For International Women’s Day 2020, we gathered recommendations for recruiting more women in the tech industry, especially software development.
“Despite national conversations about gender diversity in tech,” says a recent article in CIO, “women are still underrepresented, underpaid and often discriminated against in the tech industry.” Though big tech companies are in the best position to lead widespread cultural change, women hold less than a quarter of tech jobs at Facebook, Apple, Google, and Microsoft (Amazon did not provide a number), per Statista, and represent less than a third of the total workforce at Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Lest we assume the problem is the education pipeline, note that a GAO report from 2015 found that the percentage of tech jobs held by women is 39% higher outside the tech sector (e.g., in retail or finance organizations) than in it. Whatever it is that’s keeping women out of the tech workforce, it seems to be worse in the tech industry itself.
In celebration of International Women’s Day 2020, we asked some experts: What recommendations do you have for software development organizations wanting to recruit more women?
Being a startup is tough. Sometimes you don’t have enough cash, or time, but you need the best people possible to build up your product and make sure you are competitive. We’re always trying to think of ways to reward our employees without breaking the bank, while also showing how much they matter to us and how much we value them. …
We have spent a lot of time exploring standard and fringe benefits, assessing how they can affect employee happiness. We also believe that people of differing backgrounds add different perspectives, leading to a stronger company and a stronger set of products. These benefits help us recruit a diverse company, with many of our current employees being LGBTQ+, international, or women. Other security companies struggle to find diverse candidates (e.g., cybersecurity is comprised of only 14% women). We feel like we’ve started down a good path.
—Ainsley Braun, co-founder and CEO, Tinfoil Security (now Synopsys)
My advice for any company hoping to attract and maintain more women employees is to speak to the ones you already have and ensure they are happy. Verify they are paid fairly, given the same opportunities as other employees, and not expected to do other tasks unrelated to their jobs (such as minute taking for all meetings, serving coffee, organizing office parties, or cleaning the shared office fridge). Ask your employees from all underrepresented groups what could be improved, if they are having any issues, and if they would recommend a friend come work there. Keep improving until “Would you recommend us to a friend?” is always answered with “YES!” Your current employees are your best, or worst, advertisement for your workplace.
—Tanya Janca, security trainer, coach, and head nerd at SheHacksPurple.dev
—Deirdre Hanford, CSO, Synopsys
One recommendation I have for software development organizations wanting to recruit more women is to make certain adjustments to their hiring process. A few examples: analyze job descriptions to minimize unnecessary gendered or gender-biased adjectives, be clear about what the actual requirements are versus nice-to-haves so that more women apply instead of choosing to self-select out, have more women in technical roles on your job interview panels, and encourage current female employees to actively refer and recommend qualified women from their own networks.
—Maria (Magda) Gaggl, project manager, Synopsys
HBR published a fascinating study in 2016 about hiring pools and stumbled upon one of the best tips for hiring under-represented groups that I’ve seen in practice. It’s called the Two In The Pool effect. HBR found that if there’s only one woman in your final candidate pool, there is statistically no chance she’ll be hired. Here’s what they found:
According to one study of 598 finalists for university teaching decisions.
|Composition of finalist pools||Likelihood of hiring a woman|
|Three women, one man||67%|
|Two women, two men||50%|
|One woman, three men||0%|
Some people may look at this graph and think, “Hm those odds make sense, when you have 50% women you have a 50% chance of picking a woman…” but we aren’t working in a luck-based environment here! We are talking about merit and experience-based hiring decisions! If there are 4 finalists in a final candidate pool, and there are 3 men and 1 woman, the woman had a 0% chance of being selected due to unconscious bias called in-group favoritism. If there are 2 women, their chances went up to 50%, and 3 women brought it to a 67% chance!
Want to ensure you increase your likelihood of bringing an underrepresented person onto your team? Strive to have at least 2 (hopefully 3) underrepresented folks in the finalist pool during the hiring process.
—Rachel Tobac, hacker and CEO, SocialProof Security
If you want to recruit more women, you need to pay them more. Women in the tech sector are paid 3% less than men for the same positions. Part of the reason is that women ask for less (probably since they’ve been conditioned to expect less), but women of color, who ask for even less, aren’t even paid what they ask for. Three percent doesn’t seem like much, but because tech is one of the largest, fastest-growing sectors, with some of the highest wages, a “small” pay gap in tech has an oversized effect on the economy. Plus, a “small” pay gap now grows exponentially over a career in terms of percentage-based raises and bonuses. That’s assuming that women will tolerate such behavior; women are a third more likely than men to start looking for a new job when they discover a pay discrepancy. And since there’s a growing movement encouraging women to ask their male colleagues about pay, don’t think that you can hide your pay gap forever.
—Marisa Fagan, product security lead, Synopsys
Organizations can sponsor—with a training firm—free coding training/certificate programs for minority and underprivileged women while they are in higher education institutions.
Providing free certification programs and on-the-job training/apprenticeships for women is a good way to encourage nontechnical aspiring young women who are interested in trying to break into technical fields but are afraid to take that first step or don’t have the means to do so. At one of my previous companies (HPE Software), we had a program for young women fresh out of college with business degrees, where we trained them, providing technical trainings and tools that helped them get started as field application/sales engineering roles. It was great to see how they flourished and moved on to assume more technical dev functions later in their career.
Also, it’s important to remove any stigma and establish the right culture within and outside the organization. Break the stigma and promote women up the technical ranks internally. Externally, have women employees be spokespeople and women advocates at public forums.
Other suggestions include providing a transition program to allow women to ease back / transition back into the workforce after maternity. The organizational culture needs to be changed.
—Kimm Yeo, senior manager, Synopsys
I recommend that organizations recruit based on talent and need, not just to increase women-force and meet the diversity headcount.
Invest more in women’s growth like personality development, career guidance, equal opportunities. Women shouldn’t face any disparity in pay, we need to understand and address that fact. Sometimes timings also cause constraints because in the software industry we all work with different time zones. The situation will change with workspaces adapting to a mother’s needs by offering daycare centers, flexible working hours, work-from-home policies, etc.
The software development industry is male dominant nowadays. So, we need to ensure a safe space is provided to women. A lot of organizations have what we can only call boys’ gangs and indecent internal jokes. So organizations as a whole need to mature and make women welcome.
—Vandana Verma, global OWASP board of directors, president of InfoSecGirls