Accounting for gender imbalances


  • Admin

    I wanted your folks' opinion on an actual real issue.

    So I work for a tech company. We're not huge but we're growing pretty fast. Up to a year or so ago we had very few women working in actual IT positions - there were several among our tier 1 customer support but among our 100+ developers, sysadmins and QA we had no ladies at all. This has started to shift over time, and now we have about a dozen, but the demographics are still pretty skewed.

    Here's the thing; I'm building a new team within the sysadmin group now, and among the applicants whose resumes are making their way to my desk there are some women. However we have zero female staff within the team itself, and never did. If any are hired they would be the first.

    I don't know (I have no way of knowing) how that would feel. How awkward, intimidated or comfortable someone might feel despite the best intentions from everyone involved to make them fit in and feel part of the group... I haven't had to deal with it.

    But some of you might have. What are the challenges? What has gone wrong assuming good intentions were in place? What mistakes were made despite those intentions? What can I do from my end to make things smoother?

    I'd appreciate any input you have.


  • Pitcrew

    @Arkandel said in Accounting for gender imbalances:

    I wanted your folks' opinion on an actual real issue.

    So I work for a tech company. We're not huge but we're growing pretty fast. Up to a year or so ago we had very few women working in actual IT positions - there were several among our tier 1 customer support but among our 100+ developers, sysadmins and QA we had no ladies at all. This has started to shift over time, and now we have about a dozen, but the demographics are still pretty skewed.

    Here's the thing; I'm building a new team within the sysadmin group now, and among the applicants whose resumes are making their way to my desk there are some women. However we have zero female staff within the team itself, and never did. If any are hired it would be the first.

    I don't know (I have no way of knowing) how that would feel. How awkward, intimidated or comfortable someone might feel despite the best intentions from everyone involved to make them fit in and feel part of the group... I haven't had to deal with it.

    But some of you might have. What are the challenges? What has gone wrong assuming good intentions were in place? What mistakes were made despite those intentions? What can I do from my end to make things smoother?

    I'd appreciate any input you have.

    I work in an office space that is majority female and when I came into it, I was literally the first male in a while. It was fine.

    I think the first thing you should do is definitely take the temperature of the room now regarding gender issues; figure out what your current team thinks, what their stances are, and that way you can start to see if there are any issues you might need to address before, during, or after the hiring process.

    Beyond that, the truth is (IMO) that the only way to balance the scales is for you to hire women and show everyone they are welcome, respected, and valuedwithin the work environment.


  • Pitcrew

    @Arkandel So, as one of those Tier 1 types, who ended up being responsible for running herd on coders, developers, etc etc - Women know what they're walking into, generally. Make sure there's no completely sexist jokes, sexual harassment, talking about tits or sex, and you should be okay.

    (Yes, all of those things have happened to me in my forays into male dominated fields)


  • Pitcrew

    I'm gonna ping @Sparks because she is a woman working in the tech sector! And I bet she has good life experience there. My own professional experience has been blessedly -- pretty decent as far as gender stuff goes? I worked in theatre and I often worked with more women than men in my department.



  • @Arkandel said in Accounting for gender imbalances:

    I don't know (I have no way of knowing) how that would feel. How awkward, intimidated or comfortable someone might feel despite the best intentions from everyone involved to make them fit in and feel part of the group... I haven't had to deal with it.

    You'll never know for sure if you don't hire a woman. Women aren't like robots: they all act and react differently. You can refer to my manual, but that won't help you lead a woman.

    But some of you might have. What are the challenges? What has gone wrong assuming good intentions were in place? What mistakes were made despite those intentions? What can I do from my end to make things smoother?

    I'll just start with some advice.

    • Hire the best people for the job, regardless of gender.
    • Treat everyone equitably, not equally.
    • There are always good intentions, not matter the result; if there are bad intentions, the results will matter.
    • Be professional.

    My firm has hired three female attorneys over the past year, unbalancing the gender composition of the firm's attorneys. The entire support staff is composed of women. Yet the men aren't nervous because they follow the above rules.


