How To Really Hire (and Retain) More Women In Tech

The balance still tilts in favor of guys at tech giants like Facebook and Google, but a few smaller tech companies are making big strides to attract and retain female staff.

As the conversation around how to get more women into tech jobs continues apace, the fact remains that women make up about a quarter of all employees at tech giants Facebook, Apple, Google, Oracle, and Microsoft and less than half of new hires in the industry.

Hiring more women is the ideal, but it’s a tricky proposition (not to mention a legal sticking point) because a company can’t simply say men need not apply. So Fast Company talked to two tech companies that have been bucking the trend and adding more women to their staffs to learn how companies can really hire more women in tech.

Both Offerpop, a platform for social marketing campaigns, and HomeAdvisor, a home improvement website and mobile app, have drastically increased their numbers of female employees in the last couple of years.

And while vice president of HomeAdvisor’s human resources Shannon Garcia-Lewis and Offerpop’s CFO Cindy Smith both point out that they hire for the best fit, not based on gender, they agree that there are ways to encourage women to lead in tech and other sectors by cultivating an inclusive culture.

Creating a support system

As a senior financial executive, Smith says she’s used to being the only woman at the table. It’s one reason she started LOOP, shorthand for Ladies of Offerpop. "I started it when we had just a dozen women in the company," she says, in effort to develop a cross-functional group that could share ideas and support each other. What started as small group discussions has evolved into a much bigger entity.

Offerpop funds LOOP breakfasts to brainstorm social strategy, systems, and productivity. LOOP has a book club (planning to read Lean In) and an on-site Zumba class.

LOOP members also launched Women in Tech and Social Marketers in NYC meetups at Offerpop’s headquarters. Smith says these gatherings have served to attract and recruit more female applicants.

Though Smith admits that starting LOOP was personal, she also says there is a business case for supporting staff outside their workstations. "In a tech company you have to make decisions quickly," she observes. The way to make good decisions is to ensure the decision-makers are a diverse group. Male or female, she posits, you have to get the right people together and make them feel valued and that their contributions are acknowledged. "If you feel respected, you feel confident to share ideas," Smith says, which in turn, helps groom leaders who keep the company competitive.

Advocate beyond your company

Similarly, HomeAdvisor created WELL (Women's Executive Leadership and Learning Group) after a noticeable increase in female leadership among it’s 1,000-plus employees. Once the group got together, they saw a need to split into smaller groups to tackle specific issues including a community "Dress for Success" outreach program aimed at getting women back into the workforce. HomeAdvisor’s recruiting team helped with career coaching in addition to donating clothing, Garcia-Lewis says. Internally, pulling together the donations opened up a conversation about the finer points of dressing professionally.

WELL also sponsors Lunch and Learn programs. "Like mini TED talks," says Brooke Gabbert, HomeAdvisor’s director of communications. The more recent one featured a woman VP in tech, Gabbert says, and because she fielded so many questions about technology careers, the next will focus exclusively on that. While these Lunch and Learn programs are not exclusive to female staffers, Gabbert says the audience has been comprised of 90% women. 

She also points out that discussions about tech have seeped into other departments. Thanks to exposure from HomeAdvisor’s mentoring program, the finance staff wanted to learn more about what was going on in the tech department and have now incorporated new systems into their workflow.

Garcia-Lewis says it would be difficult to calculate the results on a balance sheet but it’s had an impact on morale, inspiring employees and increasing retention. Speaking specifically about the Lunch and Learns, she says, "Our biggest intent is for [participants] to raise their hand. After the event, they can take that information into meetings and get in front of executives and talk more about what it looks like in tech. We are trying to invest in what they are interested in."

[Image courtesy of Death To The Stock Photo]

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3 Comments

  • Erin Moran McCormick

    I've spent years in tech - often as the only woman in the room - and would have loved to have some kind of support back then. I remember being CIO when a guy came in for an exec meeting and was trying to win our business. He thought I was the Admin and brushed me aside telling me he liked his coffee with cream. I played along, brought him his coffee and then sat at the head of the table. He didn't get the business.

    Agree that it takes more than talk - it takes action. http://yearofaction.com I'm putting my money where my mouth is and started a new kind of program for women called the Girlfriend MBA - giving women the biz, tech and marketing skills, support (and nudge) they need to succeed today. This is a NEW kind of action-based MBA: MOTIVATE and inspire in a girlfriend network; BOOST your skills and confidence; and ACTION and accountability for results. Women are loving it! http://yearofaction.com

  • I'm sorry but I have to agree with the previous commenter. It is more of the same soundbites. Please do better than that. Let's have a REAL conversation on this.

    I have been in recruiting for 20 years, most of that time in the tech space. Thankfully, it's as a business owner (recruiter/consultant) who isn't limited to a C Suite or VP/Director who heard the same repackaged "advice" forcing me to implement what they've "learned".

    It takes way more than support groups (which are usually vanity projects). It's 2014, time to tweak the strategies. Mobilize current employees (not just recruiters) to go into the communities where women are and making career offers that are appealing and not just talking AT them about how great it is at your company. I have solutions for days but not enough space here. I'd be glad to counsel Ms. Smith or Ms. Garcia-Lewis or any other tech company.

    Adrienne Graham

  • Holly Soutter

    I guess this strategy seems like "more of the same" to me. Push the issue back into women's laps and let them figure it out. Often these company support networks aren't empowered to effect real change in the organization. It seems to me that the simple way to recruit and retain more women is to pay them the same as men, promote them at the same rate as men and provide them with support for their many outside work obligations.