We Can Do It

Gender Diversity in Tech Requires Applicant Diversity

I would love our company to show more gender diversity, but where are the female applicants?

From what I've read women make up 17% of the Drupal community - though there is some question as to how many of those women are actual developers. Even in speaking with women in the Drupal community, it often seems that the women working in Drupal tend more to be in marketing positions than in highly-technical jobs.

Support for Women & Girls

As a father of a young girl, I am vested in making sure that that the technology field is a more friendly and welcoming industry to women. Our company has sponsored the Portland Rails Girls (even though we do very little Rails work) and we are excited to open up our space for an upcoming Women Who Hack event (thank you to Kronda Adair for championing this). It's always difficult for disenfranchised minority groups to break into an industry, in the best case because of a lack of personal in-industry advocates and worst case a true deep-seated gender bias. So, if we as an industry want to advocate for diversity, I think it's important to show support for these kind of functions.

Lack of Female Candidates

Yet, today with the careers we have listed at our company, I have yet to see many women applying for our jobs at all.

  • 19% (3 of 16) of the recent Project Management candidates have been women.
  • 8% (4 of 50) of applicants for Developer listings in the past 9 months have been women.
  • 0% (0 of 4) applications for Senior Developer have been women.

So where are all the female applicants? Here in Portland the adult demographic is 51% female, so it's not for lack of women being present in the city.

How Are We Doing?

If you include contractors we work with on a regular basis (which includes the HR world), Metal Toad Media is currently 23% (6 of 26) female. However, if you take contractors out and focus on just the in-house tech positions, women make up less then 10% (2 of 19) of our overall work force. That's about inline with the applications we have received overtime. So what does that mean?

We Need More Female Applicants

For our company to maintain (or get in place) a high-level of gender diversity, we need more female applicants. This means we need you! As a decent-sized development company, we have all kinds of positions available to be filled by women (or men - we are equal opportunity after all). This includes both senior positions and entry level positions, so I would like to encourage both seasoned professionals and recent CS graduates to consider Metal Toad Media as a potential employer.

We can do it!

Date posted: September 18, 2012


I recently read about how a company changed how their job ads to appeal to female applicants and how that worked well for them. I can't find that article, but instead found this interesting piece about specifically recruiting women: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/HOWTO_recruit_and_retain_women_in_te…

What's your opinion on that strategy?

Joaquin is headed on the right track when he talks about supporting initiatives like Rails Girls and Women Who Hack (there are similar initiatives in other cities, like Women Who Tech in DC, Black Girls Code in SF, Girls in Tech NYC, the She's Geeky and Webgrrls conferences), which are indeed great.

But then he puts it back on the applicants: But we're not getting enough women applying! We can't hire them if they don't apply!

As you point out, aschiwi, it takes more than simply having an "open door" policy. Companies have to be committed to diversity at the recruitment level. That means posting job descriptions in nontraditional sources. It means evaluating whether every requirement is actually necessary -- many web shops require a BS or degree in computer science, which plenty of talented male developers don't have and even fewer women developers do (to Metal Toad's credit, it simply lists this as a "plus").

But more deeply, it takes fostering relationships with women who are already leaders in technology. They can provide feedback on how welcoming your business is (if you have an "open door policy" but people who walk by the door get the clear feeling they're not welcome, you won't get very far). And they can point you in the direction of venues for recruiting people who might not otherwise be aware of your business. Initiatives like Women Who Hack are certainly a great way to build those relationships, so I'd encourage you (Joaquin) not to just see them as a good investment but as a way to give you the resources to make a shift toward more diversity happen.

All of this goes the same, incidentally, for diversity in racial and ethnic background -- techies are even more overwhelmingly white than they are overwhelmingly male.

Some good resources on this:

Top 10 Ways to Be a Male Advocate for Technical Women

Women Who Risk: Making Women in Technology Visible

Too few women in tech? Blame sexism. [a piece I wrote on this topic awhile back]

Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Playing the Blame Game

Thanks Anja - that's a great find! I just retweeted it. The most useful this is the job listings specifically targeted toward women - one of the very things I was looking for!

