Best Practices to Recruit Women in Technology

While many sectors of the economy continue to struggle, one industry that’s continuing to grow at a rapid pace is technology. Dice.com reported a 30 percent growth rate in the number of technical positions in the United States in 2011, and the U.S. Department of Labor forecasts that the number of technical jobs will far exceed the number of graduates qualified to fill those jobs.

Yet, the percentage of women in technical roles remains low and organizations continue to be challenged in the recruitment of technical women.

There are some consistent blind spots in recruiting and hiring practices that prevent organizations from tapping into the full range of technical talent available — not only women, but also under-represented minorities. These are discussed in the first in a series of three reports published last month titled “Solutions to Recruit Technical Women.”

The blind spots that impact hiring and recruitment practices include concentrating recruitment at a small number of locations, narrow recruitment criteria, hiring processes that are implicitly biased, and a lack of organizational infrastructure to support recruitment. Here are a list of problems and solutions in the study that are in practice for overcoming each of these blind spots.

Recruitment at a small number of locations. Organizations can maximize their return on investment by recruiting not just on campuses, but also at national and regional conferences that offer opportunities for recruiting technical women and other under-represented minorities. Organizations should leverage their existing branding and visibility, engage not just recruiters but also technical women within the organization in their recruitment efforts, sponsor scholarships to conferences, access resume databases and reach out to candidates prior to attending a conference to schedule interviews. These are a few of the best practices highlighted by Cisco in the report. The report also includes a list of leading conferences, professional organizations and programs that offer opportunities to recruit technical women.

Narrow recruitment criteria. Many organizations can benefit from rewriting job descriptions to reduce gender stereotypes that can influence both the recruits and the recruiters. When a job description links to typically masculine traits — such as competitiveness, assertiveness, etc. — then hiring teams will be more inclined to hire men, and male candidates are more likely to apply. By focusing job descriptions on skills that are measurable and non-stereotypical as well as avoiding the use of terms such as “geek” and “hacker,” organizations can broaden their applicant pool.

Hiring processes that are implicitly biased. One new hiring practice that can benefit organizations is including a blind resume screening process. By masking a potential hire’s name in the pre-screening process, the focus is placed on screening skills and experience rather than on sex or race. Equally important is the inclusion of women and under-represented minorities in the interview process. This will ensure that diverse perspectives are offered on the candidates and it also shows the candidates that there are opportunities for them to advance in the organization.

Lack of organizational infrastructure to support recruitment. IBM established targets and executive and managerial accountability as the backbone of its strategy to increase the recruitment, retention and advancement of women and minorities. Key to this process was tying manager compensation and evaluation to these targets. By creating targets with clear accountability mechanisms, IBM has increased the representation of women at all levels of the organization since the 1990s, up by 596 percent in leadership positions worldwide.

Needless to say, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every company, so there is a need to continuously evaluate and measure the results of hiring and recruitment practices as they evolve.
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Jerri Barrett is vice president of marketing at Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.