We recently blogged about 5 Tips for Recruiting Diversity in Engineering. This topic also came up during a Text Analyzer demo with Ongig’s new client, Curology.
Stephanie Sibert, the Director of Data at Curology is passionate about diversity and so is the rest of the Curology team. We asked Stephanie to share her experiences as a woman in engineering. Here’s what Stephanie had to say:
A bit about me
I worked in banking and financial services for many years. When the economy crashed in 2007, my employer closed its doors, and I found myself pregnant and unemployed. I decided to chase my dreams and go to college. My mother told me that this was selfish and that I would ruin my daughter’s life. When I met with the advisor at my community college to discuss planning a transfer to Berkeley Engineering, they advised me that someone in my situation should aim for something more attainable. I was the only woman in several math classes, many engineering classes, and always the only parent. It was an isolating journey with daily reminders that I didn’t fit in. Maybe it helped prepare me for working in tech.
After graduating from Berkeley, I got an internship on a software team. On an early team lunch, I sat at a table with 12 men and no other women. I was asked about what extracurriculars I’d had at school and explained that I’d waited tables and cared for my kid all through school. I said, “I think everyone should have to wait tables or work retail or something like that at some point in their lives,” and I quickly discovered I was the only person at the table who ever had. Every other person at the table had been supported through their education.
When I see job postings that require graduate degrees in STEM that are then filtered for top tier schools, we are selecting for that software team who’d never worked retail. As an industry, we unintentionally rule out people who didn’t have advantages and lose out on what those journeys can bring to the table.
“One of the absolute best hires I’ve ever made was a woman with no stem degree who’d had a five-year gap to stay home with her kids.”
I had to argue with our recruiting team about the advisability of hiring her, but all of their objections had nothing to do with her ability to do the job, and she was amazing! I’ve brought many incredible people onto teams by paying attention to their stories and trying not to filter on the wrong things.
How to recruit women in tech, words really do matter
I recall a time I walked into a room of engineers at a company and realized there was only one other woman on the team of 30. When I asked why there were so few women engineers, I was told:
“they aren’t applying, so I can’t hire them.”
So I took our open job descriptions and ran them through an AI text analyzer and got ~90% masculine on every one. When I edited the descriptions, we started to get more female candidates. The people who apply for your job are not a fixed set. If you look at the larger market group of people who are qualified to do your job, only a subset apply; you can impact the demographics of that subset.
I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of many discussions around the use of biased language on company sites and in job descriptions. There is a wealth of data around how language use affects the application pool, but it’s still very normal to question why. A great example is asking why the words “leadership” or “competitive” are considered “masculine.” If you ask an individual woman, maybe she will say, “I’m competitive, it’s fine.”
“However, the data shows that fewer women will apply if you use those words [‘leadership’, ‘competitive’, etc.]. Maybe they don’t see themselves in those words, or maybe it’s just a clue that they won’t fit in your work environment. For a person who’s felt burned by a past work environment, it matters more.”
This phenomena is actually why experts recommend writing job descriptions using more language that resonates with women. Men aren’t as likely to be deterred by language they don’t identify with as strongly.
Inclusive hiring in heels
Towards the end of my post-Berkeley internship, I applied for a full-time role, and they set up the full panel of interviews. On the last one, we’d finished the 30 minutes allotted, and the conference room we were in was booked by someone else. However, the interviewer still had more questions, so he asked me to go for a walk. Wearing my new interview heels, we walked out onto the bay trail, over dirt, roots, and gravel for another hour past my scheduled end time. By the time it ended, I was nearing panic about being late for picking up my kid from daycare. I had damaged my new shoes and had so many blisters my feet were bleeding like the step-sisters in Grimm’s Cinderella.
Now imagine answering engineering questions with an engaging personality while doing that.
“Maybe I could have said no, but as a new graduate with a child depending on me, I need to get a job and was worried that would be factored into my interview score.”
Years later, I was in a room of all men for the weekly hiring managers meeting when someone brought up the conference room shortage. Everyone jumped on taking interview candidates for walks as an alternative. When I mentioned, “women wear heels, and it’s not really fair to spring that on them,” everyone looked stunned. This was a room full of great people, and they’d just never thought of that.
Put in work for parental leave
In addition to looking for a job at which they will perform well, people also want a workplace where they will feel safe and where they can feel like they belong. It’s partly about hiring diverse people and also about keeping the ones you have. We know that women drop out of tech at double the rates than men do and are less likely to make it to leadership.
When my oldest was 10, I made the decision to expand my family and now have a 13-year-old, a three-year-old and a two-year-old. With both my littles, I’ve announced my pregnancy far before I was ready because I couldn’t stand for “stand up” so I hauled a rolling chair to a circle of standing people everyday. Trust me, this is awkward.
“As my second daughter’s due date approached I was absolutely terrified to take parental leave. When I looked around the company, I saw no one at my level or above who had taken parental leave. They’d applauded the dedication of dads who took a week and then came back to work. I had close to 10 other women tell me during my first pregnancy that they planned to leave the company and go work somewhere more family friendly when they were ready to have kids.”
So, I advocated for parental leave policies and spoke up about my family demands as I navigated being a tech manager with a new baby. I pointed out that the empty conference room packed with extra furniture and boxes was a terrible place to pump, especially when I was constantly walking in to find people using it as meeting space. My favorite was walking in to find the whole finance team cutting into a birthday cake on the table next to my breast pump. The company listened and over the next few years made changes that resulted in many of those other women choosing to stay as they started their families.
I’ve worked in places where almost everyday brought comments about “cutting out early, eh?” as I left to get to daycare before it closed. Pre-COVID, I typically got to the office by 6am, but it always feels like a judgement about dedication and work ethic when I have to leave. Now we’ve added homeschool, closed daycares and pandemic concerns to the mix.
“Every time I’ve logged into groups like Mom in Tech I see threads of women who are stepping back or stepping down because it’s just too hard.”
Knowing the value of diversity and inclusion
I’m intensely proud of the way Curology has set out to value and curate diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
“I’ve only been part of the team since August, but I’ve been made to feel like I belong and that comes from the top down. I am supported here.”
It doesn’t change the fact that it’s a global pandemic or that I’m currently trying to put together a roadmap while one kid cries because they are constipated and the other is crying because they have diarrhea.
I tell my teams that family is important, sanity is important and we can’t and shouldn’t separate our humanity from who we are at work. COVID has made that more true than ever as we call into each other’s homes everyday. I’ve had to make choices to be open about my challenges with the team, because I simply can’t do it any other way right now. Curology has given me a lot of options between “suck it up” and “quit”. They can’t make it not hard, but it makes the difference.
I’m worried that the post-pandemic world will be a step backwards in an industry already hurting for diversity. The shutdowns, health and economic struggles more strongly impact people with families, people waiting tables through school, people with health challenges and people who don’t have support systems.
We will be losing current and future workers due to these challenges. It will be on us all to figure out how we change our applicant screens, our hiring practices and our workplaces to make sure we don’t lose the voices our industry needs.
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