One of the comments about not using the word "ninja" makes sense - but I'd like to challenge more women to own up to the "expert" label. Women can and should consider themselves experts in their field. When I post a job with a "senior" or "expert" label, I am certainly not calling for all male candidates.

One problem with using the "expert" label, and probably "senior" one but less so, is that capable and successful women often suffer with "impostor syndrome".

People who suffer with it feel that they aren't as good as they are. That if they get that position they will be "found out" and they "feel like a fake". When they do well they attribute it luck or discount it. I know I do to some extent. Its insecurity and comes from being told your not good enough, or you shouldn't be doing something and so on.

So you may find that some women don't apply because they just don't think their good enough for the job and they're ruling themselves out unlike some male developers who's egos are somewhat greater than their ability to code.

I would love women to feel more empowered in assuming an "expert" or "senior" label, but I've actually taken to asking for less experience in my job adds and compensating by paying more attention to answers (and delivery) in our phone screens.

One thing you should keep in mind, the growing population of female developers is a fairly recent event so your senior developer position requiring 10+ years of experience is going to eliminate a lot of otherwise qualified female developers right off the bat.

Understood, that said, we're not just hiring for senior roles. We recently had two people who came onboard as junior developers who went through an intense 90 day training/probationary period. Not surprisingly given our applicant pool, both of these two junior developers were men.

I have been working with Drupal for 3 years outside of my admin job, puttering, learning and experimenting with sitebuilding, theming and module dev. I lost my admin job over a month a ago and applied to 2 Drupal shops in LA -- and these guys know me -- and I didn't even get an acknowledgement of my application. The Drupal community is biased toward women and even more so toward older women. I create my magic on my own...

Hi Susan - I can't speak to those shops, but up in Portland I'm hoping for a larger female applicant pool. Being a women isn't (and shouldn't be) a guarantee to be hired, but if you were looking to relocate, I'd recommend submitting an application at Metal Toad. :-)

Just an update. First off, thanks Joaquin, as much as I know Portland to be beautiful, I will not leave my wonderful Santa Monica beach only because I cannot get a Drupal job here. I have taken a word processing position with a law firm I used to work with. I'm very excited about returned to this job, but sad to not have gotten a Drupal job this time around. I'll continue to build my Drupal shop on my own outside of my day job.

Hey Susan,

Good luck with all your endeavors. Don't forget that as a web developer, you're not limited by geography! You might expand your search to agencies with distributed or partially distributed workforces too.

@Susan, No offense intended but to take your own personal experiences with some particular men and and blanket that as "sexism against women, and particularly older women" is something I disagree with. Are you difficult to work with? Do you get under people's skin? Have you-for some reason- been blackballed? Ask yourself those questions instead of blaming this on being a woman. I think if you were a joy to work with & a very productive worker, people would want you. simple as that. On the other hand, maybe it IS because you're a woman. Idk. But please don't just automatically blame your problems in being accepted soley on your gender. P.S. I am a minority woman, not a White man, btw.

In the last year I'd say I've had as many, if not more, women apply for the positions I've hired for. They're out there, they're applying. But are they qualified?

I've never hired based on gender. I prefer to select candidates based on skills, experience, potential, and culture fit. Right now my team is 80% women, with a woman as our only web developer. I was actively seeking male design applicants at one point to provide a bit of balance. In one search it took me 98 applicants to get down to 5 actually qualified candidates, two of whom received a job offer.

Currently I have a web developer opening that's been posted since March, and to date I've received as many applications from women as men, though ultimately not that many of either. But in the end, either they're not qualified for the position or they're incredibly over qualified.

To sum up:

  • Everyone, make sure you're applying for a job you're qualified for!
  • Let hiring managers know why you want to work for them, and why they should hire you. None of this "spray and pray" application business.
  • Women, apply for jobs!

