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How to Recruit, Hire, and Retain Female Engineers, by Sharon Wienbar

Stashed in: 106 Miles, Women, Startup Lessons, Engineers!, Awesome, XX, Change the Ratio, Women in Tech, STEM

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First of all, make sure your workplace makes women feel welcome.

A workplace that makes women feel unwelcome or unappreciated is as doomed as one that discards their applications. Once you’ve grown an entry-level woman into a mid-level senior engineer or manager, you risk the same threats you do with men who become disgruntled. They’ll leave for their own sanity, or they’ll be poached by another employer.

Hire women into entry-level positions who come from other professional backgrounds, yet have the affinity and chops for coding. 

Bootcamps alone will graduate 18,000 this year, with over one-third of those women, a higher percentage than traditional college CS programs. These women, thanks to their time in other careers such as lawyers, analysts, marketers and scientists, have entry-level coding skills, but mid-level professional skills. You won’t have to train them how to manage people, how to meet team deadlines and budgets, how to stick to your priorities when they don’t agree and how to interact with clients and partners professionally to save a business relationship until your technology delivers on your promise.

How to hire entry-level women engineers:

I wrote an article for TechCrunch last year on what works at companies with qualified women in coding or code-savvy roles. Most of it still holds. Here are a few updates from a year at the front lines with Hackbright and our industry partners.

There are now many more women graduating with CS degrees, as the major has grown 50 percent since 2012. While only 18 percent of the roughly 60,000 computer science graduates nationwide this year, that’s still more than 10,000 women ready to go to work. Going forward, the BRAID Initiative has universities from Harvey Mudd in California to MIT in Massachusetts working to encourage women (and people of color) to major in computer science.

Coding bootcamps are also graduating more qualified engineers — about 18,000 in 2016.  More than one-third are women — that’s another 6000-plus potential new engineers.

Online gender-blind coding tests, which replace in-person whiteboard challenges known to be stressful for women loomed over by men, now have commercial solutions: HackerRankGapJumpersCoderPad. The online coding interview is becoming standard practice, because it’s more realistic than a whiteboard session. But it also lowers a well-known gender barrier for many companies.

How to grow entry-level engineers to mid level:

All you’ll have to do is raise their level of software skills. That’s much easier. Your mid and top-level staff love being the experts. Let them show their stuff — they can conduct internal bootcamps on the company’s tech stack and mentor professional co-workers into becoming valued peers. The women they’ll be helping to grow into more senior roles have the proven grit and interest for learning software skills, and they’re more professional to work with than a squad of college hires at their first real jobs.

It’s a simple formula:

  1. Bring in qualified entry-level women engineers with mid-level professional skills.
  2. Grow their software skills on the job to match your needs, rather than disrupting your compensation structure and company culture to poach someone who learned to code elsewhere.
  3. Keep an eye out for company culture that drives out accomplished mid-level women.

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