Hiring women

Terri recently pointed out that one way to involve more women in open source is to hire them into open source companies, an approach which works for other technology sectors as well.

I’m looking for advice and resources for putting this into practice, particularly in technology companies with a paucity of women. Assuming the company has open positions to fill, there is work to be done in order to:

  • make the case for gender diversity with hiring managers
  • attract applications from women candidates
  • ensure equal opportunity for women in the selection process
  • retain women once they’ve joined the organization

I’d like to hear your ideas and suggestions.

This isn’t only an academic exercise on my part, as we have openings to fill in my department, which currently includes less than 5% women.  We’re looking for an exceptional manager and a variety of talented engineers.

Our most qualified applicants generally come from the open source community and/or the software industry, both of which have their own gender imbalances, and so we tend to receive comparatively few applications from women.  Interviews and selection decisions are virtually all conducted by men, whose expectations have been forged in this environment, and in other, similar companies and communities.  Our culture reflects those origins, which is to say that it has its share of issues which affect women.

How can I, and others in this position, effect change for the better?

Please send in your suggestions in the comments or add them to the wiki.

16 thoughts on “Hiring women

  1. Skud

    I had an idea about this last night, actually.

    Many/most tech companies I’ve worked for have some kind of referral bonus for employees who refer people for open positions and are subsequently hired. In places I’ve worked that have had this scheme, the bonus has been at least $1000. You could extend this in various ways to encourage a more diverse applicant pool.

    Example: Any employee who refers a minority candidate who gets past the initial qualification screening gets $100. Any given candidate can only lead to 1 bonus per 6 months (i.e. you can’t just keep referring the same friend for every job and ringing up the $100 bonuses.)

    I can see definite problems with it, but it might be a way to get more women into the applicant pool (which, IME, is where the biggest problem is — hard to hire more women when there aren’t any applicants!)

    I was also looking round women in tech sites for my post on the weekend, and I notice that a lot of them have job boards attached to their sites. However, it seems to just be a plugin kind of thing provided by SimplyHired.com, and most of the ads are “from the web” — meaning that there’s no guarantee that the workplaces are particularly women-friendly or anything like that.

    FWIW, if someone I knew approached me and said, “Hey, my company is trying to get women to apply for this job, could you blog about it on GF?” I’d probably do it. Or at least strongly consider it.

  2. Terri

    The Grace Hopper Celebration has one of the more extensive programmes for getting women and companies together that I’ve ever seen affiliated with a women’s group. Linuxchix and many others accept job ads (The linuxchix ones are lightly screened, and the systers ones are self-screened), but since GHC is a conference they can do a lot more to really bring people and companies together, including this interesting sounding CONNECT project.

    I’m looking forwards to seeing how this works when I’m actually at the conference, but it sounds really promising.

  3. Elaine

    In my neck of the woods (western WA state, USA), there’s a fairly active “women in technology” mailing list, which has been around since at least ’99…used to be Webgrrls, now Digital Eve. I see a lot of job postings there. Theirs isn’t powered by simply hired or anything, you have to either email the list or submit via their form.

    I’ve never applied from anything I saw there, but that’s my location more than the opportunities, living on the edge of the metropolis as I do.

  4. Chris Ball

    Wow, the Grace Hopper jobs setup looks excellent.

    Matt, perhaps sending out your job adverts to women-in-CS groups at universities for distribution to their members — assuming that’s welcome there — might be a good idea? It seems like a way to find women who are likely to have plenty of Linux experience, but before the huge drop-off in participation in free software communities by women happens. And, while most of the members might still be active students, perhaps they’ll know someone who’d be a perfect fit for the job.

    If this is a good idea, does anyone know of a list of the women-in-CS groups that accept job postings? Matt’s company, Canonical, seems particularly appropriate for recruiting with methods like this since telecommuting is preferred; it’s not a job with a location tied into it.

  5. Crystal

    We had an excellent discussion about the imbalance of women in both open source and in security at DrupalCampLA last month.

    One of the big factors that drives this is the fact that both Open Source and Security are strong meritocracies that require a lot of time after-hours, almost always for free. Especially for women with children, spouses, etc., after-work is the ’2nd shift’, making it difficult to contribute, especially for free, even to causes that we are extremely passionate about.

