I’ve been hiring in tech for a long time now. For huge periods of time we’d never even see a female candidate for any role we had out. They were few and far between. I spent a lot of time working in a business with a female MD from a software engineering background, so we should have been well geared up to recruit, retain and develop female talent, but we still struggled.
When I left that role to go and work at a larger company with it’s own dedicated in-house recruitment team I was able to get some really good advice and support to help us try and attract more female talent to the organisation, I changed the way we wrote job adverts for our teams based on that input and we pushed things on from there.
The first thing I needed to understand is that studies show that women won’t apply for jobs unless they think they are 100% qualified for that job. Men on the other hand will look at a job advert and think if there’s enough of it they can do now, they’ll be able to do the rest and will apply.
Obviously, this is generalisation, but it’s based on studies that back this up. There will be men who won’t apply unless they feel 100% qualified, and women who will apply if they can do some of the stuff. But as a general approach, job adverts a man would apply for will screen out a lot of women.
There’s a good 2014 article in the Harvard Business Review explaining the issue. It dates from 2014. This is not news, but it doesn’t seem to be widely understood in the community of hiring managers.
It’s fairly common to see a list of skills required for tech jobs, or a list of roles and responsibilities. This is an important and inherent part of the job that people need to see. What tech will I be working with? What will I be expected to do. You can’t avoid listing that and have a working job ad I don’t think.
However, you can contextualise it. Give it as a list of things that your organisation uses. I used the following as an introduction to the standard bullet point of things in our tech stack (bold for emphasis):
Primarily you will be working on Front End Development, but as we’re a small team, there will be opportunities to get involved in our backend systems and other internal apps and integration to third party systems. We’re looking for someone who’s keen to get involved and work as a team to deliver, developing new skills and helping us all improve continually.
The following is our tech stack for our new website, the main skills required will be with the front end development based on React using TypeScript, any experience with the other technology is a bonus, however.
For me this says we’re looking for someone who will be keen to develop new skills, we’re all growing and improving. We wanted someone with React and TypeScript who was interested in learning the other stuff. I think with hindsight it could have been stronger on pushing the fact we’d be keen to help you grow and develop in this role, to support your learning of new things. But I think we had the kernel there, I think it had enough that we lowered that barrier to help people think, this has some good tech and I’ll have a chance to learn it. Rather than think, I can’t do that job, I don’t know Jest.
I also think I should have left
, however off the end there… that looks weird.
Ok so the more you read about the whole 100% qualified thing, the more you read that the studies aren’t complete. And maybe it’s not that simple. But, it doesn’t really matter if the science is in or not. If there is any indication at all it might be a thing, for anyone, then changing that listing to be a more constructive thing is a good thing. It also allows you to show your culture as being one of growth and development and that is reason enough to do it. At least, if that is your culture.
There is some proper academic research which basically says that bias in how you write a job advert can make it gender biased and thus less likely that women will apply. That bias may be unconscious, you may be a truly equal culture in your business where men and women are on the same footing and everything is fine. But if you’re a straight white man, you could be using language you are not aware expresses a bias.
There is a free Gender Decoder into which you can paste your job advert to see what it comes back with.
I’ve put the job advert I quoted above through it, which maybe I should have done before hand!
The way we described the business had a heavy skew towards masculine language. But, that’s because we were using words like “leading” and “independent” to describe the business. We also used words like “compete” and “competition” as we talked about what we were trying to do. We’re an e-commerce business, so I think that bit was ok. You’d expect that kind of thing.
So cutting down to the “about you” and “roles and responsibilities” section and re-assessing I got the following report:
This job ad uses more words that are subtly coded as feminine than words that are subtly coded as masculine (according to the research). Fortunately, the research suggests this will have only a slight effect on how appealing the job is to men, and will encourage women applicants.
The masculine coded word was “driven” and the feminine coded words were “collaborative”, “responsibilities” and “support”.
How did I, a straight white male, get that so good? Well, I got a woman to write the job advert. Definitely a good move, if you have women in the team, get them to review your adverts, ask them would they apply? ask them why, and why not. Ask them what would make them more likely to apply. Ask them what you’re not saying about working in your team that if said would make them more likely to apply. Try and consolidate all that.
I’ve seen it make a huge difference, even in very male dominated roles such as Software Engineering.
The Gender Decoder also gave me this:
Of course, there are plenty of other factors that affect the diversity of applicants for this role, and of the people who end up being hired. These include the company’s reputation for inclusiveness, its culture, and the behaviour and prejudices (both conscious and unconscious) of the interviewers.
There’s a few things to pick up on in there. The company’s reputation and culture is important. How can you start to share and indicate that you have the kind of environment women want to work in?
Firstly - have the culture. Make sure that you foster positive behaviour and quash negative behaviour. Draw a line and make sure that your environment is positive and supportive of female team members and does not tolerate anything else from the men in the team.
Try and get some feedback internally as to if and where problems are. Always take concerns raised by female staff seriously and do not dismiss it. Empower people to bring issues to you and deal with them. If you’ve hired the right people, set the right example and respond visibly to things, it’s not hard to have the right culture.
Ideally, you’ll have strong female role models in the team, managers, leaders, experts. Promote their existence and value. Often there’s a good spot on your careers page to be able to put profiles of key team members, make sure there are some of your best women up there. Talk about them and their contributions on LinkedIn. Anywhere candidates researching you might find them, show that it’s an environment in which women thrive and are valued.
There is a widely documented gender based pay gap in the tech industry. Don’t contribute to it. Pay women on the same basis as men doing the same role. Look at the facts and figures of their contribution and skills. Some research indicates that women will pitch lower and not push so hard. Whereas men will make pitches for more money based on a perceived value they add.
So make sure you look at the skills across your team, the productivity and the work rate. If a man on the team convinces you he’s worth more, but, a woman on the team is doing the same. Then he’s sold you two pay rises. Not one.
When you review salary budgets, pay reviews etc, take that each time as an opportunity to level salaries. If Alice is as good as Bob and Bob is on more, you need to uplift Alice’s salary before Bob gets any more money. Prioritise even and fair pay across your entire team based on skills and contribution and nothing else.
I don’t really understand why this wouldn’t be super obvious. I’m not quite sure why we get to this place. Perhaps it’s just people feeling they can get away with paying less because the women aren’t asking for more? I’m not sure how we ended up here.
But it’s your job to get us out of it, if you’re hiring teams.
So, am I doing this?
I have 8 permanent people in my team at the moment, 2 men, 6 women. The three people in the team who have leadership/management responsibilities over others are women. Including in our development team. All our disposable resources (contractors) are male though.
I aim to get the team blogging soon, publicly, about what we do and how we do it. To give back to the tech community, to consolidate skills and to show how great the people in our team are. I want to show our culture and our people to help us hire well in the future.
I believe the salaries in my team are fair and even, based on skills and value not gender.
I’ve made sure that when we’ve written job adverts, our Content Manager is involved, even if they are not roles working with her.
It’s a small team, but we’ll grow. We have the foundations right, hopefully I can find a way that our team can help inspire more women to take a career path in the future that might result in their CV landing on our desks, or the desks of other tech companies. I’d really love it if we can inspire others to do the same.