Are hidden biases holding back women in technology?
Expedia's director of technology, Elizabeth Eastaugh, questions how far women have truly come in the male-dominated world of technology – and points the finger at recruitment processes
For more than 40 years, women have striven to be treated as equals in their industry – and I’m sorry to say it, but women still don’t have that equal place at the boardroom table.
In my own industry, technology, we’ve seen with initiates like the Women in IT Awards and the #ILookLikeAnEngineer social media campaigns, as well as the recent GitHub gender bias controversy, that much air time is being dedicated to improving and creating more parity across the board.
But how does one avoid swimming in an overly narrow hiring pool to begin with? The answer is right at the start – at the point of selecting your career.
Whether it’s by fault or design, most career selections develop by what you’re interested in, and who inspires you, right from the off.
>See also: Women in IT Awards 2016: winners announced
Strong female mentors, as well as more diversity in the style and substance of hiring managers, is crucial to shifting the gender balance to those seeking technology careers.
When building products for consumers, you aim those products at different people. A diverse set of people should be involved in developing any product because we are all consumers. You need that diversity, or you risk potentially missing out a whole segment of prospective buyers of your product.
As much as we need more encouragement for women in technology, it is a common-sense argument that a team of male coders won’t immediately consider what matters to female customers.
We make significant efforts to ensure our technology team is diverse in order to optimise our site to deliver on what our male and female customers require of us.
The fact of the matter is that under-representation stems from a number of different channels – but in the workplace it all starts at the hiring phase.
When you conduct interviews, ensure you have a plurality of views represented. If you conduct interviews in stages, ensure that your gender diversity is representative of who it is you are hiring.
If you are attending a graduate skills fair or technology careers day, ensure that you practice what you preach. If you are a hiring manager, think outside of someone’s category experience, and think more specifically of that new (and often underrepresented) perspective they can bring to the table.
Finally, let’s take it right back to STEM education in schools, and separate it out from why more young girls who are interested in technology don’t progress further after education.
Much has been made lately that in the UK exams system we still do not prepare our young students for the real skills they will need come graduation, and arm them to successfully become employed.
The data tells us, from organisations such as STEMNET, The British Council and others, that often what’s most lacking for students is they simply lack the right mentorships, not just at school stage, but as new school leavers.
If we can provide more female mentors to our young women as demonstrable examples and not exceptions to a successful technology career, we should start to increase the number of STEM graduates to address and fulfill those skill shortages.
What we need to do is to start taking a thorough look at where in the recruitment process we are losing our candidates from backgrounds that would boost diversity across the industry.
By identifying the ‘where’ in the process that women feel turned off by pursuing a life in technology, we can start to have an informed discussion on why this is and generate more fair and equitable solutions to the problem.