  • Pitcrew

    @Ganymede said in Accounting for gender imbalances:

    @Arkandel said in Accounting for gender imbalances:

    I don't know (I have no way of knowing) how that would feel. How awkward, intimidated or comfortable someone might feel despite the best intentions from everyone involved to make them fit in and feel part of the group... I haven't had to deal with it.

    You'll never know for sure if you don't hire a woman. Women aren't like robots: they all act and react differently.

    Yeah. This, basically.


  • Pitcrew

    Oh hi, I am a woman working on a tech engineering team. I am the only woman on our vertical, though on the entire team we have two. Out of about 40 employees.

    The most important thing to have in this position is a support system. Management or supervisors for this team must be receptive to feedback. Not only must they be receptive, they SHOULD be willing to be point person on it. Let me example.

    Most of the people on my broad team are pretty great. I mean, we are busy, we are stressed, we are not by and large people with extensive backgrounds in customer interfacing or social skills (except me!). There is some bro-ery, absolutely. It comes with a certain level of relaxed expectations as far as 'strictly professional' behavior goes. People on our support engineering staff blow off steam. They throw nerf darts at each other, we meme in team chat, we faff around on the internet when we aren't engaged and busy. This is mostly fine. Sometimes, it crosses a line that makes me unhappy or uncomfortable. I have been very lucky that my management staff has always seen it and stopped it before I even have to say anything, and that is what makes me feel comfortable here.

    I wryly observe I am the only woman in meetings of 20+. My teammates might joke that they have to be nice to the resident woman, but there's good rapport and well-set expectations so it's all in good fun. They are also mostly terrified of me, that probably helps.

    But really. Proactive and aware management is the key, imo. Don't focus on what might 'offend' a delicate lady. Focus on what is or is not appropriate in a work environment, and enforce it.



  • If much was made about my being the first woman hired into a position, I'd feel odd. Mention it in passing, ok, sure. Mention it with emphasis, or frequently? I'd feel as if my vagina were the determining factor, not my skills. I'd worry it might create overt resentment in my existing male colleagues. I'd wonder if in today's climate, it was being used to win brownie points or a pat on the back for the person bar-rattling about it.

    Don't put your female employees in a "Look we have women now!" spotlight, in front of your existing employees. Even if it's to discuss issues pertinent to suddenly having women in an environment that's been male-only for always.

    Make sure you are prepared to enforce a safe, constructive environment. Make sure you're up to date on the policies and how you can enforce them when issues arise. Don't sit back and trust you'll be approached if the policies are being violated. Keep your eyes and ears open. Model behaviours that make it clear you are open and approachable, so that when it happens, people know they can come to you with issues.


  • Pitcrew

    I know that a lot of women experience getting talked over and not heard in meetings a lot in professional settings. So something to keep in mind might just be -- being aware of that possibility in meetings and whatnot. If you notice that anyone on the team ends up doing this -- probably without even realizing -- a simple, "I think X had more to say about that, hold on a sec," can do a lot. (It's rude behavior to or from any gender, it's just something that women report experiencing more than men. Some people are just INTERRUPTERS in general, but it's sadly a thing where some guys habitually talk over their female coworkers. Often without even really realizing/being conscious of it.)


  • Pitcrew

    @Caryatid this is all good too. Don't make your first woman hire all about how she's your first woman hired. Examine the culture and what needs to be changed or reinforced to make it appropriate for ANY worker who might come in, and don't put the onus on the 'diversity hire' to point those things out, or sign off on things.

    Honestly, I do not think there are different standards for what is work appropriate for men, women, or other. Keep it professional and let all your employees do their jobs.



  • Gany brings up a lot of good points.

    And the point on 'please don't call out that I'm one of the first / only women' is valid, too. It'd fucking suck to land a good job and then later learn 'yeah we only hired you because you're a woman' (or to be made to feel that way at least).

    I've been in IT since I was a teenager (yay internships!) and often the only or one of just a couple women on a team.

    When I worked at Verizon, I had a really sexist comment made by a manager. I went to HR. They took me seriously, listened, handled it.

    My last job, I had a manager behave in a sexist way, took it to HR, they sat me down with his boss (a woman) and both proceeded to tell me how it totally wasn't sexist at all. I was the only woman on the team (manager's boss worked remotely and oversaw a number of teams; we saw her maybe once every two or three months).