Hi Stacy - I absolutely agree that an applicant needs to be qualified - not just a certain gender. However, the fact that you have an 80% female staff speaks to the referral bias I mentioned in the article. Women know more women and men know more men.

Please send all your overqualified female candidates our way and we'll send you our male applicants. :-)

What you're already doing -- pro-actively encouraging under-represented devs -- is awesome. The gap in applications exists because women have been discouraged in hundreds or thousands of little ways for their entire lives from math, science, and tech. So reversing that will take effort, and it's great that you're making that effort.

I'm sure you're careful, but I wish more people at events would ask women what they work on before assuming they're non-technical. I've had this assumption made about me when I was standing in a booth or bringing food/drinks to events. I once had to tell someone at a party that I write code three times before he stopped saying, "So you're technical?"

Being excluded from interesting conversations because of incorrect assumptions is definitely one of the hundreds or thousands of little ways women get discouraged from tech.

I agree that we need to be careful before making assumptions about individuals technical experience. Mostly what I am referring to are trends I see in the titles of men and women on websites. There are lots of women in the creative/design space (over 50% I think), but as soon as jobs trend to be more technical women become severely under represented.

Thanks for this post. It is obvious but true. Some of the onus is on us as women to not only apply, but to help recruit and encourage more women. BTW, look for my resume coming to you soon!

I certainly don't expect priority treatment just because I'm a woman, just to be considered fairly. It's tough out there all the way around.

Joaquin, your article really annoyed me at first reading. I've seen a pattern of companies being questioned about diversity, and then crying, "we want to hire [group], but they don't apply!" It's just a step away from "women aren't interested in technology." On second reading, I don't think that's what you're saying -- at least, I hope not.

In your job posting and what I know about your company, I think you're doing a lot of things right. Specifically, I like that your posting provides a lot of detail about what you're looking for in an applicant, and includes links to more information about your company, work environment, and values. I appreciate that you're engaging with the community by hosting events.

I looked at your Senior Developer position, since it's the closest to something I'd apply for if I were looking for a job. One thing I'd encourage you to consider is whether the "Required skills" are really all required! The article aschiwi linked to discusses this. Anecdotally, I had a conversation about this with my team a few years ago when we were trying to hire another developer, and learned that about half of the team would hesitate to apply if something we didn't have significant experience in were listed as a "requirement." We chose to minimize the list of requirements and re-cast most of it as "desired" or something like that.

Hi Amy, I hear what you are saying about the CYA ("we don't hire women because they don't apply") and that's absolutely NOT where I'm coming from. Rather, I'm hoping to get some tips on what I can do to increase female applicants - and in fact hoping that this article hopes to serve that purpose somewhat. A few things that we great to know are:

  1. Are other companies (even those managed by women) seeing the same disparity in their applicant pool?
  2. Is there anything in the messaging of our company that might discourage women applicants that I'm unaware of?

Based on the comments I've seen, I'd answer my questions this way:

  1. Yes, companies managed by women are more likely to attract women (see Stacy's comment).
  2. There's nothing specific in our messaging to discourage women, though creating a dialog indicating our interest in attracting qualified female candidates will have some positive outcome.

Ultimately, I'd like have a company that is more representative of our local demographics.

There's a list of reasons why women don't apply for jobs at certain companies. Let's face it, as a woman, wife and mother the hours I work, flexibility of my work schedule and getting along with co-workers matter more than the salary number and perks like beer/foosball.
I did the whole interview route in Portland last year when it was time to leave my old employer and I discarded most of the companies as not being fit to my needs. I found a common trend among companies with a large number of developers but no/single female developer - they automatically assumed I would be just like any of the guys. I'm not a Star Trek fan nor do I like foosball. I prefer to work in a team where I don't have to constantly remind people to watch their language. Just because I'm female doesn't mean I should take on project management/QA tasks. Too often are female developers forced to play a supporting role of the team rather than the role they were hired for.

