As a successful woman working in technology, I often get asked how to attract more women into tech roles. I get asked by diversity officers of large corporates like BT and I get asked to share my experiences as a women with young people through organisations like STEMNet and TeenTech. "Where are the women?" has become a topic across many areas of modern life, such as business, academia and politics, as well as technology. My favourite question on the topic was from a young founder of a tech company: "There are only four of us in the startup and we're all white males - what do we do?".
Step one: Don't panic It's not your job to fix the whole tech industry. There are fewer women than men in tech right now, and you're not going to change that by redesigning your marketing materials or having more female-friendly office perks. If there are only four of you and you care enough to accost a speaker to ask what you can do differently, your company make up likely reflects the industry and you will be OK.
Step two: Realise that there is no magic "women thing" that you can do One mistake that crops up time and time again and will alienate rather than attract women is the tendency to think of them as a homogenous group. I'm a mid-thirties woman without children so painstakingly outlining your maternity policy will not make me feel more welcome, whereas for some women this will be a key factor in considering where to work. Similarly booking in "girly" events or perks without finding out what your female employees like can seriously backfire. As one of our developers said recently "women in tech don't tend to want manicures". (Of course I'm not saying that generalisation is true either - just remember that different women like different things.)
Step three: Find information specific to your business What do the women who work for you already think you do well, or not so well? Perhaps even more tellingly, why do women leave your business? Make sure you hold exit interviews and when you do try to ascertain whether you are finding out what people really think. Consider using a member of the HR team or someone who hasn't been involved in the day to day work of the exiting team member, to make sure that they are not holding back from criticising the person who is holding the interview.
Step four: And if all that fails... If you are really have problems recruiting and retaining women, here are some suggestions.
This post first appeared on the Cambridge Wireless blog.
The following is an excerpt from my new book, “Galvanizing the Geeks – Tips for Managing Technical People”. You can buy the full book on my website, here.
What do managers actually do?
Almost every manager started their career as a ‘doer’ – including me. When I worked as a software developer, with clear tasks to achieve that appeared to compose the majority of any delivery, it wasn’t always clear to me what managers added. Apart from some tangible, visible tasks, such as liaising with the client or setting up a build server, the process of management appeared a little mysterious.
As a manager you have two things to manage: people, and process. The process-management tasks are usually the most visible. They’re the ones that clearly take time: writing a report to the business, creating a risk log, phoning up third parties to find out why their interface isn’t working, and so on. If you are asked to account for your time and you explain that you have been writing a report, it will be easily understood what you have been doing.
On the other hand, it can often be assumed that managing a team of people takes literally no time at all. You simply work out what everyone needs to do, tell them, give them a quick motivational speech, and you’re done. If only it were that simple!
What does people management entail?
You need to have enough time set aside to engage with the individuals who report to you. A good framework to use is to think of people management as a three-step process: set goals and give a clear brief, monitor progress, and give detailed feedback frequently (including positive feedback).
Exceptional, experienced individuals may be able to set their own goals, report back to you frequently so that they are bearing the brunt of the monitoring work, and even analyse their own performance. But even these individuals need you to spend a certain amount of time with them. You need to be inputting into and verifying their goals. You need to be carefully reviewing their status reports, and you need to be giving them feedback on how they are doing. Getting your team to this level should be one of your training goals – once you have individuals who can self-manage in this way, management becomes a very pleasant job.
At the other end of the scale, someone who is new to the team, perhaps a recent graduate with no workplace experience, might require a tremendous amount of support. Before you can even start on the first briefing step, you will need to build rapport so that you can communicate and feedback more smoothly. Briefing will take longer, and you will need to spend extra time verifying that your brief has been understood. Lack of a clear initial briefing is the single most common reason for underperformance. More monitoring will be required, and, until you have trained your managee to take the action upon themselves to report to you at intervals, you will need to spend time actively acquiring updates on their progress. Feedback to more junior members must also be more detailed and more copious; it is more important to follow the 5:1 rule to avoid dis-incentivisation (the 5:1 refers to the ratio between positive and negative feedback – you should give five pieces of positive feedback for every piece of constructive criticism).
What if I don’t bother?
Despite being the most important task, people management seems to easily drop off the bottom of busy managers’ task lists. I think this is because, while people management is an important task, it seldom seems urgent. If you don’t spend time managing your people, the difference may be imperceptible – at least to begin with. Over time, however, the relationship will drift away, with views and aims becoming increasingly misaligned. Once you are your team have substantially different ideas about how best to do the job, or even about what job it is that needs doing, serious problems will ensue. And to sort out these problems will take, yep, even more time.
Your job as a manager is to ensure team cohesion, with everyone pulling in the same direction. You can’t achieve this if you don’t put the time in.
Managing Director of Softwire, technology and backgammon presenter. Plus a little bit of new music radio.