August 06, 2017

Tips on hiring more female developers

For nearly a decade I witnessed ThoughtWorks change from being like every other IT company, struggling to have female developers, to a notable 59% female of entry level jobsI observed ThoughtWorks, as well as the industry at large, trying to change the gender landscape through a swarm of [insert tech here] Girls events and meet ups, trips to high-schools and Linked-Iposts. Don’t get me wrong. These are all valid, good and necessary, but unfortunately insufficient. When ThoughtWorks was planning how to disrupt themselves, I often doubted that anything would ever change. Nevertheless they did it, and now several other companies like Envato, REA, Seek and MYOB are desperately trying to change their own landscapes with various degrees of success.

In my last recruitment journey to recruit people last year I saw eight new comers join REA. Four females, three being developers; I reckon something worked. This post is an attempt to list concrete actions and good ideas that I believe will help with hiring more female technologists.

Be prepared to wait until you have females short-listed
It’s very simple reasoning: there are less females looking for jobs, ergo, it takes longer to find them. Whenever there’s time pressure to hire, chances are that a male will be hired. The action here is to, well, not act. Wait until you have female candidates. One could say that you’d be rejecting males. That is not the case. Make it a fair competition by allowing females to come to the shortlist. I tell you, there will be males available to compete at most times. If you prefer to be blunt, and Victoria, Australia is your jurisdiction, use the Special Measures of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 - Sect 12 to focus on women only.

Aim to hire more females at junior level
Few female programmers reach senior roles. This is due to long term cultural factors that actively discourages them and simply because it’s quite hard for young women to return to workforce after maternity leave and still be at the cusp of technology. ThoughtWorks has a program notable initiative in this space called Vapasi
Aim your efforts at the more junior roles and create a work environment that encourages growth. REA has an internal programme where junior females are paired from day one with senior female leaders to establish safety and growth opportunities. The action item here is be even more aggressive in tilting the hiring scales of grads to the female side. I’m also a fan of programs such as DevelopHer as a way to up-skill and subsequently offer roles to women.

Create the right wording for job ads
Technology job ads are notorious for being just a long list of three letter acronyms sprinkled with leadership buzzwords. And these buzzwords are usually male lingo such as lead, drive, courage, ambition, decide, etc. Ads like this actively drive women away. I’d say that some ads drive humans away, but no one wants to work at these places anyway. There a tool to help assess how gender biased your ad is. Use it and potentially have a check to ensure all ads have a 2:1 ratio of female to male words. On top of that, write about things that women care. How safe and encouraging the workplace is. How togetherness is prevalent and how no one is belittled by being herself.

Make interviews female friendly by having females carrying out interviews
Let’s say that your jobs ads are good and female developers applied for the role because they believe your company is right for them. Now it’s interview time and your female friendly company puts candidates in rooms with three men to assess their skills and cultural fit. That doesn’t sound very consistent, does it? The solution here is: have females interviewers for female candidates. Or at least a high ratio. If the immediate team doesn’t have any females yet, ask for help from other teams. This also helps growing internal senior female devs. Interviewing skills are core to senior technical folk. 

Remove bias on code reviews
Often software companies require candidates to turn in a coding assignment. This is good practice. The action here is to ensure code reviewers can’t tell the gender. The assessment should be based on the code alone. An easy way is to create a pseudonym/code for the candidate that doesn’t give away gender. 

Encourage your female programmers to be code reviewers
That goes hand in hand with creating senior technologies. 
Having the ability to discern good code from bad code is crucial. A great way to do that is by reviewing code submissions from candidates. Anecdotally female developers seem to be less inclined to pass judgement and often shy away from this task. If you are a hiring manager try and encourage a healthy gender balance on the review process.

Double referral money for female programmers
Engaging with headhunters is expensive. They usually cost 10-15% of the role salary packageCompanies also believe that bringing people in that already have relationships with staff is a good thing as they can vouch for them. A way to accomplish that is by having referral bonuses paid to employees that indicate candidates that get successfully hired. Action here is you want to find people that are hard to find? How about upping the rewards to those that find them. ThoughtWorks used to have referral bonuses for females being two times as those for men.

Create a truly female friendly work environment
This is a bit of a chicken and egg problem but I’d say that an all-male team isn't the best place to put newcomer female developers, especially by herself. For them to be happy and want to stay it’s to better to have a female heavy, long running, performing team and over time rotate newcomers into it. On this topic there’s a myriad of things to do to make the workplace more female friendly but simple things like language, encouraging pairing and flexible working hours work miracles.

Educate your male leaders
It’s not that men are intrinsically bad but at times when workplaces don’t have a balance it’s easy for the male kind to understand what women go through, their challenges and aspirations. The action item here is to invite all male leaders to read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, if you're time starved go for the TED video. This is an excellent first step towards gender understanding.

Special thanks to Catalina Perez for reviews, ideas and patience.