How Technology Companies Can Hire and Retain More Women

For some time now, technology companies have acknowledged that women are underrepresented in their companies in technology and leadership positions. Both large and small companies in Silicon Valley have publicly announced their intentions to increase the representation of women and minorities in their ranks, yet not much progress has been made. Katharine Zaleski, the cofounder of a company that helps clients diversify their workforces, writes in the New York Times that a big part of the solution could come from making changes in the interview process. She maintains that often well-intentioned, but clueless, men send clear messages to women during the interview process that they are not welcome or valued. But sometimes these interviewers are not well-intentioned. In one example, Zaleski set up an interview with a tech company for an African American woman software engineer. Zaleski recounts, “after meeting with the hiring panel, she [the applicant] withdrew her application, telling us she felt demeaned by the all-white male group that failed to ask her any questions about her coding skills.” In fact, one of the men told her that because she wasn’t a “cultural fit,” there was no need to proceed with technical questions. But what does it mean to be a “cultural fit?” Zaleski suggests that the template for “fit” is based on young white men. What can companies do to be successful in hiring diverse candidates? Zaleski offers these tips:

  • Include women in the hiring process by intentionally forming diverse interview panels.
  • Make current female employees available to speak to candidates about their experience in the company.
  • Make themselves appealing to female candidates by telling them not only about their ping pong tables and retreats but also about their parental leave policies, childcare programs, and breast-pumping rooms. Emphasizing these policies demonstrates that the company has a culture that values and includes women.
  • Hold webinars for potential candidates led by female employees who talk about how the organization is working to become more inclusive. There is a lot of negative press about tech companies that makes women skeptical about whether they will be valued, and companies need to address these concerns directly.
Let’s be clear: while these steps will help with hiring, retention is another matter. My niece recently returned to work in a technology company after giving birth to her first child, and her manager is unsupportive. The first thing her manager said to her upon returning to work was, “How many more are you planning to have and how soon?” He did not even welcome her back and he is unhappy that she needs breaks to pump. She no longer wants to work there and is actively looking for another job. Does your company make it clear that they value women? Please share with us what efforts your organization makes to be inclusive of women. Photo courtesy of MDGovpics (CC BY 2.0)    ]]>

Tips for Retaining Women in Architecture

The field of architecture is hemorrhaging talent. While women make up 50 percent of many graduate architecture programs, they drop out of the profession in large numbers once they start working. What is going on? A recent study on diversity by the American Institute of Architects, reported by Robin Pogrebin in the New York Times, found a lack of gender equity in the profession that contributes to women leaving:

  • Women and minorities are less likely to be promoted to senior positions. When younger women do not have role models in senior roles, they may be discouraged and conclude that the opportunities for women are limited.
  • The percentage of female architects in the United States has been stagnant for more than ten years at about 25.7 percent.
  • African American women make up less than 0.3 percent of the industry. These low numbers make it especially challenging for African American women to be accepted or taken seriously in the profession when there are so few representatives of this demographic.
  • Female architects are considered intruders by contractors and construction workers at construction sites. Their presence is often resented or not respected.
  • Younger women with architecture degrees are often pushed into drafting and interior design roles, while men design the building structures and are given more face time with clients.
  • Many architectural firms lack support for work-life balance, making it necessary for many women to choose between becoming a parent and staying at the firm and in the profession.

Tips for Retaining Female Architects

According to Pogrebin, the American Institute of Architects study suggests that the following behavioral and policy changes can help create environments where female architects can be successful and will want to stay:
  • Treat female architects as professionals. For example, do not call a woman a “girl,” especially in client meetings. (Yes, this really happens.)
  • Make sure that the women on a project are introduced and not made invisible.
  • Don’t comment on women’s bodies or clothes more than you would on men’s.
  • Don’t apologize for swearing in front of female architects. They can probably take it or will tell you if they are offended, just as men would do.
  • Don’t interrupt or talk over women.
  • Promote women into positions of power and influence.
  • Provide overtime pay, flexible schedules and paid parental leave to support family life for both women and men.
These suggestions for behavior and policy changes will go a long way toward changing the culture of the architecture profession to one where women will feel they can utilize their talents without having to fight against unconscious and conscious bias that creates an unequal playing field.   The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Daniel Lozano Valdéz.]]>