One specific thing about this site - having a team page consisting of 99% males with references to Star Trek is off-putting. Fine for a contractor but not if you are looking for full time long term employment.

I'm happy to say 99% of the time, our references are to Starwars rather than Star Trek. ;-)

Joking aside, at least one of our female workers is HUGE fan of the Foosball table. So it may be that different things work for different people. I think we have done a fair job of avoiding a "brogrammer" atmosphere, and we have work from home days, but what things (if any) can I buy, stock the fridge or place in the lobby that will indicate that this is a company that values technical women?

If it's not foosball and free beer - what are the perks that you feel are more woman-friendly?

I am a woman - and an "older" one at that - and I like Starwars, Star Trek, foosball, beer and my language gets a little on rough side, and I burp and scratch as well (dang! no wonder I'm single! lol). I'm not sure "woman-friendly" is necessarily the true consideration - perhaps "other options" - things both men and women who don't like the aforementioned might prefer. I'm always aware of a tendency to over-compensate in the other direction when what we really want to do is get on a more common ground...

Yeah, I think avoiding the brogrammer atmosphere is far more important than getting rid of foosball tables... I was actually a very competitive foosball player at my last job, so foosball table is a plus for me.

One thing is to make sure that women are actively included in the foosball. I was lucky to have colleagues who ensured that I learned how to play (one who coached me), because foosball was really good for networking within the institute.

How do you know they assumed you'd be "just like any of the guys?" I don't doubt this from many companies, but I'm curious, and more importantly: we don't all have the same definition of "one of the guys" so it would be great if you'd share what that means to you — it sounds to me like there's more detail to your story here.

Why are references to [insert popular sci-fi movie/show here] off-putting to women, in your opinion, and to you personally? Is it Star Trek and/or Star Wars in particular? Do you feel like a mostly male development team would dislike you for not being into [thing that is predominantly/stereotypically liked by men], or that you wouldn't feel connected to the team for not having that shared interest?

I can see how "I'd be the only $GENDER person in $COMPANY" would be intimidating, but how comfortable you'd feel working at $COMPANY really depends on their culture, in my opinion. Seems as if you hint at this with "I prefer to work in a team where I don't have to constantly remind people to watch their language." Could you expound on this? I'm not sure whether you meant "sexist morons are rampant" or "people use expletives too much." If you have to regularly "remind" people not to be sexist (or not to be racist, or not to be jerks in general), they're not people that I (and many other men) would want to work with, either.

I'd like to point out that "you must have female employees to attract female employees" is a catch-22. "Having a team page consisting of 99% males is off-putting" rubs me the wrong way; I'm not sure exactly how, but I do wonder if you're taking advantage of a double standard by writing it — is it as likely that I could write "having a team page consisting of 99% females is off-putting" without provoking criticism?

Your comment gave me a lot to think about. I hope I've returned the favor! :)

I've been doing some reflection on this, and it seems to me, while women can certainly like sci-fi and video games, the majority of the fans of those two spaces are majority male. I had always assumed that the overlap of interest between the sci-fi space was a programmer thing, and it's entirely possible that it's simply correlation (ei, more programmers are male and males like sci-fi).

If our goal (as an industry or company) is to draw in more women, planning more female targeted events and/or having more female friendly - or at least gender neutral - decore around the office couldn't hurt. Of course, at this point we run into the potential of type casting, but I imagine walking into an office with freshly cut flowers vs. a Han Solo cardboard cutout would make a very different impression (Sorry, Han!).


This is a little bit funny to me, because I know if I were looking for work the cardboard Han Solo would be the first bit of humor I'd see that would make me feel like I'd fit in well at your company.

Honestly, while having female developers listed on a company page can be a comfort when applying, knowing that you'll fit in is a bigger comfort. I think the way you're going about that, by sponsoring events where women in tech will meet your company, is the best thing you can do.

