Do’s and don’t’s for changing the ratio of women in tech

Etsy's Marc Hedlund shares the tactics he's using to boost the diversity of his engineering team

You’ve probably heard of Etsy, the bustling online marketplace for crafters and artists. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that most of its customers are women, both buyers and sellers. Ditto that the Etsy team is a pretty good representation of the Earth’s gender ratio.

Yet when Marc Hedlund took the helm of Etsy’s Product Development & Engineering department, 97% of the engineering department were men. Hedlund realized that in his nearly two decades in IT, he’s hired no more than 20 women for engineering positions. This began to bother him. Especially after his daughter was born.

“You’re in a position of authority. What have you done to make it better?”

While she’s only four, Hedlund imagines this is the pointed question his daughter will ask him when she’s old enough to follow in his footsteps in the computing industry.

Impatient to change the gender ratio before his daughter enters the workforce, Hedlund decided to take action. Last year, he partnered with Hacker School to create a training program to address the engineering shortage in general and the lack of gender parity in particular.

The result: women now make up 15% of Etsy’s engineering team.

How did he do it? In his video interview, Hedlund offers concrete advice for companies who want to hire more women in technical roles.

A good first step, he notes, is admitting that lack of diversity is a problem and talking about it openly at the company.

He starts with a list of “Don’ts”:

  • Don’t start late. Take diversity seriously and take action to make it a reality as you build your company.
  • Don’t lower hiring standards, or make exceptions or compromises.
  • Don’t leave women out of the hiring process.
  • Don’t use identifying language that might unintentionally marginalize minority candidates such as “women engineers”—-they’re just “engineers.”
  • Don’t let “making progress” mean “we’re done.”

On Marc’s “Do” list:

  • Bring in as many candidates as possible.
  • Involve high-level team members in the recruiting and interviewing process to demonstrate that your company takes diversity seriously and that it will be a supportive work environment.
  • Get momentum for your diversification efforts in order to reach potential candidates: contact journalists who have been critical of gender disparities, partner with an appropriate group or organization to create a new program, dedicate a budget for the project.
  • During the interview process, you’ll get the best from both women and men by using language that isn’t confrontational or competitive.
  • Make sure your candidate knows she’s valued from the get-go; be direct if they are negotiating a salary that is too low-—and another angle that applies to men as well.

Taking his own advice, Hedlund doesn’t feel that the progress means parity has been achieved at Etsy. For 2013, Hedlund will focus on hiring more women in senior technology positions. His daughter is getting closer to her first job interview every day.

Putting Developers to the Test

tags: ,