the technical integration for the Rackspace Technology partnership with KDDI in Japan. Emma created and locally developed Rackspace Technology’s Service Blocks™ offering, which offers organizations around the world a new way of consuming cloud services for better ROI and less wastage. Emma was recognized for her innovation by the industry when awarded the ARN Women in ICT, Winner Innovation, 2019. Emma is a mum to an 8-year-old and a 7-month-old and is an active advocate for women in tech.Read more about Emma Pudney