    Be like Verizon between these two. If an issue is ever brought up, listen. It may be a misunderstanding ('he said this and I took it to mean...' can sometimes be perfectly innocent but not always!), but you should absolutely never just brush it off.

    And make sure the guys on your team watch each other for sexist behavior. They need to be willing to call each other out. Seeing a coworker call another out for being ignorant (whether he meant to or not) can be bolstering and help someone feel more comfortable. And too few people do it. It's as easy as 'dude, that wasn't cool.'

    Anyway. Like others, I've been the only or one of a few on teams and usually it's been all right. I feel best when I know I have a boss or HR that I can safely talk to should an issue ever arise.


  • Admin

    @Caryatid Do you think the gender imbalance is something that ought to be addressed in the interview?

    For instance does a question such as "we're currently a team consisted only of men, how do you feel about that?" sound like we're preparing to listen for feedback and keep things professional, safe and constructive or signal we might be shedding too much of a spotlight on gender right out of the gate?


  • Pitcrew

    @Arkandel said in Accounting for gender imbalances:

    @Caryatid Do you think the gender imbalance is something that ought to be addressed in the interview?

    For instance does a question such as "we're currently a team consisted only of men, how do you feel about that?" sound like we're preparing to listen for feedback and keep things professional, safe and constructive or signal we might be shedding too much of a spotlight on gender right out of the gate?

    Tbh that sounds like a question that opens you guys up to legal liability re: accusations of gender discrimination. (Also, personally, that question would kind of moreso give me the opposite impression: that the company was trying to assess whether I could be a Good Sport about all the Guys Being Guys.)



  • @Arkandel

    What @Roz said. I would wonder if they maybe knew there were issues with their all male team and how they might react to a female coming on board.

    A woman coming into a tech setting will probably (as others have said) anticipate the environment being male-heavy. A better way to show instead of tell (thereby risking her reading into a well-intentioned question that still gives weird vibes) is to, before or after the interview, tour the interviewee through the workspace. Let them see, yep, there's a whole bunch of penii in here. Don't mention it. Don't bring it up.


  • Pitcrew

    This post is deleted!


  • So, I get to do software team interviews and resume reviews, and I'll tell you the things I've noticed (and which I've realized I'm prone to as well on the other side of the divide):

    • Women in tech will often downplay our own achievements and skills. This means that a woman's resume will often (but not always!) leave out anything that isn't one of the most notable bullet points, will tend to omit skills in the 'skill list' that aren't at really expert levels, etc. Conversely, a lot (but not all!) of the resumes I've dealt with for male engineers will have any skill they've ever used in the skills list. "I know C++" does not always mean what I would read it to mean; I've encountered folks where it means that they've written lots of C code, glanced at some C++ source on github, and thought "okay, classes! I know those from Java. How hard can it be?" (And then they get into the STL and start to weep tears of blood. ANYWAY.)
    • Women are not (usually) as good at—or at least as prone to—bullshitting. I've met guys who can talk their way through an interview sounding like they know everything, then hit the engineering floor and start flailing. I see this most often with wireless tech; more than once, I've had a guy cheerily tell me how they're just great with Bluetooth Low Energy, and I'm like "Cool! Can you show me how you'd design a simple protocol to do <X> over BLE?" and things come to a screeching halt. I have not had that with a woman in interviews.

    The practical upshot of this is that given a man and a woman of exactly equal skill level applying for the job, the man will very often look 'better' on paper and talk a better game in an interview. I just have to keep this in mind when reviewing resumes in general, and then do actual technical interviews.

