Gender diversity in tech: one simple part of the solution

Posted April 03, 2017 by


Gender diversity in tech companies has been a major issue for over two decades now. One part of solution to recruit more women in tech is a simple concept: more effective structured interviews.

The numbers don’t add up. The EEOC reports that women currently make up roughly 56% of the overall workforce, but are underrepresented in tech. Only about 28% of proprietary software jobs currently held by women.

Why is it important to have gender diversity in tech?

The financials tend to resonate more in enterprise companies. Various reports, including one from Catalyst and one from McKinsey, have shown that companies with more female leadership tend to outperform both their market and their rivals. An additional study, from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, showed companies with 30% or more females in leadership outperformed rivals by an average 6% net profit margin.

Women are often associated with being empathetic leaders. This is not true of all women of course, and many men are also empathetic. But if we can generally associated empathy with female leadership, we see a compelling reason to recruit more women in technology. Half of the ten most empathetic technology companies are also the fastest growing. They have grown about 23.3% per year, compared to a weighted average of 5.2% growth of all technology companies, according to one study.

Faith Rothberg, CEO of College Recruiter and named by RecruitingDaily as a top woman in HR technology worth watching, remarked: “While I know many men who are empathetic, including my husband, I’ve generally seen a higher degree of empathy from female leaders I’ve known and worked with. When you look at these 4x growth stats for companies led from a more empathetic place, and factor in the power of technology in terms of growing a company, having more females at the helm of these types of organizations seems both crucial and a no-brainer.”

Why is diversity in tech seemingly so far behind?

This is often framed as a “pipeline problem,” and that might be true. For example: according to Girls Who Code, 74% of young women (i.e. high-school aged and lower) express interest in STEM (technological) courses and career paths, but by the time decisions need to be made about taking those classes in college, only 18% choose STEM/computer science pathways. (And that’s actually dropped: in the 1980s, women held 37% of computer science degrees, for example.) 

What can be done about the technology gap for women?

We do need more pathways for women to enter technologically-driven careers. Policy and education should commit to beefing up the pipeline. Here, however, we’ll concern ourselves with what recruiters can do.

Your sourcing strategies may vary. Whether you have embraced programmatic recruiting advertising, or use social media, referrals or myriad other tactics, you almost certainly do an interview before hiring someone. If we want to adjust the numbers on women in technology, we need to adjust the interview portion of the entire cycle.

Most tech jobs are going to be rooted in some form of technical interview, and as a result, the technical interview must be fixed in order to fix the women in tech issue.

How do we change the interview?

The best approach is to use a structured interview format. This ensures a consistent, repeatable process where candidates and their skills can be directly compared. Interviews have evolved over time, but they are still often largely subjective — and technical interview outcomes based on large data sets reveal the process to be, well, somewhat arbitrary.

One additional concern: arbitrary, unstructured interviews obviously lead to quality candidates potentially getting turned down. As noted on Aline Lerner’s, which lets recruiters anonymously practice technical interviewing with engineers, women are 7x more likely than men to stop practicing and interviewing after 4+ rejections. The more women are interviewed and passed over, the harder it becomes to solve the diversity in tech issue.

Using a structured interview format where all candidates (no cheating–this means ALL), receive the same questions in the same order, and are evaluated with the same metrics, is part of the solution. To create structure that actually drives results, you need data. Companies need to embrace the data side of their hiring funnels. This is commonly called “People Analytics,” and is starting to emerge more on HR teams — although it’s not at scale yet. Think about who in your organization has been successful (and unsuccessful) in specific roles. What attributes or data points (performance reviews, KPI measures) do you have on them? Eventually, a picture may emerge of what an ideal candidate for X-role looks like. This picture is important as you design a structured interview, because it reminds you of what you’re really looking for.

As more companies have waded into data-driven hiring processes, they’ve found one surprising factor: competence, measured in traditional ways like GPA and school attended, is overrated. Hiring on perception of competence is not actually tied to any form of bottom-line success. Do recruiters have biases and assumptions about women’s competence? You bet.

To see how structured interviews and data must go together, consider our fictional example:

Recruiter: What do you think is your biggest challenge?

Candidate: I sometimes move too fast in making decisions, before considering all options. [Or other response.]

Recruiter: How do you know that in terms of what have you measured around it, and how would you know if you were getting better at it?

This forces the candidate to think in quantifiable, data-driven concepts about their own professional arc. More and more companies are now trying to compete on data, this could help get higher-quality candidates in the door. A question like forces interviewers to focus on data, not subjective attitudes.

The good news about gender diversity in tech

Hundreds of organizations are dedicated to helping women in tech succeed in their careers, with more seemingly founded every day. Recruiters and hiring managers can be part of the solution by using a simple tweak to the interview process.


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