Want More Female Engineers at Your Startup?
Here’s How to Do It!
It’s no secret that there is a scarcity of female representation in tech. This is even more true in regards to female software engineers. According to a recent article by Builtin, women make up 26% of the tech field as a whole and only account for 14% of software engineers in the US . Since women make up more than 50% of the general population in the US, why is there this lack of representation in engineering specifically? We asked two women advocates in the software engineering field for their input and thoughts to better understand the importance of this issue and (most importantly) how startups can actively increase the representation of women on their teams.
Understand the Problem
Before we begin to fix the problem we have to better understand the root of the issue. We must accept that there is an issue with this lack of representation. Why would female software engineers avoid working at a startup? Is there something about the team dynamics, the company structure, or other factors that would deter women from applying and working in that environment?
Representation for ALL
Rebecca Krauthamer is the founder & CEO of Quantum Thought and has been featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. She is the former CTO at Evabot.ai and has co-founded two other startups in the past. She is an advocate for AI and technology ethics and has a passion for diversity in the workplace. Krauthamer states that, “As professionals in engineering we have a responsibility to build tech that caters to all people, and to succeed at that, we need diverse teams who are building tech for all people [including non-binary, trans, different races, etc.]”. This need for inclusion has been a recurring theme as people of all backgrounds cry out for representation.
Furthermore, the lack of diversity actually costs you money in lost ROI. An article by Forbes cited that, “Fortune 500 companies with at least three women in leading positions saw a 66% increase in ROI and have a purchasing power of an estimated $5 trillion.” For that kind of growth, it’s worth it to make sure your startup can recruit and retain women. Meanwhile, Computer Weekly states that in the AI sector women globally account for only 22% of the field, but make up only 7.4% of the AI talent pool in software and IT services (excluding healthcare and education). Across multiple studies and from Chan and Krauthamer’s own perspectives, this lack of diversity is creating weakened products as engineers lack the insights of a non-homogeneous group and will undoubtedly create final products which have biases that go unnoticed and unaddressed.
Valuing Diversity is Not Lowering the Bar
When others believe you do not have the same level of technical skill it can create a workplace environment that requires you to prove yourself again and again. Krauthamer adds that, “Coming into a lot of startup teams, I was the only woman…When you’re the only person in a room who looks the way you do, you stand out. You feel pressured to operate above and beyond the level of your peers, just to be seen as the same.” Furthermore, if you make it onto the team it may be assumed you got the position because you are a woman instead of due to your skills and experience.
Kelsey Chan, a software engineer at a Bay Area startup, holds a B.S & M.S in Computer Science from MIT and suggests that startups should, “make it clear that by valuing diversity in the hiring process, the company is not lowering the hiring bar. It can be incredibly hurtful to be hired as a female engineer only for your teammates to think you were only hired because you’re a woman.” This kind of hurt can alienate the talented women your company worked so hard to attract and negatively impact retention rates. Creating teams that are supportive is crucial.
Walk the Walk
Lastly, another notable frustration for women in tech is when companies claim to be diverse (their websites show stock images of women) but their “Meet Our Team” page only displays men. It’s obvious when companies are just trying to say the right things vs actually implementing them. Seeing initiatives not only discussed but actively upheld will go a long way in building trust between prospective candidates and startups.
How to Hire More Women Software Engineers
[If possible] Have a woman as part of the interview process.
If you have women on your team already who are in a position to assist with interviews, then have them meet with candidates. This will show candidates that you are inclusive and that they will not be isolated in the workplace. It is especially helpful if the women you involve in the interview process hold mid-level or senior-level positions, as it will illustrate clearly there is no glass ceiling to breakthrough and demonstrate a fair opportunity for all to excel.
Find the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?)
Chan shares, “When interviewers and recruiters are trying to sell a position to a candidate, it helps to ask the candidate directly what they’re looking for when evaluating their different job options. If a candidate is prioritizing team dynamics and growth opportunities, only talking about compensation is not going to cut it.” Don’t forget that some candidates may be more interested in the many other opportunities available in a startup environment besides a great salary. Find out what is important to them and connect how your startup fits that desire.
