I believe that even in my lifetime the advances that have been made in technology have been a great leveller.  Technology has enabled so much collaboration across so many different boundaries, across culture, geography, age, race and gender.  Even in my own career I have worked alongside teams from all over the world, on one particular project we had Brazilian, Chinese, and Dutch developers, working with an Australian project manager and a business analyst from Portugal working from a London office for a US based client.  They were a range of ages, races and genders.  I think the software they produced was better for the team’s diversity.  Their range of viewpoints and backgrounds enabled them to better empathise with the eventual users of the software they were building.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate as the employers I’ve worked for not only recognised the importance of diverse teams but were also prepared to invest both the time and sometimes the money that was necessary to source candidates from non-traditional backgrounds.  The industry is already well aware that there is a shortage of technical women.  There are some brilliant initiatives in this area and most importantly some truly inspirational female role models for those entering employment.  I’ve been exceptionally lucky to work with just a few of them.  It seems as though the more forward thinking of employers have woken up to the realisation that a diverse workforce is a boon to productivity and the collective intelligence of teams.  These are leaps forward and while we should keep striving and not become complacent it is in the implementation of these initiatives that I have noticed some actions which are increasingly counter-productive.  Some recruiters, despite the best intentions, are doing more to alienate potential female candidates than encourage them.

I do not know how women feel about the hiring process, nor do I believe they think as a collective hive-mind, so whenever I get the chance I ask them for feedback.  How was the hiring process? What did they enjoy? What could I improve?  Questions I ask of all the candidates I shepherd through their recruitment process.  At a previous employer we had a kind of focus group of female developers and business analysts set to explore one questions “how can we hire more females?”.  Whilst there were lot of ideas in the room there was one recurring theme that often stopped potential ideas in their tracks – no one wanted to feel or make others feel that the bar was being lowered for them.  They didn’t want women only interview days, they didn’t want woman-targeted advertising and they didn’t want to be commoditised with the offer of increased referral bonuses for female candidates.

It is in trying to work against the stereotype of the “programmer” that recruiters often fall into the trap of pandering to an equally divisive stereotype.  Whilst stand-out cases of obvious crassness make news, like the ad posted to the Ruby User group offering female co-workers as a perk or at the other end of the spectrum LinkedIn’s ban of a job ad showing a female web developer because it was “offensive”, it’s apparent that even when the industry thinks it’s doing the right thing often it just gets weird.  Pink adverts, adverts featuring photos of lip stick and high heels (really) there have been some truly odd attempts to attract female candidates when filtered though the lens of a recruiting department.

Recently I met with a representative from a university women’s group. She described a meeting with the Diversity Recruiters at a large investment bank.  They wanted to be involved with the women’s society and wondered what would be the best thing they could do.  The women’s group leader suggested that they might like to sponsor a scholarship for one of the female students.  A relatively modest award would ensure that a student would be “theirs”, branded as such and available for publicity. This would also ensure that the lucky recipient would be relieved of some financial burden, maybe give up a part-time job, devote more time to study, even fair better because of it.  The Diversity Recruiters didn’t agree that this would be the best use of the money, they wanted in their words a greater “return on investment”.  So what was their suggestion?

Afternoon tea in a posh hotel.  The budget? The same as the scholarship.  This is a perfect example of not knowing your audience, of not understanding or at least not empathising.  The twee sensibilities of an HR department woefully out of touch with the audience they were trying to engage.    A true opportunity to help was squandered in favour of cream teas.  It’s exactly the brand of corporatism that sees a company say they do work for the environment because they have a photo of the CEO planting a tree on their website.  It may well be benign but it’s also pointless.  Gender like any diversity characteristic is too often treated as a checkbox item. It’s as though some recruiters are more looking for Pokemon than people…

So how do I hire female developers?

I aim to hire highly-skilled, passionate people.  The adverts I place aren’t for “Ninjas” or “Rockstars” or other “brogrammer” terms,  they are for software engineers, for people who like solving problems and who like having their work make an impact.  So how do I ensure I’m reaching out to technical women too?  I source, a lot.  As women area smaller minority of the greater technical population you have to look through more of that population to find them.  It’s labour intensive but they are there you just have to look.  I have still run women only hackathons, and relied on the advice of organisations like Women in Technology and advertised in media aimed at a female audience, even increased the bounty for the successful referral of a female developer.  However, as a recruiter, first and foremost the thing I try to do is appeal to a passion for technology and find the best people I can.  If I’m looking for highly skilled people who are passionate about technology I know that I’m going to find some females in that group and I’m going to do my best to make sure that when I do talk to them it’s with a relevant and interesting opportunity…but then that’s what I want for every candidate.