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I work on a team with a dozen men. They're great. I like them and all, but can't help wonder why it's so hard to find other technical women. I know they exist because I've met them at conferences, read their blogs, and see them on campus. My guess is there's something about our team that keeps them away.

How can we recruit talented women without resorting to gimmicks? I'm not looking for complete gender parity, but why is it that some teams have a 50/50 gender split and ours is completely lopsided?

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closed as off topic by gnat, Oleksi, Walter, MichaelT, Kilian Foth Mar 24 '13 at 17:46

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What you try to do is illegal in my country. Check if it's ok in yours. –  user2567 Mar 9 '11 at 6:32
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Trying to recruit more women isn't illegal in most countries - hiring or not hiring people because of their sex is. There is a difference. –  pyvi Mar 9 '11 at 6:56
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She's trying to exclude men from the hiring process in some way, that sounds illegal to me (except that in many countries sex discrimination laws are explicitly worded to be in effect only when it's women that are discriminated against, which is in itself sex discrimination). –  jwenting Mar 9 '11 at 7:25
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The question isn't about "How do I discriminate against men", it's about attracting the women to even apply for the job. There's nothing illegal, or immoral, about that. –  Phoshi Mar 9 '11 at 9:59
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It sounds like they are simply concerned that they are unknowingly recruiting in a way that is biased towards men. There is nothing wrong or immoral about wanting to ensure that you are giving both genders a fair shot from the get-go. –  Levinaris Mar 9 '11 at 17:40

17 Answers 17

I look for other women on a team. If there aren't any women on the team, I would wonder why. Have other employees harassed former female team members until they quit? If there have never been any former female team members, that presents a problem, too. The men working there may not feel accustomed to and comfortable working with a female peer. Whether you're a "token" woman or you're hired on your own merit, sometimes male coworkers will view you as a token woman if you're the only one there. Look at all of the hostility from men on this post about the subject of trying to hire female workers. These are the type of men you could be working with when walking onto a job where there are no other women.

And besides that, it tends to be less unpleasant being the only woman on a team if there is more female influence there than just you. Men who view women as a threat are more likely to harass their female coworkers if there's just one than if there are several. Maybe they feel like getting rid of one woman is easier than getting rid of a bunch of them. Or maybe they just soften as they interact with women. Either way, depending on the culture, it can be difficult to be the sole female member of a team. Maybe there aren't any sexist men there, but being an outsider, you just don't know whether there are or aren't sexist men. Just because the people involved in hiring aren't sexist, it doesn't mean that team members aren't. And often times, the managers aren't aware of sexism on the team. It's not like they do psychological evaluations on their employees. And no one is going to raise their hand and say, "Yes, I feel threatened by working with women as equals and will harass them day in and day out just for the fun of it."

As an aside, a lot of companies think everyone wants to hang out after work and play Foosball and Xbox. I have a husband and other women might have things like children. It's a job, not everything there is to life.

Also, to the men here, proactively hiring minorities isn't illegal in the US. In fact it's encouraged. Ever heard of Affirmative Action? Where a segment of society has been discriminated against, you have to take proactive steps to change the discrimination, not just ignore it and hope it naturally disappears. Although women are technically the majority of the population (I've heard this argument before), in terms of power and social status, they're still minorities.

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I look for other women on a team. If there aren't any women on the team, I would wonder why. Have other employees harassed former female team members until they quit? If there have never been any former female team members, that presents a problem, too. The men working there may not feel accustomed to and comfortable working with a female peer. Whether you're a "token" woman or you're hired on your own merit, sometimes male coworkers will view you as a token woman if you're the only one there. Look at all of the hostility from men on this post about the subject of trying to hire female workers. These are the type of men you could be working with when walking onto a job where there are no other women.

And besides that, it tends to be less unpleasant being the only woman on a team if there is more female influence there than just you. Men who view women as a threat are more likely to harass their female coworkers if there's just one than if there are several. Maybe they feel like getting rid of one woman is easier than getting rid of a bunch of them. Or maybe they just soften as they interact with women. Either way, depending on the culture, it can be difficult to be the sole female member of a team. Maybe there aren't any sexist men there, but being an outsider, you just don't know whether there are or aren't sexist men. Just because the people involved in hiring aren't sexist, it doesn't mean that team members aren't. And often times, the managers aren't aware of sexism on the team. It's not like they do psychological evaluations on their employees. And no one is going to raise their hand and say, "Yes, I feel threatened by working with women as equals and will harass them day in and day out just for the fun of it."

