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4 secrets for hiring and retaining technical women

Women in leadership at HashiCorp share some of the issues and the real-world approaches to hiring and retaining technical women. These approaches can have a positive impact on organizations and corporations.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is an important topic, especially in technology and engineering fields. Not only do diverse teams increase the potential for higher profit earnings, but they also make better business decisions. From a cybersecurity perspective, more diverse teams are less likely to suffer from the misperception of risk and thus build stronger systems and more robust controls.

And yet, despite all the efforts to promote a better gender balance within the fields of technical and engineering, there are now fewer women in these roles than there were five years ago. While the number of men in technical and engineering roles has increased by 14%, the number of women in these roles has contracted by 2%. Additionally, women are leaving leadership positions twice as fast as their male colleagues do, most commonly because of internal politics, lack of recognition, unsupportive working environments, and lack of diversity.

While it is easy to just say "hire more diversity," making a real difference takes a lot more than that. One issue: only 19% of US STEM graduates identify as women, which means there is a substantial disparity in the pool of candidates. So, what can organizations do to ensure better gender diversity?

Let’s look at some real-world approaches worth pursuing:

»Representation matters

Despite the current volatility of the tech market, the demand for talent is still higher than the number of people available to fill those positions, which means job seekers are also interviewing their potential employers and can be more selective about their choices. One thing that people from underrepresented groups may notice is the people in front of them. Do they see themselves represented within the team or the interviewing panel? Looking at the composition of the larger organization, what does representation look like at the leadership level?

It may seem trivial, but representation has been shown to increase confidence and self-esteem. If applicants can see themselves in the existing team and leadership, they’re more likely to see it as a company and environment where members of underrepresented groups can be successful members of the team, and will be supported as they progress in their careers. Beginning a role with confidence typically means a faster ramp time to productivity.

It is important to understand why you want to hire more diversely, and you want to be able to share that with candidates, if they ask. Get to know the makeup of your organization, where you want to go, and how you plan to get there. It's important to have a mission, but the purpose will ultimately be a critical part of that success.

»Hire for potential

You may have heard that when it comes to applying for jobs, women are less likely to apply unless they feel they meet ~100% of the requirements. Just as important, ”while women are typically hired and promoted based on what they’ve already accomplished, men are typically hired based on potential and what we believe they can do,” says Lean In co-founder and CEO Rachel Thomas.

The LeanIn study also says men and women enter the workplace equally, but by the time they get to the C-suite, women represent just 22% of chief executives and men make up 78%. Bias, unconscious or not, plays a part.

"We know that we tend to overestimate men's performance slightly and slightly underestimate women's performance. And as a result, men are often hired based on potential. And women are more likely hired based on what they've already accomplished... Entry-level candidates are early in their careers, they don't have a big track record. So men are more likely to get that potential edge and women are going to be hired and promoted based on what they've accomplished. Men have an advantage and we see that in the numbers." — Rachel Thomas, Lean In co-founder and CEO

Much bias is unconscious and takes specific work to unlearn. So often we focus on the immediate needs of the role and business, and overlook the potential a candidate may have. What if we asked ourselves, what does this person add to the team that we don’t already have? Think culture add, not culture fit.

»Support career progression

Technical women leave their organizations much faster than men. For every 100 men who get promoted in technical roles, only 52 women get similar recognition for their technical contributions. Promotions early in their careers improve the career outlook for women and their companies. Like everyone else, in order to succeed, women in technical roles need skills acquisition and mentorship coupled with a clear, structured plan for growth.

It’s not always easy or obvious how to provide that. Women in male-dominated environments speak up to 75% less than men and there is a double standard for women when it comes to self-promotion. Leaders need to ensure they are giving women the opportunity to succeed by regularly checking in, fostering growth, providing mentorship, and defining a clear path to success. If organizations foster an environment where it’s statistically difficult for women to succeed, they are just setting them up for failure. And that has far-reaching consequences, including discouraging the entry of women into the STEM-role pipeline and shrinking the hiring pool.

Supporting career progression should be a primary responsibility of direct managers. From a candidate's or employee’s perspective, nothing feels better than working for a manager who sees your potential, knows what you are capable of, and invests in your growth. While team members typically lead their own growth, managers play an integral part by spotting growth opportunities, connecting workers with mentors, speaking about their talents when they’re not in the room to influential people (sponsorship), providing a safe space to learn, and delivering clear and actionable feedback. The key here is to have a manager that cares about their team members’ well-being. It’s one of the top factors women consider when deciding whether to join or stay with a company.

»Promote pay transparency

The expression, “money talks” is true. Globally, women on average, are paid about 20% less than men. For women of color and women with children, this gap is even larger. This is a major cause of lifetime income inequality.

One important solution is pay transparency, which can come in many different forms. One form is around salary compensation. This would look like paying candidates based on what the job is worth rather than paying them based on what they currently make. It is illegal in many US states to ask for a candidate's salary history in order to protect candidates from receiving starting salaries that are tied to low past salaries. The idea is that if a woman is paid less from the beginning, and then limited by her past salary at each subsequent job, it may be impossible for her to catch up.

Additionally, pay transparency could be described as employers communicating how pay is determined, conducting regular pay audits, and disclosing the results of the audits. Also, posting salary ranges on the job descriptions would help alleviate the need to negotiate salary ranges in the first place. Embracing these practices is a way for employers to build trust with employees, boost engagement and productivity, and convey a culture of openness to show their commitment to paying everyone fairly and equitably.

»Putting it all together

The desire to tangibly amplify diversity in the tech sector is a challenge that most organizations struggle with. The first step in understanding how to address the challenge is understanding the breadth of the issue and the supporting data. One of the best sources of data comes from the report, Women in the Workplace.

Women in the Workplace is the largest study on the state of women in corporate America. In 2015, LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company launched the study to give companies insights and tools to advance gender diversity in the workplace. Between 2015 and 2022, over 810 companies participated in the study, and more than 400,000 people were surveyed on their workplace experiences. They collected information from 333 participating organizations employing more than 12 million people, surveyed more than 40,000 employees, and conducted interviews with women of diverse identities, including women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities. The 2022 report focuses on how the pandemic has changed what women want from their companies, including the growing importance of opportunity, flexibility, employee well-being, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Focusing on real-world approaches like representation, hiring for potential, career progression, and pay transparency, can help attract technical talent from diverse backgrounds and help them remain and thrive at your company.

Interested in working for HashiCorp? There are multiple openings available as we continue to grow and scale our organization. In 2022 HashiCorp was named among Fortune’s Best Workplaces for Women, Best Workplaces for Parents, Best Workplaces for Millennials, and Best Workplaces in the Bay Area.

About the authors:

Kelly Kitagawa is a Senior Solutions Engineer at HashiCorp helping our largest customers get value out of Terraform, Consul, Vault and the full HashiCorp stack. Prior to Hashicorp, she worked at Splunk as a Sales Engineer selling Security and IT software. Kelly holds a degree in Computer Engineering from University of California, Santa Cruz. In her free time, she enjoys playing soccer, traveling, and working on projects that make tech a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse place.

Sarah Polan is currently the EMEA Field CTO at HashiCorp where she advises customers in multi-cloud strategy and adoption. With a background in security, and as a leader in the Financial Services Industry, she previously focused on containerized workloads, cloud identity, and secrets management. She aims to elevate strategic conversation surrounding cloud adoption and improve the balance between technical enablement, velocity, and security.

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