Diversity matters – it’s not positive discrimination!
I’ve worked a lot with organisations who promote diversity and inclusivity in the tech sector, and along the way, I’ve been incredibly lucky to hear from a wealth of amazing people on the issues of gender diversity in tech and how to combat them. A major concept I have come to understand in this time is that diversity matters.
Interestingly, my own opinions on the matter have also evolved over time. In short, I used to think that it was important that women had the opportunity to pursue a career in tech if they wanted to, but I did not see the importance of encouraging women into tech if they had no interest in the sector, or seeing the benefit of employing a woman over a man if the man was better qualified. Turns out I used to be wrong.
A few months ago I received an email from a company who builds web apps wanting to quote me in an article they were writing. The basic content talked about how they really want to diversify their team, but for every application they get from a woman, they have 50 from men. Plus, even if the woman is great, a couple of men will always be more qualified, and as they don’t want to positively discriminate, the woman loses out to the most qualified male applicant. Their current development team consists of only 10% women, and so, they choose to support women in tech organisations to show their support instead.
I doubt my response was what they expected, but here’s why this attitude is not just a problem, but an actual contributor to the ongoing gender gap. Let’s break it down…
For every role that they advertise they might get one application from a woman vs 50 from men
If this sounds familiar, have you ever considered that your job adverts might be a problem in themselves? Are you using masculine phrases to describe our ideal candidate? Terms such as exhaustive, enforcement and fearless will attract more male applicants than terms such as transparent, catalyst and ‘in touch with’. If you’re not receiving applications from women, you may find it beneficial to look at the research conducted by Textio on how the language in job adverts can deter some women from even applying.
Women are also less likely to apply for a role unless they meet all essential requirements, whereas men will take a chance and apply if they only hit some of them. Look at your list of essential job requirements, do you really need someone who can do them all? I have always preferred the approach of actually not hiring someone who can just walk into the job already and instead of hiring someone who has the potential to grow into the role. Hiring the ‘perfect’ candidate means your employee will likely move on sooner, whereas hiring someone with potential and investing in developing in them will likely give you someone who will stay with the company longer, and leave them feeling valued and accomplished.
Even if a female applicant is great, there is usually a man who was more qualified…
Well, if this is the case, why not scrap interviews altogether? If you’re hiring someone based on qualifications alone then you have serious issues with your processes, and even inviting people who aren’t the ‘most qualified’ to interview is a complete waste of their time and yours.
First up, if you’ve got some great female candidates and you’ve invited them to interview then they’re obviously qualified for the role. Just because someone is ‘more qualified’ does not mean you have to give them the job.
Applicants are people, not a list of qualifications, and there is so much more to consider when choosing who to hire in a role.
The bit that always sticks with me the most is when you’re often asked at interview what you can bring to the role, and this is where female applicants to positions where the current employee pool is highly male can really stand out.
Look at some of the major issues in tech companies right now that may have been avoided if the teams working on them had been more diverse. Remember, technical solutions are often tested on the people who build them, so limiting your test pool can have serious consequences.
Diversity matters because Fitbit originally didn’t track periods as no one working on it considered this might be something useful. Then, when the feature was finally added, it wouldn’t let you log a period lasting more than ten days. Or there’s Google photos image recognition technology that labelled black people as Gorillas…
So if you still think it’s ok for women to just ‘not want to work in tech’, let me make this clear. Technical teams cannot build technical solutions for all of society unless they a representative of society as a whole.
Hiring a perfectly good woman over a more qualified man is positive discrimination
Hiring someone who is perfectly qualified for a job and who can help diversify your team is a positive step towards becoming a more inclusive, more representative, and all-around more effective company. Fact*.
It’s time we stopped looking at diversity hires through cynical eyes and valued them for the positive impact they have. If you’re passing over a ‘diversity hire’ in favour of the ‘most qualified’ candidate purely based on this fact then you’re an idiot.
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