As an aside, a lot of companies think everyone wants to hang out after work and play Foosball and Xbox. I have a husband and other women might have things like children. It's a job, not everything there is to life.

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As a female developer, I know one way I can be beckoned into a job:

Equality.

None of this "You're the female, you have to do the birthday gift organising", "You're the female, you have to answer the phones", "You're the female, you go babysit the boss's kids in the meeting room".

I would be very annoyed if at the interview stage, or at starting, I found out I was only hired due to being 'the only girl to apply'. I want to be hired on my skills, not my 'assests'.

If there was ever a time when I found out my co-workers salaries, and I was getting paid less with the same experience due only to my gender, I wouldn't be happy.

I'd just like a job where I can be one of the team, not one of the subset of the team. I've been 'the token woman', the 'girl at receiption' and a few other titles, but I'd just like to be 'a developer' for once.

. . .

I know this is probably not the best way to try and get more women in the job, but anything else is just going to tip the scale towards the females, the scale that has always been heavily slanted towards the men. That's no way to introduce equality in the workplace.

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Well, where would you like to work? (judging from your profile... then again, "on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog") You chose to work where you do so it can't be so bad.

Seriously, I wouldn't go too crazy with gender-specific recruiting. I think it would hurt more than help. My team is currently running with gender "parity" and we treat every interviewee the same. I honestly think luck has a lot to do with it.

So that's the short term. In the long term, we do know that there are many fewer female software engineers than male and we can make a difference there. My team is currently pushing a few initiatives:

  • We actively seek interns at the local schools. We've found that there's much more gender balance at the college level. The numbers get lopsided when students enter the job market. We feel our internships really get people fired up about a career in software engineering regardless of gender.
  • We volunteer our time at women's shelters and the local women's prison to teach technical skills. For now, it's limited to the basics like email, spreadsheets. and web development, but we'd like to push for more. Adult job training has a lot of promise.
  • Finally, we're looking at ways to "poach" smart and talented women from other industries. For instance, medical schools now graduate more women than men. We're trying to figure out how to lure them away to technology. Our results are limited but we remain optimistic.
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You've got 1 woman in a team with 13 men? Depending on what your team is doing, that seems to be about the industry average. If the ratio bothers you, then the simplest way for you to fix that is for you to go out and look for a female-heavy company to work for. Changing the ratio of an existing place is going to be swimming upstream against a strong current.

That said, you are hardly unusual in preferring to have more women on the team. (That is why those female-heavy pockets form...) Therefore some companies require that any women who are interviewing are interviewed by at least one woman. The knowledge that there are other women present improves the odds that they will choose to go with you if you like them enough to extend an offer. You may wish to suggest this idea to your manager. Similarly you are likely to be unusually effective at recruiting other women. A smart company can take advantage of this.

Please note that with both variations it is important that you're not changing the standards for women to get hired. Instead you're improving how desirable your workplace looks to female candidates, which is makes you more likely to hire women. But even if you succeed the change will be slow. Suppose that you go from an 8% chance that your next employee will be a woman to a 30% chance. If the next 3 hires are all men, it is going to be pretty easy to get discouraged and not believe that you're potentially making a big difference in the long run.

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If you can, do a good, hard review of your current recruiting/hiring process for gender-blindness. There's a lot of research out there (can't dig it up at the moment, will edit if I get a chance) pointing to unconscious discrimination at the resume level: identical resumes are less likely to get to the next round if they have a female or unfamiliar/foreign name at the top.

I have a feminine first name with a gender-neutral nickname, and I've found that using my nickname gives me the unfortunate advantage that I'm constantly assumed to be a guy - for example, I'm 100% sure that I got farther in a particular interview process than several identically-qualified classmates only because they didn't find out I was female until I had to give them my legal name.

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Start an internship program with any colleges or universities where the ratio isn't as lopsided as your team. One you get at least one women on your team, hiring others may become easier.

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My point of view (I have a team with the majority being women). Your first thought should be to hire good developers. Doesnt matter if they are men/women. In my experience, there were women who initially came upto me saying that they had to leave early bcoz they were .. well women! But I have made it clear that they are all devs to me (Yes we do take extra precautions and ensure that they are personally dropped home in case it gets late.) Trust me, to have a good mix works wonders for the team. One, they are good. And some of them are really good. Two, they are definitely committed. Three, they do create a sense of competition among the males (which is good for the team).

So go ahead, put your point of view across your management and tell them we need to have a good balance in the team.