    However, since contribution, and especially contribution of code, is often a major qualifying question in the selection process, many otherwise talented technical women find themselves at a disadvantage.

    Some suggestions:

    - Look for alternate contributions to the community. Documentation, Outreach, Group and Event Organization, Code Review, etc. are ways that a lot of women in our culture have seen a way to ‘fill a need’ and advance the goals of the project, but unfortunately get overlooked as significant contributions.

    - Consider sanitizing the names from submitted resumes during initial vetting to ensure that your first round of approvals isn’t biased.

    - Be Flexible. The best Java Engineer we’ve ever worked with (Em- we miss you!) worked from a rural farm because that’s where she wanted to raise her kids. Her work was brilliant, she was dependable, and our flexibility allowed her to maintain the balance of work and family she wanted. Everyone won.

    - Don’t Stereotype. I’ve seen good companies lose out on excellent talent because they made assumptions about the roles women were looking for. In a group of engineers, be careful about who gets assigned more secretarial or process oriented tasks. At in-person recruiting events, don’t assume that women who approach you are in marketing or sales. Fighting stereotypes is exhausting! Let these women shine without having to tear down a wall first.

    - Once you find them…. Have a solid mentor within the company ready, male or female, but they need to be sympathetic and open and genuinely supportive and understand the challenges that women in technology ultimately face. Misconceptions and stereotypes run deep for ALL of us. It’s easy to deny that gender plays a role in many everyday interactions in the workforce, but small negative cues can build into a major problem, making it easy to lose someone you never knew felt marginalized. Make sure they have the proper support and be willing to listen when problems arise.

  6. Mary

    One thing I’ve heard from other companies is that ‘cultural fit’ evaluations by peers in the informal sense–do they get our jokes, would I like to have a drink with this person, etc–should be explicitly discounted when interviewing minority candidates (given the company or industry demographics). This evaluation is probably never in reality skipped, but should be performed by someone with an explicit eye to the aim of hiring diversely and limited to ability to communicate comfortably and openly with team members rather than asking the team to evaluate if they’ve just found their new best mate, as many tech companies do. And it should be recalled that diversity candidates are probably suffering from a little bit of unconscious bias from pretty much everyone and are likely a slightly better candidate than an interview report will suggest.

    I wonder whether relying on referrals isn’t in fact problematic. People’s friends are often fairly like them. I’m not claiming finding a good professional recruiter is an easy thing, but if you could find one and task them with delivering you diverse candidates for interview (whether this instruction is legal in various jurisdictions I do not know) while relying more on referrals and your Open Source community for general candidates that may improve things.

    I think head-hunting is a good thing here. In the short term, yes, it just reduces some other company’s diversity by one person, but I believe in the medium and long term that demonstrating demand will improve supply.

    I’d also recommend checking out Women Don’t Ask from the point of view of an employer: in particular, are promotions, pay rises and perks being awarded when an employee steps forward and makes a case for them? This disadvantages women (and probably other minorities) in two ways: one is that they are asked to make a stronger case for the same perk while at the same time being limited to some modes of behaviour (generally other-centred, pleasing ones), and have also been trained by this response not to bother asking at all. Over the medium and long term there should be checks that equal pay for equal work holds, and that promotions appear to reflect the demographics of the company.

  7. Dorothea Salo

    Consider the “feral techie,” by which I mean someone who has learned some technical chops without formal training or explicit recognition. (I count myself among this number, by the way.)

    The catch here is that male feral techies often establish their bona fides through working on open-source software. For all the reasons this site and its sister wiki are documenting, this isn’t necessarily a fruitful method of finding female feral techies. (If folks aren’t buzzing around the AO3 and Dreamwidth talent pools, however, I can’t imagine why not.)

    One way is to look right under your nose. I was hired back in the day to do data-entry in a custom Access database. The unit’s IT folks discovered that I was a quick learner and unafraid, and so when it was time to re-customize the database, they decided to turn me loose on it, with concomitant title change and pay raise. Everybody won: I got more money and a better résumé; IT got to offload a rather unpleasant job (Visual Basic argh) onto someone who understood the problem domain very well.

    1. Skud

      If folks aren’t buzzing around the AO3 and Dreamwidth talent pools, however, I can’t imagine why not.

