Are your hiring practices restricting the attraction of women to tech?

There’s a gender gap in technology, which isn’t new news. So much so that only 26% of individuals working in technology are women. And for all the businesses addressing the gender gap and encouraging more women to tech, the gap exists and isn’t always helped by hiring practices.

‘The older I get the less inclined I am to bite my tongue when I encounter bias, unconscious or otherwise. I wish my younger self could see me now but at least my daughter does. We owe it to ourselves, our children and everyone to strive towards a more equitable future. And we all need to call it out when we see it, no matter how subtle or small it seems.’

Emma Hopkinson-Spark, Chief of Staff, 101 Ways.

So, how can you break down barriers and attract more women applicants and reduce unconscious bias during hiring to encourage more women into tech roles? We’ll cover these areas and offer suggestions and experience from members of the tech world and our Community.

What do we know about women in tech?

When an industry is dominated by a specific group, perhaps it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that those outside that group can’t join or will find it challenging to permeate those walls. However, in the case of technology, traditionally a male-dominated industry, women are breaking through gradually, but much more needs to be done to support their careers in tech leadership.

A recent UK survey by Women in Tech about the gender gap in technology questioned over 500 individuals working in technology. They asked the same questions in 2019 and the findings show:

  • 76% have experienced gender bias or discrimination in the workplace at least once. This is an increase of 24% compared to the 2019 survey.
  • However, more organisations are focussing on gender balance, as 61% said their organisation is working on it compared to only 36% in 2019.
  • 90% think the tech sector would benefit from a gender-equal work population, and the main ways of doing this were recruiting and promoting more women.

Back to the beginning

There are different ways we can look at diversifying gender in technology at the hiring stage and beyond, but we can’t bypass the importance of grabbing attention from both genders at a much younger age.

Community member Gareth Evans,  NED, Technology Leader, Coach & Advisor, says, ‘We need to ensure that education surrounding technology and technology roles is not discriminating and biased towards boys.’

It’s a view echoed by another of the CTO Craft Community, Nic Granger, Director of Corporate, North Sea Transition Authority. She believes, ‘We must get better as a country at encouraging girls into STEM subjects, but also gender diversity in senior roles is lower than in tech in general. We need to offer appealing long-term career paths across the different types of roles in digital, data and technology.’

And the data backs up these opinions, as according to PWC, only 27% of female students said they’d consider a career in technology, and only 3% admitted it would be their first choice. On the other hand, 61% of males said they would consider a tech career.

Attracting women to tech

Evans has been a hiring manager, or manager of the hiring managers in software engineering, for over twenty years and he’s placed hundreds of engineers into roles. He says, ‘The most notable challenge I’ve seen for a software company is getting a diverse representation of candidates at the application stage. More often than not, I can review 10s of CVs for a role, none of which are from female applicants.’

He suggests we, ‘Need change at the top of the funnel for changes further along the process to provide any significant value.’

Sharon Blesson, CTO, Xref, suggests that job descriptions are also important to attract women into tech and should use inclusive language. She says, ‘Job descriptions should avoid using gendered language and focus on the skills and qualifications required for the position. This can help attract a diverse pool of candidates and avoid unintentional bias.’

There are other tools to help women into tech companies and ensure the subtle biases from even the most well-intentioned job ads are removed. For example, Evan suggests Gender Deocoder, which lets you check advert wording to ensure that content isn’t ‘gender-coded’ without you even being aware. 

In addition, Anna Blackman, FormScore COO and Co-Founder believes we should challenge the notion that individuals must have deep technical knowledge to work in tech. She says, ‘I don’t have a tech background, but I am the COO of a tech company. The skills and expertise I have developed in other industries are equally applicable in tech. Once you get past the language barrier (please can we stop with the jargon and three words when one will do!), the principles of running a business are the same.’

Unconscious bias

Gender bias exists and is an ongoing concern in technology roles. For example, a Deloitte study found that respondents identified gender bias as the main barrier preventing women from moving into leadership roles in technology. So, what hidden bias in the workplace continues to thrive?

Unconscious bias is the assumptions, attitudes or beliefs learned over time that individuals aren’t always aware of. Unfortunately, no matter how much you learn about it, it’s probably impossible to be immune to unconscious bias in the workplace. However, understanding it goes a long way in raising awareness and acknowledging when it enters.

For example, you could read a CV or interview someone and decide you don’t want to hire them. If you genuinely think they lack the relevant skills or won’t be a team fit, that’s okay, but if unconscious bias comes into it, then a bias embedded in your mind is actually the reason behind not wanting to hire and may be linked to gender, age, race or even the person reminding you of someone you don’t like.

You can educate yourself and your workforce on unconscious bias and different types of biases and how they can present themselves at work. You may not be able to banish all biases, but you can raise awareness.

