How can tech companies attract more women graduates?

Employers who want to change the gender ratio within their workforce have some difficult problems to solve. First amongst these problems is the size of the pool you’re fishing from: there just aren’t that many computer science women to choose from, so finding women who come ready for the workforce can be hard. Obviously you can look outside of the computing grad population – either look for non-grads and apprentices, or look for a broader range of degree subjects – but being a computer science lecturer I’m pretty convinced of the value of a computing degree. And many of the employers we talk to like computing grads too.

So, looking specifically at companies who want to employ computer science graduates there seems to be a real push to employ more women at the moment. I’ve been called by two big name employers in the last couple of months, and I’ve been contacted by a recent grad working in recruitment at a third big name consultancy, and the stalls we have at the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium are getting more and more popular each year.

We have an alumni group on Facebook full of women who’ve been to the Lovelace in the past, many of whom are now in grad jobs. In order to find out what kinds of events and recruitment strategies they’d find interesting, I decided to ask outright. There were a couple of suggestions (CV workshops and women-only assessment centres) from companies, and other suggestions came from the students themselves. Generally, the thread was quite interesting.

  • You have to get your adverts checked over by someone who’s not a guy. A lot of tech firms (particularly smaller ones) have a bit of a macho, brogrammer culture, and job ads which ask for rock-star programmers who are happy to work long hours, drink beer, and play computer games are appealing to a small subset of the universe of possible employees. If you really want that kind of employee that’s fine, I guess, but you might as well stop pretending that you’re bothered about diversity.
  • There was broad agreement that the students would like honest feedback and application support: CV workshops can be useful, but so can interview practice and mock assessment centre practice. Companies who are willing to provide training events, with decent feedback, and who can give tips on applications (particularly applications to that company, if it’s a good fit) would definitely be of interest.
  • The idea of women-only assessment centres got a mixed response. Lots of women don’t like events or strategies which are exclusively targeted at one gender.
  • The impression I got was that more balanced (less macho) assessment centres would be a good thing. This could mean women-led assessment centres, and assessment centres where there were balanced teams during teamwork exercises, would be better than outright women-only sessions. It’s true that there’s something odd about being the only woman in a group when you’re being assessed on groupwork (guys are statistically more likely to interrupt and take over) and anecdotally, this seems like it does happen fairly often in company assessment centres. Employers can get around this by having women facilitators1, ensuring that for group exercises there are balanced sets of people where possible (it’s better to have a bunch of all guy groups and a couple of 50-50 groups, for example, than have each group with just one woman in it), and making it clear that they’re taking this kind of thing into account in the job ad.
  • Offer industrial year placements and summer jobs to students in lower years; this gives both company and student a chance to see what it’s like actually working for a particular employer. There’s less of a scary commitment on both sides, and you really will get a feel for what a student can achieve.
  • There was a real interest in events that give a feel for the culture of a work place. Tours of the workplace. Meeting people who work there. Chatting to real engineers, preferably women, in an informal setting, is also a really useful thing to offer. Seeing how people work together in teams and how communication happens in the workplace is interesting to some of the women students & grads. One person suggested that actually doing some kind of activity (maybe a quiz?) in teams to see how people really worked together would be a useful way of finding out what working in the place was going to be like. I think that coming after “the year of the Tableflip”, in which technology workplace culture in general has seen a lot of bad press, students are thinking more and more about cultural fit with a company. If the employer doesn’t have any women engineers who can chat to applicants … why is that?
  • And finally get a stall at the Lovelace. At the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium we have a bunch (by which I mean “over 100”) of great women students, all of whom have chosen to give up a day from their vacation time in order to come to a computing conference. Employers who come along get to have a conversation with the students directly. To find out more about this option, talk to me:-)

Obviously there’s more to a diverse workforce than just getting people in the door in the first place (support and retention is really important, and you need to consider what happens when people take a career break) but if you don’t get the women through the door you can’t even start to address the problem. Hopefully this post will help a couple of employers to make their recruitment practices more appealing.

If you want to know more about this kind of stuff, check out Reena Jewell at geekEquality.com – she’s based in Southampton and has done some surveys on what women undergrads want in terms of tech careers.

Many thanks are due to the women students who chatted to me about this topic, both virtually and IRL.

1 obviously, women can be biased too, and if your workplace is entirely male there’s something dishonest about having mixed assessment centres.

One thought on “How can tech companies attract more women graduates?

  1. I currently have 2 female IT Apprentices and they both have women managers. Plus several of my male IT apprentices have female managers. It’s odd to think that when I was doing my placement year in 1985 and when I started my first real permanent job in 1990, about half the IT department were women.

    The full time IT classes at college are probably more than 75% male, with the female students far more likely to be aspiring to university than the lads.

    Most of the employers I deal with are keen to know how to attract more female apprentices for IT vacancies.

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