Oh, but feel free to ditch the Stormtrooper. The Empire isn't well known for its gender diversity.

Yeah, I hear a policy of cloning tends to cut down on the diversity of a workforce across the board. :-)

Maybe we just need to add a cardboard Princess Leia to the group Though we'd avoid the problematic slave costume... :-/

Like you, I have a very young daughter (consider that the scope of this comment).

It's critical for parents like us to consider the long game. It starts early: my daughter gets no gender-bias in her prompts from us. She has toys of all ilk, but what she really loves presently is her train tracks (a network), dinosaurs & anatomy (bio science), and learning (what a gift to a geek-dad!). If the greatest tragedy of this predicament is that our culture's women were raised in a context that had bias, we must consciously build environments and opportunities for our children at the earliest (and then every) age, completely removing the "off on the wrong foot" that might occur by assuming that a son wants trains and a daughter wants makeup.

All things considered, the best first step is talking about it more. So thanks for the blog post. Parents should be conscious of their gender neutrality when they create opportunities for their children; and awareness is the pathway to that (neutrality with regard to opportunity does not mean neutrality toward identity, that's a separate topic).

Hi Chris, as the father of both a boy and a girl (and as someone who set out to instill no gender bias) I can tell you that boy's and girl's interests are different even as small children. When my daughter played with cars, they were a family of cars that would talk to each other and solve challenges; when my son played with Barbies, he would scoot them around like rocket ships.

Maybe more important to me is that computers and technology should be gender neutral. Yes, boys and girls (and men and women) will gravitate toward different uses - but they both can program. There's nothing to say that a train or dinosaur is anymore likely to lead to taking on a CS degree than playing with a Barbie (bio-science?).

...or at least it shouldn't.

Almost every week I see or hear comments such as:
"........ easy enough for your mum to understand."
"Are you able to fix your mum's computer?"
and worst of all, an ad on a jobs board (for a job in Sweden) at a recent tech conference specifying "hot chicks" as a benefit. This last borders on the illegal.

These statements sum up a prevailing attitude to women. If you are young, appearance matters. If you are a mother (ie. older), you probably aren't smart enough for a job in IT.

Unfortunately people aren't born with a sense of the repercussions of what they say. I've had to work on changing my group language from "hey, guys" (which at one time was accurate) to "hey team" (all, everyone, etc). To make things worse most prejudice or insensitive things people say have some foundation in the experience, which can make it difficult for people to understand why it would bother someone. For example, my mom truly does not know anything about computers, though my dad does. Drawing on my life experience, "easy enough your mom can understand" would make total sense. Importantly, it's not until someone's world view is challenged that they even have an opportunity to change it. Keep on truckin', and know that every time you raise someone's awareness of an issue in a respectful way, you are providing that individual an opportunity to change for the better. Be careful though, a lot of how your message is received depends on the delivery.

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About the Author

Joaquin Lippincott, CEO

Joaquin is a 20+ year technology veteran helping to lead businesses in the move to the Cloud. He frequently speaks on panels about the future of tech ranging from IoT and Machine Learning to the latest innovation in the entertainment industry.  He has helped to modernize software for industry leaders like Sony, Daimler, Intel, the Golden Globes, Siemens Wind Power, ABC, NBC, DC Comics, Warner Brothers & the Linux Foundation.

As the CEO and Founder of Metal Toad, an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner, his primary job is to "get the right people in the room".  This one responsibility is cross-functional and includes both external business development functions as well as internal delegation and leadership development.

A UCLA alumni, he also serves in the community as a Board Member for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, and Stand for Children Oregon - a public education political advocacy group. As an outspoken advocate for entry-level job creation in tech he helped found the non-profit, P4TH, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of entry-level jobs in the tech industry, and is in the process of organizing an Advisory Board for the Bixel Exchange, a Los Angeles non-profit that provides almost 200 tech internships every year.


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