    Note, I do not like 'program this solution' tests for technical interviews; I know I can't always write actual code on a whiteboard under pressure, and I'm the freaking Program Lead. So I test technical skills in other ways. Like:

    • You say you've got great experience in wireless communications? Given this use case, sketch out the basics of a protocol that will get the necessary data transferred over Bluetooth 4.1 without any major inefficiencies, which will be easily processed on resource-constrained silicon, and do so without using so many characteristics that it would break Nordic's Bluetooth radio firmware.
    • You're an expert debugger? Awesome! I have what I call the 'train wreck' file; really horrible bugs which are not at all obvious on first glance. Let's grab one in a language you know, let's say that given this particular bug-induced behavior, if you'd narrowed the issue down to this piece of code, how would you go about fixing it?
    • You're really familiar with low level silicon on ARM chips? Sweet! Let's talk register access on a Cortex-M3; what happens if you create a register variable and do this? Or let's go over the implications and uses of the volatile keyword!

    Things like that. I come up with technical challenges that let me see their thought process, rather than their "woo, I can write a program to efficiently calculate an integral image on the whiteboard". I find that this works really well to show me who's bullshitting (or who would've read up on glassdoor to get our usual programming questions and memorize a solution) versus who can actually take a design or debugging problem and work through it. People who know what they're doing will have a lot more confidence when questioned in that way, rather than being put on the spot with "Write a C++ program to efficiently calculate an integral image on the whiteboard."

    I would also definitely concur with the "do not make your first woman hired about 'Look! We've got a woman on the team now!'" You do not want your new hire to feel like they were hired to meet a quota, much less to feel like a zoo exhibit.



  • @Caryatid said in Accounting for gender imbalances:

    A better way to show instead of tell (thereby risking her reading into a well-intentioned question that still gives weird vibes) is to, before or after the interview, tour the interviewee through the workspace.

    This. When we interview people, they will have three interviews: a phone screen, a technical interview, and a social interview. The phone screen is obvious enough. When they come in for the technical interview, they'll be scheduled for a social interview too. In the social interview, you get 3 or 4 randomly-picked folks at the company who'll sit down and just get to know you. What's your sense of humor, etc. Basically, are you a cultural fit? And in return, the interviewee gets to ask any questions they might have about the company culture. (We also give them an office tour, separately from the social interview.)

    I think that is a huge deal. One of our most recent hires (she's a freaking rockstar programmer and we were so lucky to land her) was considering which of two jobs to take, and the social interview at our company is why she went with us. She found out there was a D&D campaign run at the company, that there's a book club for SF/fantasy books, etc., and went "My people! I shall join them."



  • @Sparks

    My father is a developer. Apparently he used to, if he saw a job he was interested in but didn't know the language, put it on his resume, apply, then go out and buy a couple books to teach it to himself leading up to any potential interview.

    Whereas I definitely fall in the category of 'wait, I should put that on my resume? Seriously? Why ever for?!' This is why I desperately need Other People to write my resume for me generally.

    Also tech challenges do suck. I felt kinda blindsided by Atlassian when I did theirs. Because it was totally a whiteboard type test and a lot of problem solving and DB scenarios and when I didn't get the job they were like 'Well, we told you to treat it like a real world scenario. You could have asked us questions as if you were searching Google.'

    ...i...what

    maybe just give me credit for how much I managed without asking or something since you didn't actually specify that. Considering 9 times out of 10 in such interviews I've been in that's not an option!

    Ahem.

    Which I guess is another point: people converse differently. You may find you need to adapt your interview style, like Sparks has. I prefer one on one casual interviews to the 'here's a panel of people sitting across from you grilling you'. I imagine guys might do well with those. I don't and I think maybe? other women wouldn't either? It's easier to connect with someone one on one vs feeling like you're performing for a crowd.



  • @Auspice said in Accounting for gender imbalances:

    My father is a developer. Apparently he used to, if he saw a job he was interested in but didn't know the language, put it on his resume, apply, then go out and buy a couple books to teach it to himself leading up to any potential interview.

    So, so many guys do this. So many.



  • @Sparks said in Accounting for gender imbalances:

    @Auspice said in Accounting for gender imbalances:

    My father is a developer. Apparently he used to, if he saw a job he was interested in but didn't know the language, put it on his resume, apply, then go out and buy a couple books to teach it to himself leading up to any potential interview.

    So, so many guys do this. So many.

    I mean, he managed to pull it off but it baffles me to this day. I can't learn shit like that. I'm over here trying to switch gears from learning python to ruby and I wanna cry sometimes. XD


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