Of course you want to hire the best engineer for your company. Interestingly, even though 15% of women at universities in tech and engineering courses in the UK are female, there are many firms who have none.
I regularly speak with directors of organisations that are keen to change this and recruit more women. More often than not the driver is personal, but there is always a clear business case underlying these personal drivers. These directors recognise that there’s plenty of research showing that more diverse teams do better financially and compete better in the market.
Moreover, they know that employees usually prefer working in mixed gender teams, as these teams tend to have a better culture and more fun. Especially millennials often expect to work in a mixed gender team, and have started asking questions about the lack of gender balance in their company.
They also recognise it’s about getting the best talent. As it is, it’s tough to fill roles in tech and engineering, and even harder to find good people to fill those roles. If you are excluding female engineers by your way of presenting yourself, you are losing out on potential talent.
So the benefits to recruiting women into their company are clear to many. These benefits are widely supported by research into mixed gender teams and visible in financial performance of teams and companies with a good gender balance. However, making it happen is another matter. Companies that try can get it massively wrong. I was told a company offered a beauty treatment at their stand on the fair. This deterred many women. Adding obvious and stereotypical female touches to your stand is not the solution. Let me give you some ideas on what are better ways of recruiting women.
Why is it hard to recruit women in tech and engineering?
In reality, recruiting women isn’t easy, even if the intention is there. The key reasons are:
1. Lack of women choosing tech and engineering courses
According to the Women in Engineering Society (WES) only 15.8 % of undergraduates in engineering and technology in the UK are female. Although at some courses it can be upto 30%.
2. Competition for women
Graduates from tech and engineering courses are highly sought after. Similar companies to yours may well be looking for more gender balance too, and if they are making an extra effort, you will have to compete with them.
More importantly though, organisations outside of tech and engineering are often fishing in the same pond. Engineering graduates often end up in professional services, law or financial services, which tend to offer higher pay. The figures confirm that women opt out technical roles more often than men:
- Only 20% of women in STEM choose a career in STEM compared to 44% of men.
- Women and men engineering and technology students express similar levels of intent to work in engineering and technology, but 62% of the men and 47.4% of the women graduates in 2011 went on to work in engineering and technology.
3. Negative image of the industry
Women that work in the industry often mention to me that they regularly get unhelpful responses from their environment, ‘You work as an engineering consultant, that must be tough. Are you sure that’s right for you?’ or ‘Are you a games programmer, gosh, you don’t look like one’.
As a single company these issues aren’t easy to tackle, and many organisations work together to tackle the image of the industry. Wider initiatives and industry associations that work on addressing these issues include for instance:
- WES – Women Engineering Society
- WISE – Women In Science and Engineering
- Powerful Women – for women in Power and Energy
- IET Progressing Women in STEM – Institute for Engineering & Technology
- Tech UK – Women – returnship programmes for women
- Tech Women UK – encouraging girls to choose STEM
- DevelopHer – encouraging women and girls to take up coding
- Stemettes– experiences for girls in science
- NextTechGirls – creating work experiences for female students at GCSE level, and sharing the images with girls
Apart from joining and supporting these initiatives there are still many things companies that are keen to recruit women can do.
How to recruit women in tech and engineering
Companies have tried a number of initiatives to recruit more women. Below is a selection of the ones that have worked and that I recommend you look at.
1. Design gender bilingual advertisements
When reading a job advert candidates are triggered by certain words, whereas other words put them off. Men and women have different words that they respond positively to. For instance, ‘Superior ability to satisfy clients needs’ is a phrase that would more likely appeal to men whereas ‘Sensitive to clients needs’ is more likely to appeal to women. Kat Matfield has developed an app (based on research into these words) to check your advertisement for gender-coded words.
2. Review your public company information
First of all make sure your website, flyers and posters show both male and female employees.Then check if your website, brochure and other public company information has all the elements that typically work for women, as well as those that typically work for men.
Research at MBA’s shows for instance that when choosing an MBA men tend to favour facts, and status-related information. A typical website or campaign would state, ‘When you do this MBA your expected salary increase is X, well-known professor Y is teaching at our MBA, and successful CEO Z did his MBA here.’