As an interviewee, be prepared that bias can and does exist but be sure to emphasise your skills and experience and present yourself confidently and strike a level between being confident about yourself without arrogance or showing off.

A practical example of a fair hiring process

At Koru Kids, they don’t look at CVs until later in the hiring process. Instead, they put lots of information in a job advert and keep updating it with answers to questions, so everyone has an equal approach. 

James Gellately-Smith, CTO at Koru Kids, says, ‘The idea was to strip out anything that shouldn’t matter in a screening process and instead focus on the responses that are likely to be a good indicator for the role and that could be assessed fairly using a scorecard.’

Although it took adjustments to get it right, James said they ended up with four questions that could be completed by a candidate in under 10 minutes. ‘The questions were anonymised and then put into a Google sheet – if there were applications, say for engineers, two engineers would be asked to review the answers and score them. Scores would be compared and if there was a discrepancy, then that was discussed.’

And what did he think of the outcome in practice? James says, ‘We loved that we had no idea who the candidate was; it was all about the answers. I genuinely believe that we brought forward candidates that we may not have done. The one thing we couldn’t do was to jumble up the answers, we just didn’t have the applicant flow to support that. This is something that was done for other areas of Koru Kids and was a good way of avoiding a halo or horn effect where good or bad answers influence how you score subsequent ones.’

James says they have been doing other things in their product engineering recruitment process to make it more appealing:

  • Removing the take-home test – which could penalise applicants with busy home lives and personal commitments
  • Including more practical or ‘doing things’ assessments to avoid trick questions.
  • Blind sourcing using the de-bias toggle on Hired that blurs the photo and changes the name into initials.
  • Radical openness by promising to provide detailed feedback – sometimes, this would be two sides of A4. And encouraging candidates to have a try-out day by paying a day rate – these are unassisted and post-offer – so a candidate can be more relaxed in deciding if they want to work there.

What else can we do to attract more women to tech roles?

Offer more role models who are women–a worrying 22% of students can name famous women working in technology, compared to 66% two-thirds who can name a famous man working in technology. So, if women aren’t seeing enough women succeeding in technology, is it any surprise they may not aspire to technology as a career?

Blesson believes we should showcase successful women. She says. ‘Highlighting successful women in tech can be inspiring and help dispel the myth that tech is a male-dominated field. This can include featuring women in leadership positions, sharing success stories, and offering role models for young women who are considering careers in tech.’

Blackman says, ‘We need more role models in tech – authentic, inspirational women who are open about their experiences, including their challenges and how they overcome them. Women need to be able to see people who ‘are like them’, and that isn’t always polished, confident super people.’

She adds, ‘Sometimes it is messy lives, juggling the dog/child/elderly parent and struggling to hold it all together. That is what I needed when I was early in my career – otherwise, you’re left feeling like you’re not good enough.’

For your business, who can you highlight as a role model for others and how can you ensure they gain exposure to show up to others?

Introduce mentoring schemes–mentoring can be a powerful development tool for anyone in technology, regardless of level or gender. However, women in technology can benefit from mentoring to help them with challenges such as returning to work.

For example, if a woman returns from maternity leave, she may benefit from a female mentor who has been in the same position. Not only could a mentor be a sounding board for concerns or help to adapt back into work, but also someone to discuss changes with, like being unable to stay late due to childcare commitments etc. And this doesn’t just apply to female mentees. For instance, a man could return from paternity leave and benefit from having a female mentor.

Blackman suggests the concept of reverse mentoring, where senior leaders are mentored by junior team members from different backgrounds in the workplace. She says reverse mentoring is, ‘An incredibly powerful way to develop a greater awareness of your conscious bias. It’s also an incredible development opportunity for junior team members. Be open-minded – and be sure to put the right support around the junior members of the team involved, as telling truth to power is hard!’

And don’t assume that all women in technology will want a female mentor. A male mentor may be helpful in navigating the leadership role or help with communication, and external group mentoring with others in technology can also give different perspectives and experiences.

Provide more flexibility–women leave technology for many reasons, as they may decide to change industry, leave the workplace altogether or retire. Undoubtedly, many stay in a job or organisation because they feel trapped to stay for personal or financial reasons or may stay and stifle their authentic self because they think that’s expected in the environment. Then there’s the possibility that they are juggling work and life at an unsustainable rate because their work culture does not encourage flexible working or leaving on time.

Consider if and how you can offer flexible working and whether you can introduce a returner programme for women coming back into the industry after a break. And how can you demonstrate this at the start of the hiring process rather than putting potential candidates off with no mention of flexibility?

Technology needs more women to enter the industry and stay throughout their careers and shout about it to encourage others. Hiring into tech should not be a form of resistance to women more than men and businesses should find ways of encouraging women and carrying out a fair process.


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