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How dare you suggest that in the USA people hire by merit. That is simply an unamerican attitude. –  Dunk Mar 9 '11 at 18:11

Most women in programming I know don't want an easy pass because they are women. They want to be given the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skill and have that rewarded. If your company is known for hiring smart people and taking good care of them, you will always have plenty of qualified applicants who are both male and female.

Another thing to focus on is to emphasize in the way you construct your projects and teams different reasons why people might value programming - the ability to tell the machine what to do, as a creative endeavor similar to an artistic experience, as a building exercise, as a path towards gaining new knowledge about problem solving, etc. By not constraining your programmers into certain mindsets about programming you increase your chances of attracting a variety of interesting programmers. There is some research that indicates that women tend to program for different reasons then men do, as well.

In general, though, I wouldn't suggest having hiring women be a primary goal. Hire the best - men and women.

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When you have a product to sell, you market that product where your potential customers are most likely to see it.

In this case, the product you are selling is an open developer position in your company. The standard advertising locations for open positions are local want-ads (newspaper, radio), national want-ads (Monster, Careerbuilder, etc.), and targeted, direct sales through a recruiter. Because the tech industry is male dominated, these typical advertising locations will naturally draw more men than women. If you want to increase the number of female customers (compared to the norm) you have to advertise where there the percentage of females is higher than males (again, compared to the norm.)

Here are some potential advertising markets:

  • For the tech industry, the female population density is going to be higher in graduate programs, so target your recruiting at universities that offer graduate programs in your field, or womens' undergrad colleges.
  • The Society of Women Engineers (Home Page) is a nonprofit organizations that can possibly help you. You can either advertise your opening on the SWE Careers page, or you can directly contact the SWE chapters in your geographical area.
  • Check out the other less well-known organizations that cater to women in the techology industry. Wikipedia has a decent list. Contact these organizations to see if offer job sites or can provide contacts in your area where you can recruit.
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This is probably a question that's actually too localized. I don't think there are universal reasons for this. It varies from place to place, from time to time, from culture to culture or so I believe.

I used to work in a 60% men, 40% women team. This was a government contract, with all female developers being from the government and the male mostly from the contractor. I knew women were happy to work on the government unit because of specific benefits like flex time and an excellent work life balance. The government gave a few months off after a pregnancy, for example, allowing for some time to take care of the baby (men received a few (two?) weeks if his partner had a new born).

Now, in companies with work life balance skewed to the work side: the "heroic coding" environment, my experience this is the stereotype all-male, dirty, smelly, coder, covered-in-cheetos-and-coca-cola. I never saw a woman stay for more than a few months in this kind of environment.

I think the answer to this is mostly cultural. Where I live is common for woman besides their working job to also do most of house work: it's probably impossible to keep up with this when you're working 14 hours a day. I don't know if this is different in other cultures. Probably it is.

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I worked with a few female s/w developers at a previous employer. They all got there by knowing what they were doing. They were about 10% or maybe 15% of the total number of s/w people in the business. (In electronic engineering the ratio is far lower, typically you find maybe 1% to 5% females, if that.)

In the end, like anybody else, offer interesting challenging work and select on ability. If the best person for the job is female, fine, employ them.

Now... a little hint. At a rough guess, in my experience over >20 years, only about 10% to 20% of all technical jobs are ever advertised. The rest are filled by contacts and word of mouth.

What this means is that your network - the people you know - matter a huge lot because they may be the people who get you your next job, or you may be employing one of them.

The game changes a lot when you have a contact who wants a job, and a position to fill. You are not in a public match of getting CVs and reading them. You make a pretty-much one-off assessment: will this person fit the vacancy. If yes, you hire. This kind of decision is made very carefully and discretely so that no equal opportunity laws or HR people get upset. This mechanism means the the organisation, over time, morphs by the contacts of the existing employees rather than by the ads in the newspaper or on-line. You can, of course, exploit this behaviour. If you do, just remember that you should be hiring people who are RIGHT rather than by their gender: your great female (or male) buddy who you get on with, and who does not meet the organisations needs is still a disaster appointment no matter how great you otherwise think they are.

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One way is to offer woman / family friendly work conditions. For instance, make it clear that you are happy to employ people part-time if they want it.

Another way would be to accommodate women who are trying return to the workplace and whose skills are rather out of date.

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Agree - it is important for a workplace to allow its workers to have a family life. This mean that 9-5 hours are important, etc. –  user1249 Mar 9 '11 at 8:43
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It's important for men to have that too. Plenty of men in my office make it known that they aren't available to work excessive hours unless under extreme and rare conditions because they want to go home to be with their wives and young kids. –  justkt Mar 9 '11 at 16:07

If you are looking for new grads try setting up a booth at a jobs fair at a women's college.