Women tend to prefer more detailed information, and often prefer information from other people or about people. They typically look for information about the culture on campus and in the classroom. They look for written interviews/blogs with current and/or past MBA students, or an event where they can meet MBA students or mingle with tutors.
3. Be creative in your choice of recruitment channels
If your current recruitment channels do not attract many women, you may consider looking in places where women are more likely to be found.
Work with a recruitment agency or job site that supports recruiting women and gender diversity, such as for instance:
- Women in Technology – digital media, communications and entertainment recruitment agency
- AblyResources – recruitment of women in oil and gas
- WES Jobs – job page on Women in Engineering Society website
- DiversityJobs – specialist in diversity recruiting
- Artica Search – executive talent search with a focus on gender
- Harvey Nash – recruiter in tech, finance, HR, interim and digital professionals supporting gender diversity actively
- Sapphire Partners – executive search, specialised in providing creative and balanced shortlists
Check at which universities you are recruiting, some universities have higher percentages of women. Also consider looking at related university courses. In e.g. Maths, Biology and Chemistry the percentage of women is much higher, and some graduates may well have taken a relevant class and have relevant skills and capabilities.
Consider hiring mid-level women engineers. The percentage of women at tech bootcamps (about 30%) is higher than that at university, and they bring valuable work experience in other industries.
Reach out to networking groups of women engineers. As there are so little women, they are often highly organised in support and networking groups and it may be easier for you to reach them there.
Bolster your contacts with universities. Female graduates often chose to work in a place they know, or have worked with before. Offer work experience, university projects or work experience places, and of course keep track of when she graduates and remember to ask her to join – provided of course the experience was a positive one.
4. Reconsider job roles
Consider designing job roles so that they are more flexible, then use flexible recruitment agencies to find the right candidates. Agencies and job sites include for instance:
Reflect on how job roles can be re-designed so they can be more attractive to the candidates that do exist. E.g. if the level of tech experience is an issue, find ways the same job can be done with less experience and more support. Women often tend to prefer roles that involve human interaction, so you may be able to re-design roles so they involve more client contact, coordination of teams or communication activities.
5. Design a selection process that is Gender Smart
Research has proven that gender blind CVs can make a difference. Simply take off name, university and address details before CVs are evaluated. Be careful though, as it may have the opposite effect in organisations where an extra effort is currently made to hire women.
Eliminate group think from the way you evaluate. The best way to do this is to ask each interviewer to individually interview and assess the candidate, then write down their opinion, and only then share it. When people reflect individually they are less likely to be influenced by what others think.
The way you handle assessments can make a difference too. Working out problems on a whiteboard, whilst others watch tends to be more stressful for women. Why not consider an online test, which could even be made gender blind. It’s often more reflective of the real situation as well, where engineers are more likely to work on problems on their own.
6. Hire more people at the same time
Interestingly psychology research shows that if you hire more people at a time it’s more likely that the people you hire will be diverse. When you hire one person at a time, and use the exact same criteria each time, you are more likely to make the same judgement and the same biases creep in each time. When you hire a group of people it’s more instantly visible all have a similar background, personality and looks, and that just doesn’t feel right and people adjust their decision.
Implementation tips when recruiting women in engineering and techs
As you see, there are a number of things you can do when you are serious about hiring women in tech and engineering. There are a few points of caution though as it’s not always easy to get it right, no matter how many good intentions you have.
Be aware there is a good balance of the male and female in your approach. First of all you don’t want to discourage men, but secondly some women – especially the ones you need – may well by untypical and respond more positively to male words, images, job roles and selection processes.
Don’t lower your standards, you still need good engineers and surely you don’t want to contribute to the bias that the best engineers are male.
Last but not least, once you have attracted women engineers, selected and hired them, it’s about keeping them in. Tech and engineering firms tell me that upto 60% of women don’t stay. Make sure you address your work culture.
If you are looking for help in recruiting women in tech and engineering do get in touch, as we are happy to answer any of your questions or help you change mind sets and re-design your recruitment processes. Call me at 01372 457 907 or Just contact me to discuss your requirements by e-mail.