In Chan’s own personal experience she thoughtfully considered the culture of the startups she interviewed with. “Because startup teams tend to be small, I cared a lot about finding a place where engineers were not only skilled, but also compassionate and willing to teach and mentor younger engineers like myself. I knew that even if there weren’t many female engineers on the team, it would make a huge difference if I still felt welcomed and supported by my coworkers.” Feeling welcomed and supported by the team can make all the difference in getting more women to join your team.
Clearly Show Company Values & Benefits
As stated earlier, people know when a company is all talk and no walk. It isn’t enough to say you have a “competitive benefits package” today. Explain how your company actively carries out it’s values and what sort of benefits you offer in detail. Krauthamer shares that it’s important to have good policies that cater to women such as maternity leave or insurance that supports freezing your eggs. “Show that your company fosters an environment where women are not just welcome but they can thrive.”
Make a Statement
It may seem obvious, but clearly state your intentions in the job description. Chan expresses that, “simply including a line that encourages people from underrepresented groups in tech to apply could go a long way.” According to Forbes, “vague explanations of job qualifications, such as ‘being strong in data science,’ and, conversely, incredibly in-depth job descriptions in search of data wizard talent, tend to steer females clear of STEM related jobs.” Knowing this, it is simple to make a few small changes in your job description to attract a more diverse pool of candidates.
As technical recruiters well versed in the needs of startups, Kofi Group has helped numerous hiring teams to modify their job descriptions and drastically increase results. Many times, what seems clear to the hiring manager may not come across as plainly to the candidate; working closely with a specialized recruiter to discuss the nuances of your team’s needs can really flush out the details.
In your job descriptions you can also highlight any existing team diversity. If you do not yet have a diverse team to showcase, you can make it clear that your company’s product serves a diverse group of people by showing this in your social media, website, and general online presence. This sort of representation and consciousness is a step in the right direction. Provide details in the job description or on your website of how your company is promoting equitable pay, maternity/paternity leave, and other initiatives.
Support Diversity for All People
Your website may have stock photos of female engineers and you may even have women engineers currently on your team, but do you have real diversity in your startup? Both Chan and Krauthamer stressed the importance of including non-binary people, different races, and in general creating a non-homogenous workforce across different levels of your company. If you have a diverse entry level staff but lack diversity higher up in your company, candidates will notice. Remember, startups that are creating an end product for a diverse user base will benefit from having actual diversity (versus perceived diversity) as each unique individual on the team contributes to ensure the end product is relevant and engaging to as many users as possible and not an average product based on assumed biases.
Ask For Advice
Kofi Group supports the technical hiring efforts for early-stage startups in San Francisco/Silicon Valley, New York, Austin, and we frequently receive requests for more “diverse” engineering candidates.
If your startup doesn’t have many female software engineers and you aren’t sure what could be turning them off from accepting your offers or interviewing with your company, then reach out and ask for advice! Ask candidates if there were any particular reasons they didn’t accept the offer or move forward with the interview process, etc. Sometimes, candidates will not feel comfortable sharing candid feedback; this is another advantage of working with an external recruiting partner. Krauthamer even suggests to better understand what women want you should ask the women in your life. If you aren’t getting feedback from the candidates you may be surprised by the insight a sister, mother, or friend may offer.
The Power of Unity
Applying these simple steps can help your startup to create an inclusive environment that attracts and retains diverse engineering talent. Kofi Group advocates for and supports women in tech by seeking the best startups and environments for them to thrive and succeed with. We consider it our mission to ensure that any candidate we place of any gender or background is accepted in their new work culture, happy in their career, and a highly productive member of the team they join. Anything less would be a disservice to the engineers and startups we serve. Applying the suggestions listed above can help us all to work together to change the face of software engineering for the better.