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Women's college? Do they still have those? –  Mason Wheeler Mar 9 '11 at 17:47
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Wellesley, Smith, Mt Holly oak, Barnard, Stern. there are a bunch of them out there to be sure. –  Zachary K Mar 9 '11 at 20:43

The female devs I've known have always wanted to work with other female devs, and in a less 'male' environment (masculine is not the right word for what I'm imagining).

When you go to hire a woman, I believe she'd be happy to hear that there are other women working in the office. This probably means that the place is somewhat 'female-friendly', and has less of the unpleasant stuff that can sometimes occur in exclusively male workplaces.

At the same time I don't think any woman wants to be hired as a 'token female'; they want to be there on merit. Why do you want specifically want to have women in your team?

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Sounds like a catch-22 to me –  Wouter Lievens Mar 9 '11 at 10:07
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"masculine is not the right word for what I'm imagining" - brutal –  Alison Mar 9 '11 at 10:13
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I'd imagine she wants more women on the team because she's a woman and would like someone on the team that she can relate with on a non-work level who isn't going to stare at her chest while he's talking to her. –  Joel Etherton Mar 9 '11 at 16:17
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Just to balance your comment, I've yet to find a female dev that prefers working with other women. I've never asked any of them who they prefer to work with but for some reason it invariably comes up. They are usually quite open about preferring to work with men. The reason I've heard most common is the men are far easier to work with. I think it has something to do with the men are more willing to go out of their way for female than a male counterpart. –  Dunk Mar 9 '11 at 17:57
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"Laddish" is probably the word. –  biziclop Mar 9 '11 at 18:36

Female developers are attracted to the same things male developers are attracted to. Interesting work, good benefits, good pay, opportunities for career progression, opportunities to work with cutting-edge tech, etc. Teams that provide these things will receive interest from both women and men. From that point, it's up to your hiring/recruitment practices.

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not just devs, but women in general appear (as both personal experience and others' work have pointed out) more interested in things like part time work, flexible work hours, etc.. Things that don't always (in fact often don't) match with the conditions offered for dev. jobs. They're also often less interested in the gadgets and other perks offered to entice people into those jobs, thus creating a mismatch. Looking at my own experience, I see fulltime employed men in development work, with parttime employed women as trainers, testers, etc. –  jwenting Mar 9 '11 at 7:28
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I imagine a lot of male developers would be interested in flexible work hours. I work somewhere with a 50/50 split of female and male developers - all of us have access to flexible hours and other work/life balance opportunities, but no gadgets or similar. I am under the impression that the men appreciate this just as much as the women do :) –  MatthewKing Mar 9 '11 at 7:40
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@Stephen C, are you implying men can't or don't care about family time? –  Malfist Mar 9 '11 at 16:14
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Malfist : Ask your HR person what percentage of men ask about child care and maternity leave policy during job queries. Versus the percentage for women. –  hotpaw2 Mar 9 '11 at 17:42
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@Stephen - Current cultural gender norms/roles do indeed make family flexible hours traditionally more attractive to women than to men. This does not imply that it is universal, 'human nature', or 'deeply ingrained'. Nor does it imply that men care less about family time, etc. than women. All it does is demonstrate that traditional/cultural 'peer pressure' is a powerful thing. And that people will take the path of least resistance in order to secure a better life for themselves and their family :) –  MatthewKing Mar 10 '11 at 2:41

Well, unfortunately female techs are still a bit harder to come by these days. They do certainly exist though.

If I were in your shoes, I'd review the recruitment process or simply go online and recruit actively. Look for resumes that match your project well. If they come and find a good fit, but then take one look at your team and high-tail it out of there..then you've got a team situation.

So, to be frank, not to be joking or anything, but sometimes we male programmers can get a bit..what is the word? Rough around the edges lol. Heavily bearded, overweight, need..better hygiene sometimes >_< You run into all sorts. Just getting such a team to clean up a bit and perhaps a dress code can help.

I'm not sure about your team specifically of course, they may be ultra-professional, suit and tie wearing neat freaks as far as I know.

It could also be the type of project you are working on or the way the project gets described. Perhaps considering a simple rewrite with your audience in mind is all it takes.

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Purely anecdotally, all of the developers I know (both male and female) are neat, clean, and well dressed. I'd suggest that perhaps the stereotype of the bearded/overweight/dirty programmer does more to discourage women (well, people in general, really) than the reality of the situation. –  MatthewKing Mar 9 '11 at 7:43

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