Skip
Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

5 minute read

Strong Female Lead

These Female Developers Explain How To Recruit More Female Developers

If your job description says you're looking for a "coding ninja" or "rockstar," you may already be turning women away.

These Female Developers Explain How To Recruit More Female Developers
[Photo: Flickr user WOCinTech Chat]

The gender gap in tech is well-known and much debated. And while some companies are making great efforts at improving diversity in their own ranks, we don't always hear from the women already working in the industry about what they think should be done.

So here at Codementor, I asked two female developers on our platform, Jessamyn Smith and Ariadni-Karolina Alexiou, for their input on how companies can attract and keep talented female developers. Here's what they said.

It Starts With The Job Description

The first thing tech companies may need to rethink is how they craft their job postings. Some descriptions are written in ways that tend to turn talented female developers away.

1. Scrap the over-the-top terms: An intriguing job description doesn't need to sound over-enthusiastic. As the interim CTO at Ziversity.com, a Canadian recruiting platform that helps organizations hire developers from diverse backgrounds, Smith says she's learned to be wary of any job description that contains the words "coding ninja," "coding god," "rockstar," or similar epithets. And Alexiou, a data engineer from Switzerland, agrees these buzzwords are off putting.

"It's like they have a fixed idea in their mind of what their new hire is going to be," she says. And women aren't the only developers who find those terms distasteful—others feel that type of language is meant to appeal to younger candidates more than experienced ones. All the same, Smith and Alexiou agree that this approach tends to attract more male programmers over female. These descriptors may be a red flag for an employer and a culture that isn't as inclusive as it could be.

2. Keep required skills to a minimum: Confirming Hewlett-Packard's oft-cited internal report finding that women don't apply for jobs unless they meet all the listed qualifications, Smith says that when she was a junior developer, she didn’t apply for jobs that listed skills she was unfamiliar with.

Nowadays, she prefers "job descriptions that talk about the quality developers they want and a couple technical skills." As someone who's since interviewed many candidates herself, Smith says, "Unless you're trying to hire for a very senior position, technical skills aren't nearly as important as people who can think well, communicate well, and want to learn."

3. Project team spirit, not competition: Instead of using over-enthusiastic, demanding language in job descriptions that implies developers would need to prove themselves every day, Smith suggests employers use a friendlier tone. The goal, she says, is simply to suggest a culture where teamwork is valued and developers are respected.

In her personal and professional experience, Smith has known women developers to be more likely to apply to companies with a social cause, no matter how small. So if your job description emphasizes how your company can make the world a better place, you'd be much more likely to attract diverse applicants.

How To Retain The Talent You've Got

Hiring is only one piece of the puzzle. Tech companies also seem to be struggling to keep the women they do hire—which points to a culture problem. Here are some ways to make your female developers comfortable and loyal to your company.

1. Hire multiple women: This one should be obvious but still tends to go overlooked, especially at small companies. Being the sole female developer on your team can feel pretty lonely, no matter how supportive your male colleagues are. Women don't want special treatment, but that experience may be enough cause to leave.

Smith has previously applied for jobs at companies with multiple openings with a female friend of hers, and she recommends companies hiring two or more female developers together, especially for junior roles (this way they're more likely to stick around, develop their skills, and both move up the ranks). Needless to say, women won't necessarily get along simply on the basis of gender, but it's important that no one feels singled out, even implicitly.

And if you're looking to hire for senior or managerial positions, hiring women for those prominent roles can signal to other female developers that there are jobs for them, too, at every level of your company.

2. Don't dismiss mentorship: More junior developers can benefit greatly from having a programming mentor. Whether it's through an in-house program or a third-party platform, like ours, consider approaching your female developers privately to extend mentorship offers.

Smith has led over 600 mentorship sessions here at Codementor and says about 20% of her clients are women. She's noticed how mentorship is a pretty consistent way to build female developers' confidence in a male-dominated tech market.

3. Equal pay, period: "If I have to pick one single reason that I and other women have left jobs, it is because we found out what everyone else on the team made, and we made way less than the guys doing the same jobs as us," says Smith. "Nothing kills your spirit more than finding that out."

It's not news that women in general are less likely to ask for raises, and sometimes this has nothing to do with confidence. Companies need to be much more proactive about closing the gender wage gap. One way to ensure equal pay for women is to do regular salary reviews and pay everyone according to the value they provide to the company, not based on when they were hired.

Smith says she feels hopeful about the future of women in tech. Small steps can add up, and sometimes common sense can go a long way. One junior developer I spoke with told me, "I just want to work with excellent developers [who are] passionate about what they do [and] recognize that anyone is capable of being a great developer."

Seems like the same thing a male developer would want, too.

Weiting Liu is the founder & CEO of Codementor, a live, one-on-one mentorship marketplace for software developers. Weiting is a serial entrepreneur and an alumnus of both Y Combinator and Techstars.

loading