What Works to Recruit Women into Tech & Engineering – My Story
I often advise organisations on how best to recruit women in tech & engineering. That made me reflect on how I myself got into engineering & tech, and what lessons can be learned from that. I am from The Netherlands and went to a university with an engineering focus, and my first job was as an IT Business Consultant in Siemens.
How did that happen? Was I not scared off by the male image of the industry? And if so, why not? What worked to recruit me – as a young girl – to this male dominated work field?
Campaign for STEM degrees
When graduating from senior school I was looking for a degree that would keep my options open. I chose Business Management with a minor in Mechanical Engineering. The key reason that there was an engineering component in my choice was a government campaign saying, ‘Clever girls choose STEM’. Trust me, it sounds better in Dutch. Anyway, the campaign just tipped the balance in favour of adding engineering.
Widen your outreach, change your language
A number of years later, when I graduated from university the country was in a recession and I was unemployed for months. One night I was out with a friend from university and shared my troubles about not being able to find a job. One of his friends perked up and volunteered his company would love me to work for them! I asked what they did and he said he was into software engineering. Disappointedly I explained that computers really were not my thing. ‘Exactly! That’s what we need.’ He continued, ‘We need more diverse thinking and someone like you would fit perfectly with our team.’ That same evening he managed to convince me I should apply, so – what was there to lose? – I sent a letter to Siemens. To my own surprise I was invited for a job interview.
The night before the job interview I was staying at my parents’ house. I sat down with a cup of tea with my mum and shared that I really didn’t even want this job. ‘So what DO you want then?’, she asked. Probably quite exasperated, I explained that I would love a job where I could make a difference and have real impact on the world. She thought about that and then replied, ‘You know how everybody dislikes software because it never does what you want it to do? Imagine if you could help make sure that software actually made it easier for people to do their jobs? Wouldn’t that be worthwhile?’ I instantly got it. This was exciting, she was right!
The next day in the job interview when the question came why I wanted the job I explained that it was because I hate computers, as they never do what you want them to do, and that I would absolutely love to change that. I was hired, really enjoyed the projects that I worked on and stayed in the role for 8 years, ensuring the software we built fitted the needs of our clients.
Change your jobs – yes really!
But that isn’t the entire story. There was a large talent shortage in IT at the time. Sounds familiar? So what I learned later is that the hiring manager recognised his job offer didn’t quite fit the job I was looking for. He also recognised I didn’t exactly have the experience or skills yet to work with clients. So he created a trainee role, that he knew I would find hard to turn down, and arranged a series of internal projects for me that helped me develop and grow into the role.
What works to recruit women into Tech & Engineering roles?
So what can you learn from my experience? Interestingly, my personal story illustrated some key lessons for those keen to recruit women into tech & engineering.
- Campaigns can tip the balance in favour of tech & engineering
- Widen your outreach, why not use your own employees to help you find new team members?
- When making it clear what a role is, choose the language that works for women/girls. Amazon and WISE have just published a report in which this is also one of the key findings. It’s worth having a look as there are many more practical tips in it too. https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/what-we-do/wise-projects/amazon-research-project/
- Split your potential candidates into ‘ready now’ ‘ready soon’ and ‘ready later’ and think of ways you can teach new recruits on the job.
What are you doing that works? I would love to hear your story.