      You are so damn right, and that didn’t occur to me. *headdesk* Yeah.

      ETA: I posted this to try and encourage DW/AO3 developers to list their experience where people can find it.

  8. Mackenzie

    So I end up wondering how to put FOSS contributions on my resume. Right now, the only mention is down in the “Affiliations” section where I put that I’m in ACM and things like that “Ubuntu Contributor.”

    1. Rick

      My resume breaks open source involvement out into a separate section listing project name, URI, and my role (author, maintainer, contributor, whatever). (Here’s my resume if you’d like to have a look).

      Another option is to put open source projects into your “experience” section right along with the jobs. I’m not sure how well this goes over on a paper resume since the expectation is often that volunteer stuff shouldn’t be lumped in with paid experience (even though the learning is no less valuable). On the other hand, the way LinkedIn presents this sort of thing is really nice — it makes it very, very apparent if you’re involved in a lot of community projects.

      1. Mackenzie

        Ah, I see you use res.cls too :) Mine is rather heavily modified though. Hmm I like that “tools, libraries, methodologies” section under “Technical Skills.” Thanks for sharing!

  9. Erica

    This is probably the wrong wrong inappropriate place to put this (sorry Skud), but the page was open on my browser, and momentum is a powerful thing.

    Linden Lab is hiring for a variety of positions here in SF, Boston, Singapore, Davis, Mountain View, Virginia, and Brighton UK. We offer a family friendly set of benefits, and have a higher than normal number of females in executive and engineering positions. Plus, very strange inworld meetings where everyone can fly.

  10. gchick

    It almost feels like it should be obvious, but put your commitment to diversity where people can see it — looking at the jobs listings page you linked to and everything immediately around it (careers, legal, etc.), I can’t find it anywhere. And here’s the thing: I trust that Canonical isn’t going to do anything obnoxiously illegal in the interview, because they’re a company that seems to want to do things right. And I know as a longtime *ubuntu user that the community has a set of standards that a lot of users care about (even if they’re not always followed across the board); not to mention that the whole project is based on a very cool humanity-to-others ethics and diversity thingamabob. So y’all are starting out a couple of steps up on most tech companies.

    And yet, if you’re speaking peaking to me as an (imaginary) potential job-seeker, all that gets you is “well, they’re probably better than some”. Having worked in some crappy environments, I look hard for whatever evidence I can find about a company as a work environment… and I see nothing at all about the work environment or your desire for diversity on the careers site, which in my mind translates to “business as usual”. And, again, that’s an organization that I have a long relationship with and already think well of.

    Don’t assume that of course everyone knows you wouldn’t do anything assholish. Don’t assume that people will think that because Ubuntu represents something cool, working for Canonical will be idyllic — a lot of women, queers, and I assume other non-white-nerd-guy candidates too, have had bad experiences with working in places where the ideals sound just fabulous — including open source itself taken as a whole. You could start with putting your diversity commitment in every single job listing on your site, for example (if you don’t have one, Dreamwidth’s is excellent and cc-licensed): my current employer does something similar by not only saying “$ORG is an equal opportunity employer” (standard for U.S. job listings), but also adding something like “we are strongly committed to diversity and actively seeking to increase the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of our staff” and that makes me damned proud even when I’m annoyed by the realities work. It’s the difference between “they won’t deliberately screw up” and “they really want to do this right”, and it’s not the kind of thing you can just assume people will trust you about — or even if they do, it’s a gesture of support up-front to have it there explicitly.

    Obviously, I’m only speaking to the “attract more applicants” part of your equation. But the more you do to make it clear that you really mean it, organization-wide, the easier it will get to get diverse applicants over time.

    1. mdz Post author

      Thank you for your suggestions.

      I think it would be good for the company to have a diversity statement and to publish it prominently, but I can’t speak on behalf of the whole company in this regard. For the moment, I’m focusing on my own department and my own hiring, where I can take an active role personally.

      I think such a local approach is likely to be applicable to many other companies, where there is organizational inertia to overcome in creating or changing company policy.

      I could certainly speak more publicly about my department and what it’s like to work there, and our goals for diversity at that level. Perhaps some testimonials from the current team would be useful in this regard.

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